It has been a whirlwind week for John Knox.
He received word on Monday, his 19th birthday, that he'd finally passed the Georgia high school graduation test -- the final anticipated academic hurdle preventing him from accepting a football scholarship to Georgia. Knox reported to Athens on Wednesday and prepared to begin practicing with his new teammates.
And now he's a bona fide Bulldog.
The NCAA Clearinghouse certified Knox's eligibility to compete at Georgia this season on Friday. Then later in the afternoon, the Statesboro (Ga.) strong safety took part in his second practice.
His arrival means that all 23 of the Bulldogs’ 2007 signees qualified academically and enrolled in school for the fall -- the first time in many years that has happened at Georgia.
“I think it’s great. You hope that that happens, but there's a reason why it's the first time in a long time -- because (recruiting is) not an exact science,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “You do the very best you can to try to find guys that can play, guys that you think can handle the academics and guys that you believe are good people.”
While Knox's teammates worked out in full pads on Friday, Knox was allowed to wear only helmet and shorts -- part of the NCAA's five-day acclimation period all players must go through before practicing in pads. He'll gradually work up to wearing pads, an occasion that could come Tuesday.
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez compared Knox’s situation to that of freshman cornerback Vance Cuff, who also missed summer workouts and was academically cleared to join the team only days before the start of camp.
Martinez expressed hope that Knox picks things up as quickly as Cuff has, despite the disadvantages that come with missing summer workouts.
“He’s missed a lot of the communication that the players had when they were watching film and out there running drills,” Martinez said. “But I’ve been pleased with Vance. He's really just done a great job of just playing hard. He's got a lot to learn. Hopefully John will pick up at the same pace. The great thing is he’s here.”
Today will be the most important day thus far in Georgia’s preseason camp, as the team will hold a pair of scrimmages.
In the evening will be the first of three full-team scrimmages this preseason, the time when Georgia’s coaches begin taking a hard look at their depth chart.
“We try to reserve judgment until we do scrimmage,“ Richt said. “I guess we'll get an inclination of what we think. We usually don't try to make any decisions on any kind of changes until after the scrimmage.”
The scrimmage was originally scheduled for late afternoon at Sanford Stadium, but Richt is considering moving it to tonight because of the heat in Athens. Temperatures topped 100 degrees all afternoon. Even at 8 p.m., the temperature was 100 degrees on the nose.
The morning will feature a kicking scrimmage that will weigh heavily in deciding who’ll contribute on special teams -- most notably in the punting competition between Brian Mimbs, Brandon Coutu and freshman Drew Butler.
The special teams scrimmage won’t get as much notice compared to the one this evening, but Richt said it will be of great importance to some of the young players scrapping to find a way onto the field.
“If you're a starter on defense, but you're still a starter on three or four special teams, chances are you're gonna be pulled off of a couple special teams. Not all of 'em, but it'll be reduced,” Richt said. “So now all of a sudden, that's a job that opens up for the younger guys, some of the redshirts from last year. And I'm sure there'll be some true freshmen that'll play special teams for us.”
Following coach’s lead
Junior college transfer Vince Vance didn't get off to the best start at Georgia, suffering a knee injury early in spring camp and butting heads with new offensive line coach Stacy Searels.
It wasn't so much that Vance refused to do what he was asked as that he wasn't doing it exactly the way Searels wanted.
That has since changed, and Vance has begun to make progress.
“He wasn't defiant, but I think he was probably kind of wondering is this all worth it,” Richt said. “I think he has decided he's going to do it coach Searels’ way. I think that's helping him. It just takes a while for the guys to realize that there are no shortcuts, just do it coach's way.”
Vance is lining up behind true freshman Trinton Sturdivant at left tackle, but it’s hard to get a true gauge on where he stands in his position coach’s eyes. Searels hasn’t done an interview since preseason practice started and has already made Sturdivant unavailable for interviews so he’ll focus on what he has to do on the field.
Vance said Searels' approach was less of a "bunker mentality," as one writer put it, than simply focusing on the situation he's facing in his first season in Athens. Georgia lost four of its top six offensive linemen and has eight new players in the fold this season.
“It's not about a bunker mentality, but we've got a lot of work to do,” Vance said. “He just doesn't want us worrying about the distractions and everything. I kinda support him on that, even though I'm doing this interview. Coach Searels, he's a great coach. He does the best with us, pushes us.”
Richt said Thursday it was possible that Chester Adams would return to practice on Friday after tweaking his left ankle in practice, but Adams’ return was short-lived.
The Bulldogs' starting right tackle walked out onto the practice field in a green no-practice jersey and on one crutch while his teammates worked on special teams in the early portion of Friday's practice, but soon returned to the team's locker room.
Richt said he did not return, although he may be back on Monday.
Also in green jerseys on Friday were receiver Mikey Henderson (hip), tight end Tripp Chandler (ribs) and Chris Little (wrist). Defensive tackle Brandon Wood and safety Andrew Williams were also in green jerseys on Friday, although their exact injuries were unclear.
Richt doubted that Henderson and Chandler will scrimmage today, expressing hope that they would return to practice Monday as well.
Martinez said Thomas Flowers’ experience has shown as he has worked the last two days as a starting cornerback. The senior missed almost all of last season , but has impressed Martinez -- also the team’s defensive backs coach -- thus far in the preseason. “Him coming back full-time, you can see where experience can help you,” Martinez said. “He sees things quicker than some of the younger guys, reacts a lot quicker because he's seen it more and he makes plays. So it's good to have him back there.” … The NCAA Division I Board of Directors refused on Friday to reconsider its ban on coaches text messaging recruits. That ban has been in effect since Aug. 1. Many coaches expressed displeasure with the ban, but Richt said it would be of little consequence. “Let's face it, that's a relatively small issue, a minor issue. The powers that be usually let us win a battle once in a while,” Richt said. “But we'll e-mail, we'll write letters, we'll call. We're allowed to call. It'll be just like it's been for the longest, so it's not gonna be that big of a deal.” … Of the heat that accompanied the first few days of practice, Richt said, “It's pretty brutal out there. It showed today. It was a tough, tough day today. We had some guys sucking it up, but it's just rough out there. It's as hot as I can remember.” … Georgia will take its first day off since preseason practice started on Sunday. Including today, the team will have practiced for eight consecutive days before its first break.