ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s first-year players may not know what they are missing, but veteran players were still celebrating the cutback in two-a-day practices as the Bulldogs opened preseason drills Monday.
“I love it,’’ said senior defensive tackle Ken Veal, noting that in past years Georgia “had two-a-days for three of four weeks’’ before the season-opening game.
Veal said the most difficult part of the rugged stretch of practicing twice each day “was getting up in the morning.’’
Said Veal: “You’re fighting that pillow, and usually the pillow tries to win.’’
Georgia practiced through occasional rain Monday. Coach Mark Richt called the first practice of the preseason “a little bit sloppy’’ but said the rain was partly to blame.
Among changes mandated by the NCAA this year: Teams cannot have their first day of two-a-day drills until the fifth practice day — Saturday for Georgia — and they can’t have back-to-back days of two-a-day practices. After classes start for Georgia on Aug. 18, there will be no more two-a-day drills.
“The one-a-days to start off will definitely be easier on the body,’’ said senior tight end Ben Watson. “It’s hard to recover from two-a-days, so this will give guys a chance to get settled.’’
Also, freshmen and varsity players reported and begin practice at the same time this year. In past years, freshmen reported a few days before returning varsity players.
“I’ve already told (freshmen) just to understand that they’ll be confused but don’t be too discouraged,’’ Richt said. “I’ve also asked the older guys not to be too hard on them.’’
Richt said the only negative for the new schedule is some Georgia players will miss practice this week while finishing summer semester classes and taking final exams Wednesday through Friday.
Surgery planned for Lee: Offensive lineman James Lee of Belle Glade, Fla., already is set for a redshirt year. Lee will have surgery to correct a shoulder problem uncovered in physical exams given to all players.
“He’s had enough history of that, where (the shoulder) kind of pops out, we just figure we’re better off taking care of it now and let him be prepared for mat drills (in January) and spring ball,’’ Richt said.
Name game: Freshman linebacker Danny Verdun of Thomson has asked to be listed as Danny Verdun Wheeler.
“His family and Danny asked if we could get that done,’’ Richt said.
Added Richt: “I don’t know if we can get it all on the back of his jersey. ... V.W. might be his nickname.’’
Verdun Wheeler said he will only have Verdun on his jersey. He said Verdun is his mother’s name “and I want my father’s name, too.’’
New bulk on the offensive line: Some of the offensive linemen who did not look so big on paper when they signed with Georgia in February have since gained some weight that may give them a better chance to make an immediate contribution.
Richt said Zeb McKinzey and Trey Chandler, who had been “in the 250 range,’’ checked in closer to 280 pounds. Richt added that “Ken Shackleford looked good at 305 pounds.’’
Richt said the only freshman offensive lineman who might have been considered a candidate to lose weight was Fernando Velasco, listed at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds. But Richt said Velasco made a good impression on veteran players with the conditioning he showed in summer workouts.
Ready to go: Two freshmen who had to recover from injuries suffered in high school — defensive back Paul Oliver (knee) and running back Kregg Lumpkin (ankle) — have have full medical clearance for the start of practice.
All of Georgia’s players returning from injuries suffered in spring drills have been cleared for practice, including cornerback Bruce Thornton, who suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot.
“It’s almost 100 percent,’’ Thornton said Monday.
A few players returning from injuries opened practice in green jerseys, including receiver Michael Johnson (shoulder) and defensive tackle Darrell Holmes (shoulder), but none were held out of any drills. Georgia players held out of contact wear green jerseys in practice.
Scranton back with team: Aaron Scranton, a defensive end from Buford who signed with Georgia last year but left the team early in practice, is back this year as a walk-on.
Though he is not on scholarship, Scranton was assigned a jersey number (95) and will have the opportunity to win back his scholarship.
“He believes his mind is right and he’s ready to do what it takes to be a player,’’ Richt said.