ATHENS, Ga. — Until now, reports about Georgia’s freshmen have come only in whispers.
Though Sunday night was the official reporting deadline for Georgia players, many players — including true freshmen — have been on campus for months, taking summer semester classes and working out together in informal practice sessions without the coaching staff.
Practice finally opens today, and in a change mandated by the NCAA, freshmen no longer will have a few days alone with coaches before returning varsity players report. Instead, all the players were due to report at the same time, and all will practice together for the first time today at 5:30 p.m.
Any first-year player who has enough self-confidence to make an impact in this first week of practice likely will be the kind of player who has a chance to make an impact this season.
Several freshmen will have an excellent opportunity to compete for immediate playing time:
Some offensive linemen — perhaps including Zeb McKinzey — will be needed to fill backup spots behind new starters.
Running back Kregg Lumpkin, blessed with the combination of size and speed Georgia has lacked at the position in Richt’s first two years, may eventually push Tony Milton for playing time.
“I’ve talked to (Lumpkin) some,’’ said quarterback David Greene.
“He’s a great guy to to be so highly recruited. You can tell he’s confident in himself but he knows his place at the same time. He’s down to earth. He knows he’s going to have to earn his position like everybody else.’’
Receiver Sean Bailey already has impressed some of the veteran players with his work in the informal workouts, and Richt proved last year he will find time for a freshman who is ready to play at the position.
Kicker Andy Bailey could win the starting punting job and also handle kickoff duty. Georgia must replace punter Jonathan Kilgo and kickoff specialist Brett Kirouac.
Help also is needed at linebacker, and Georgia signed a strong class that includes Dana Graydon of Albany, Danny Verdun of Thomson, Desmond Williams of Dacula and Marcus Howard of Huger, S.C.
Only one freshman, Rockmart High fullback Danny Ware, failed to qualify academically. Ware plans to enroll at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy.
Coaches usually have a few days to spend all their time with the freshmen, but this week Coach Mark Richt and his staff will be to be especially watchful to make sure the first-year players are not overwhelmed.
“We’re concerned with how they react to being one of many and also being at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of they don’t know quite what they're doing yet,’’ Richt said.
Richt says he thought it was good when freshmen reported two or three days before the rest of the team, but he says he likes the new system.
“We as coaches just have to make sure we do the things with freshmen to make sure they don’t get homesick and other things,’’ Richt said.
According to the new NCAA rules for all teams, for the first five days, teams can practice only once a day and can not work out in full pads until the fifth day.
Even though coaches will try to bring the freshmen along slowly, there is not much time to prepare for the Aug. 30 season opener at Clemson.
Inevitably, the freshmen will have to catch up or be left behind to spend the year on the scout team as a redshirt.
Junior David Pollack says he would not want to be a freshman who has to line up against experienced college players in his first day of practice.
“I feel sorry for the freshmen,’’ Pollack said. “Now they’re just going to get throw in in the fire. They’re just going to be out there with us in live drills. I feel bad for them, real bad for them.’’