Georgia may make its most impressive showing ever in April's NFL draft - but first the draft hopefuls have to make a good showing at this week's NFL draft combine in Indianapolis.
To prepare for the combine, most of Georgia's deep class of draft hopefuls have picked the same workout spot - Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth - where Chip Smith and former Georgia assistant strength coach Robby Stewart have one of the top pre-draft training facilities in the nation.
Players from across the nation come to Duluth intent on improving their combine skills - everything from the bench press to the 40-yard dash to the vertical leap. Workout schedules run five or six days a week.
There are at least 11 draft hopefuls from the 2002 Georgia team in the program, but this is not just Bulldogs headquarters.
Among the probable first-round picks using the training facility are Kansas State's Terence Newman, rated by some as the top cornerback in the draft, and Outland Trophy winner Rien Long, a defensive lineman from Washington State.
"We've put over 400 players in the league,'' said Smith, now in his 12th year working with draft prospects. The program is not inexpensive, but agents pick up the tab in hopes of improving their commissions if the players improve their draft standing.
Smith says former Georgia offensive tackle Adam Meadows is an example of a player who in 1997 used the camp to move up in the draft.
"Meadows was projected as a fourth to seventh rounder,'' Smith said. "He went in the second round, and second-round money is so much better. ... If I can move (Georgia running back) Musa Smith from late in the second round to early in the second or late in the first round, it's worth millions of dollars.''
With that kind of money at stake, the workouts are serious.
All the running and lifting drills are conducted at the same facility. One day each week the workouts move to a nearby pools "to keep their legs fresh,'' Chip Smith said.
The workouts are so important that many players, including probable first-round pick George Foster, make a Duluth hotel their temporary home from early January until the April 26-27 draft.
"It's just specialized training,'' Foster said. "It's just taught a different way. You don't have 80 or 90 guys at one time. There's a good bit of personal attention if you need it.''
Foster said it is important there are no NCAA rules to provide limitations to the workouts.
"We don't have any time constraints like the 20-hour (per week) rules,'' Foster said. "Whatever you need, they can cater to it.''
Foster says he is only 10 hours shy of graduation, and while he says "I definitely plan to come back to school,'' the demands of preparing for the draft are a full-time job. Like many draft hopefuls, Foster is not enrolled for spring semester. "It'd be tough to concentrate and be able to do both,'' he said.
Foster will leave Tuesday for the combine, which runs through next weekend.
One of his biggest decisions will be if he participates in the bench press at the combine.
A broken right wrist shortened Foster's senior season. He played the second half of the season with a cast on his hand. Because of his excellent size - he says he now carries about 330 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame - and skills, he is projected as a first-round pick despite starting only one game as a senior.
Even so, scouts will want to see Foster prove the wrist is now healthy, so Foster will have to make a good showing in the bench press either at the combine or in March, when Georgia players will have their private audition for scouts in Athens.
"I'm doing OK bench-wise,'' Foster said. "I'm definitely not as strong as I'm going to be. We have to wait and see about (lifting at the combine).''Foster, defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan and outside linebacker Boss Bailey are probable first-round picks. Each is in the Duluth program.
Georgia has never had three players selected in the first round. Chip Smith says Musa Smith and tackle Jon Stinchcomb also could be moving closer to possible first-round status.
"We get different reports from scouting services, and I've seen Musa as high as 31 (overall),'' Chip Smith said. "Stinchcomb could sneak into the first round. He played in the Senior Bowl at 280-something and he's up to 300 now.''
Other Georgia players working with Smith and Stewart are Alex Jackson, Kareem Marshall, Tony Gilbert, J.T. Wall, Chris Clemons and Kevin Breedlove.
Bailey could be one of the combine stars. He is listed on some draft projections as running the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, but that time came last spring when he was still recovering from a 2001 knee injury.
Now Bailey, who set the Georgia and Competitive Edge Sports records with vertical leaps of 46 inches, is running the 40 in solid 4.4 or lower times, even though he and many other players may not run the 40 in Indianapolis because the track used there is widely believed to be slow.
"I've never seen anything like Boss,'' Smith said. "He ran a 4.28 in our testing and (last week) he jumped 46 inches in the vertical. ... It's gonna solidify him as a top-10 pick, and that's what we're expecting.''
Smith said Bailey's older brother, former Georgia cornerback and receiver Champ Bailey, had the previous workout record of 43 inches in the vertical leap.
"We're trying to get Boss over 50,'' Smith said before repeating "I've just never seen anything like it.''
Bailey is rated by The Sporting News as the top outside linebacker in the draft.
"I'm going to try to utilize the things I can do well, with things like the vertical and the 40, to help me reach my goal,'' said Bailey. "I feel I can lead the class of linebackers coming out, and that's what I'm going to try to do.''
Added Bailey: "I think every (Georgia player) coming out is just going to blow the field away at the workouts,'' he said. "We're pushing each other and working out together. ... I think Musa and Stinchcomb are going to turn some heads."