Defense, QB among 5 biggest things to watch during Georgia's spring football game.
Georgia Spring Football Game
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
Tickets: Free admission
On TV: CSS
None of the greatest moments in University of Georgia football history ever took place during the G-Day spring football game, but it’s still a salve for the thousands and thousands of Bulldog fans who are ready to turn the page to a hopefully more enjoyable 2014 season.
All the action in the spring game is teammate on teammate, so don’t expect any explosive hits — especially on valuable skill players and those still fragile from 2013 injuries, which are many — but it’s an enjoyable first look at some of the players that have a shot to earn valuable minutes once the season opens Aug. 30 against Clemson in Athens.
Even though it’s practice, as an unapologetic Bulldog fan, I’ll tune in to watch on what is shaping up to be a beautiful spring day, before flipping it to The Masters.
I don’t expect to see anything groundbreaking out of fifth-year senior and new starting quarterback Hutson Mason during his time on the field during the practice game. He’ll throw a few crossing patterns, maybe a couple of deep balls, hand it off a few times and then call it a day.
Just the way I like it: keep the valuable players healthy, while letting the starters get in a few reps for the fans to enjoy. This is the third and final spring scrimmage for Georgia during spring ball, but the only one open to the public.
Mason is going to be the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, regardless of what happens in today’s outing at Sanford Stadium.
He earned the job under pressure, leading Georgia to a double-overtime, come-from-behind win against Georgia Tech last season in Atlanta that few Bulldogs fans will ever forget. Then, he threw for a career-high 320 yards in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.
The supporting cast around Mason will be as good as it’s been in a while.
The running game is loaded and there are some great options at wide receiver. I hope and pray the offensive line improves and the battle for both starting guard spots works itself out with the best men winning.
Because of that stability on offense, most fans at G-Day should be more focused on what the defense can bring to the table.
Everyone from Hall County already knows that East Hall grad and junior defensive end Sterling Bailey has positioned himself to be a leader on defense next season, after starting nine times and recording 34 tackles in 2013.
The rest of the defense has depth and talent at all three levels, with Ray Drew also at defensive end, Jordan Jenkins and Ramik Wilson at linebacker, and senior Damian Swann at corner. Others will also rise to the top over the next four-plus months before the season begins.
While other practices and scrimmages play heavily — maybe more so than G-Day — into the structuring of the depth chart, an in-person evaluation for fans gives plenty of ammunition for chatter during the offseason and items to speculate over what will be the best move for first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who is fresh off winning a national title in the same position with Florida State.
Still, the biggest emphasis for the spring game is to make it fan-friendly, especially for the kids that idolize the players wearing red and black.
And Georgia coach Mark Richt is wise enough to not give any secrets away to future opponents. He’s keeping it as vanilla as possible so as to not tip off Clemson, South Carolina, Florida or Tennessee, among the rest of the teams on the schedule, as to what is to come.
Even though it’s going to be a plain exhibition, fans will still show up in droves, especially with weather expected in the 70s by afternoon. And the chatter about player performance will continue for months ahead as Bulldog fans count down the days until summer practice begins.
Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.