With less than a week to go before his top-ranked Bulldogs take the field for their season opener against Georgia Southern, Richt wanted position battles to be completed, depth charts to be finalized and preparation for Week 1 to be well under way. Thanks to a litany of injuries during camp, however, that process is a bit behind schedule.
Georgia held its first practice game of the season Thursday, with the scout team acting as Georgia Southern. Although the results weren’t official, the scout team won the game, and Richt wasn’t pleased with what he saw on film.
"We needed to play full-speed tackle football, and I think we scared ourselves out of playing football Thursday," Richt said.
So Friday, the Bulldogs were back at work, showing a bit of improvement in their second effort.
"We threw the pads on again and said we're going to play, and they got excited, and that fired me up,” Richt said. “They wanted to compete, and it was a very crisp workout. It was good medicine for everybody."
The intensity was encouraging for coaches, but the bevy of green jerseys at practice remains an issue.
Georgia lost linebacker Charles White for the year with an Achilles injury, further depleting a defense already plagued with depth issues.
Jarius Wynn has been the only scholarship defensive end healthy throughout camp, and assistant coach Jon Fabris said he has been unable to determine a good rotation at the position because so few players have practiced.
Safety Quintin Banks will miss at least the first two or three games of the season, meaning significant playing time could go to a group of unproven freshmen.
“We need the depth, you can’t win without depth,” defensive tackle Kade Weston said. “One guy can’t do it all the time. We need the whole team, and we need the backup guys, when the starters come out, there’s no drop off.”
On the offensive side of the ball, things aren’t a lot better. A season-ending injury to left tackle Trinton Sturdivant meant a near total reworking of the offensive line, with Kiante Tripp switching sides from right tackle, while three other players will make their first career start when Georgia opens its season Saturday.
"Offensive line looks revamped, not real solid, not cohesive, not used to playing with each other,” Richt said.
Several position battles are still unresolved, too, although Richt said he hopes to have most of those questions answered after today’s practice.
Freshman Richard Samuel and sophomore Caleb King are both fighting for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at running back, while starter Knowshon Moreno could be the Bulldogs’ punt returner this season. He’s in the mix with quarterback Logan Gray for that position. Georgia still has yet to find its kicker for kickoffs, although freshman Blair Walsh appears to have the field-goal and extra-point duties wrapped up.
Freshmen A.J. Green and Tavarres King have both moved up the depth chart at wide receiver, too, and look to earn significant playing time in the early season.
"There will definitely be true freshmen getting into the game,” Richt said. “It would excite me if we get them going."
More important than the freshmen, however, might be getting the veterans back onto the field. The unprecedented number of preseason injuries has been the Bulldogs’ biggest hurdle.
"We're trying to get them back as soon as we can," Richt said. “It's (trainer) Ron (Courson) and the training staff's decision. But some injuries cannot be quantified."
That makes this week’s preparation for Georgia Southern all the more difficult.
The Eagles run both an offensive and defensive scheme Richt said is significantly different than what Georgia is used to, forcing the Bulldogs to start their game planning a few days earlier than usual.
But last week’s practice and this week’s preparations can only go so far, cornerback Asher Allen said. The true test of how ready Georgia is for a run at a national title won’t come until the team hits the field Saturday.
“Going into the game, you don’t really know what to expect,” Allen said. “All you’ve got is last year to look at, but also it’s kind of good because you do have time. I think all we can do is prepare and in the game, run as fast as we can and hopefully make some plays.”