TAMPA, Fla. -- Bowl preparation is the most relaxed practice time of the season for college football teams. There's more than enough time to prepare for a game that can be as much as six weeks after the final regular season game, so most teams use at least some of the time to work their young and/or seldom-used players more than usual.
No. 8 Georgia (9-2) did it last week before leaving Athens, holding a
scrimmage for its players who rarely, if ever, see the playing field and
often don't even practice with the first or second units. The Bulldogs
planned to do it two days in a row but had to call off the second day's
work due to a scheduling conflict.
"I thought they'd be happy about it, but most of the guys were
Coach Mark Richt said.
For many of Bulldogs, that kind of practice time is as close as
they've come to real competition in a while. Georgia brought its entire
team here for Saturday's Outback Bowl against No. 16 Wisconsin (9-2).
Counting walk-ons, that's around 120 players.
More than half of them won't even sniff the field against the
Badgers. For reasons ranging from injury to redshirting to simple
demotion, it has been a long season for many of the Bulldogs.
For tight end Martrez Milner, it was an injury. Milner, a sophomore,
started the first game of the year and traded the spot back and forth
with Leonard Pope for a couple weeks before chronic back spasms starting
keeping him off the practice field and out of the lineup. In the
Bulldogs' final eight games, he caught one pass for 6 yards.
"Of course, I've been frustrated," he said. "I'm missing
my guys, but my time is going to come. It's my plan to rest (my back) in
the offseason, get some strength back and get back to where I was before
I got injured."
That won't be easy. Like many injured players, Milner has watched
someone else run off with his position. Pope caught 22 passes for 417
yards and six touchdowns on the way to an All-SEC season.
"I'm glad to see him excel," Milner said. "He's worked
hard. I'm very
proud of him."
The future is brighter for linebacker Josh Johnson, but the true
freshman from Stephenson High School looked like he would play
immediately. Three weeks before the season began, he seemed like a
certainty to be in the rotation at linebacker. But the transition from
high school to college suddenly overwhelmed him mentally, he said, and
he never stepped on the field.
"It was a kind of my decision really (to redshirt)," he said.
The year has been good for him, he said, and Richt pointed out that
Johnson made several big hits the one time Georgia's youngsters did get
"I see myself improving, learning a lot more," Johnson said.
starting to feel the game better."
Running back Michael Cooper already knows the game. The sophomore was
Georgia's leading rusher last year and had 24 carries in the first three
games this year. Then along came true freshmen Danny Ware and Thomas Brown.
Cooper didn't play in seven of the last eight games and had just five
carries the one time he did play.
"All you can do is sit back and continue to work hard and, when the
opportunity presents itself, show up big," he said. "There ain't no
thoughts I'm going to transfer. I don't want that rumor to get started."
Cooper still has faith in his abilities, he said.
"When I'm out there, I've produced so there's not doubt I can still
it," he said. "You never know how things will go."
Wide receiver Bryan McClendon can attest to that. This was supposed to
be his breakout year. After finishing the 2003 season well, the junior
looked like a key third threat behind Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown.
Richt sang his praises throughout the preseason, but McClendon caught
only five passes this year and none in the final four games.
"It was (hard)," he said. "Coming in I had a lot of talk.
I had a good
spring and had good camp."
But he came away with little to show for it.
"It is what it is," McClendon said. "I've accepted
For some guys, there's not much choice.