ATHENS, Ga. — For the second straight day, Georgia practiced through rain Wednesday which threatened to turn the natural grass practice fields into a mud pit.
Within a few days, the Bulldogs will have a new answer for rainy days. By this weekend or early next week, installation is expected to be completed on the new FieldTurf surface on one of the practice fields. The new surface, which also has been installed at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta this summer, is the highlight of a $1.2 million project that also will provide new lights and a new shed for the break area in the Woodruff Practice Complex.
FieldTurf, billed as being both softer and faster than traditional artificial playing surfaces, is used in five NFL stadiums, and 12 NFL teams use the surface for their practice facilities.
The surface is more grass-like, with a base of sand and ground rubber adding to the more natural appearance. A new drainage system has been installed under the surface on the Georgia practice field.
When heavy rain made the team abandon the practice fields in the past, Georgia had to work out on basketball courts in the Ramsey student center or move to Sanford Stadium, which has an advanced drainage system. But working at Sanford Stadium takes a toll on the field, which otherwise would be protected for game days.
When the new lights are installed, Georgia will have another reason to save Sanford Stadium for game days.
The old lights on the old artificial turf field were of little help — they were not high enough or strong enough for a night practice. Last year, Georgia regularly practiced at Sanford Stadium on Monday nights.
Now, when the team has to battle darkness before 6 p.m. during the season, it will be able to stay in the practice complex instead of moving to the stadium.
The new lights also will light up about half of an adjacent grass field.
“It is going to take pressure off the stadium,’’ Coach Mark Richt said Wednesday. “Our Sanford Stadium field ought to be in real pristine condition, I think.’’
Haywood still hot: Voted the biggest offensive surprise of spring practice by the coaches, redshirt freshman receiver Cedric Haywood of Macon has continued his momentum in the first week of practice.
“He’s been the most impressive receiver to this point,’’ Richt said Wednesday.
Haywood practiced at Terrence Edwards’ split end position last year and has moved behind Fred Gibson’s flanker spot this year.
“That is a reflection of his play-making skills,’’ said receivers coach John Eason.
“Haywood had a good spring and he has continued that. He has a chance (to play) now.’’
In the spring, Haywood impressed the coaching staff by consistently making tough catches, no matter the weather condition. He is proving the strong spring was no fluke.
“He’s just making plays,’’ Richt said. “He’s jumping up and snatching it and making great adjustments.’’
On Wednesday, Haywood made plays on three straight deep routes. On one, he jumped up to make the catch. On another, he adjusted to a throw that was behind him.
“He’s a strong kid,’’ Richt said. “He played some tailback in high school. He is just more used to being physical than some others.’’
Hit the pads: The team is gearing up to its first day of full contact
Saturday, which also will be the first day of two-a-day drills. While Richt says the players are anxious to hit, he is in no hurry because the freshmen need to learn before they can practice at full speed.
“I’m glad we’re not able to hit yet,’’ Richt said. “They’ve still got a lot to learn before they’re ready for a full-speed drill, and they still won’t be ready by Saturday.’’
Worth noting: Georgia is ranked No. 5 in the Sports Illustrated poll to be released in its college football preview section. Georgia is the highest ranked Southeastern Conference team in the poll. Auburn, picked No. 1 in the nation by The Sporting News, is No. 9 in the Sports Illustrated poll.
Georgia is No. 9 in the coaches preseason poll.