Still, 16 days before the Bulldogs’ season-opener, it’s still anybody’s guess how many of the 25 newcomers will see the field this year.
“It’s a depth issue, and it’s also just a state of readiness,” Richt said. “If (a freshman) is ready to play and he can perform as well or better than the guys we’ve got, he’s going to play. Then, sometimes, you’ve got to play guys whether they are ready or not.”
So far, Richt has identified only three freshmen as “more than likely” to play this year – defensive back Asher Allen, wide receiver Kris Durham and linebacker Darius Dewberry. All three of those players have more seasoning than the typical true freshman.
Allen and Durham both enrolled in time for spring practice, and Dewberry spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy.
For players whose first day of anything other than high school football was the day practiced on Aug. 5, it’s a lot to ask to be ready to play in less than a month. Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was able to do it last year, but it wasn’t easy.
“You just want to come in and contribute so much,” Massaquoi said, “but at the same time you don’t know how to.”
Defensive end Brandon Wood proved that this summer. He stayed at home in Haralson County busting his rear end in the weight room almost every day. The way to playing college football, he assumed, was to be bigger and faster and stronger.
Then he got to Athens and all his coaches seemed to care about was how well he knew his assignments, how low his pads were to the ground and how he used his hands to fight off blockers.
“I worked out hard, but I didn’t concentrate enough on my technique or the playbook,” he said. “I’m just now at the end of the camp starting to get right.”
Wood is at a position of need for the Bulldogs, which greatly increases his chances of playing. But it guarantees nothing.
“I think there will be a couple (freshmen) that are ready, but because of depth at their position, we won’t play them,” Richt said, “and there are probably a couple who aren’t quite as ready but because of depleted depth at their position, they’ll have to play.
“If they redshirt, it’s not necessarily an indication that they are not doing well.”
Tailback Knowshon Moreno poses an interesting dilemma for the coaches. He has been one of the most impressive freshmen this fall, and he could be a valuable special teams contributor. However, he’s behind juniors Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware at tailback.
Moreno could start as a kickoff returner for the Bulldogs and play on one or both kick coverage teams, but the best he can hope for in the offense is a third-team spot.
“We just don’t know if all that will be enough to use a redshirt year on him,” Richt said.
Moreno was considered one of the nation’s top 10 prep running backs last year, but his feelings won’t be hurt if he is redshirted this season, he said. Early playing time was not a factor in his recruiting decision.
“I just wanted to come somewhere I felt comfortable, where I could get my degree,” he said. “All that playing stuff, the coaches know what’s best for me and best for the team, and I’m willing to do that.”
Georgia’s freshmen offensive linemen are in exactly the opposite position of Moreno. None of them appear ready for college football, but one or two may have to play due to lack of depth. Guard Chris Davis and center Kevin Perez are the best bets.
Fullbacks Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier are the least likely freshmen to see playing time due to depth at their position.
On the defensive line, assistant coach Rodney Garner thinks as many as three or four freshmen might play this year. Tackle Ricardo Crawford, who enrolled in time for spring practice, has the best chance of the group. Wood has the build to play both end and tackle and that versatility could help him find a spot in the rotation.
At linebacker, Dewberry is the only newcomer to separate from the group.
“They’re still trying to learn the defense for the most part,” linebackers coach John Jancek said. “I think they’re all progressing at a good pace. It’s a lot for them right now, but they’ve all had great attitudes and worked real hard.”
Prince Miller probably is the most likely candidate other than Allen to play in the secondary, but that’s another area of strength for the Bulldogs.
No matter how good a freshman is, he won’t be completely ready for that first game, Massaquoi said.
“You’re going to make mistakes,” he said, “but gradually you start learning more and you’re able to contribute a little more.”
Class of 2006
Asher Allen CB 5-10, 180
Geno Atkins DT 6-1, 270
Quintin Banks S 6-2, 193
Shaun Chapas FB 6-2, 235
Ricardo Crawford DT 6-1, 303
Chris Davis OG 6-4, 245
Josh Davis OT 6-6, 295
Akeem Dent LB 6-2, 225
Darius Dewberry LB 6-3, 211
Demarcus Dobbs DT 6-2, 253
Kris Durham WR 6-5, 186
Darryl Gamble LB 6-2, 215
Akeem Hebron LB 6-1, 195
Reshad Jones S 6-2, 180
Michael Lemon DE 6-4, 255
John Miller OT 6-6, 286
Prince Miller CB 5-8, 185
Knowshon Moreno TB 5-11, 205
Fred Munzenmaier FB 6-2, 235
Kevin Perez C 6-3, 273
Matthew Stafford QB 6-3, 210
Kiante Tripp DE 6-6, 244
Na Derris Ward TE 6-5, 247
Tony Wilson WR 5-11, 175
Brandon Wood DE 6-1, 254