ATHENS - Todd Grantham grinned Thursday when a reporter mentioned that freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had been making some plays in scrimmages, at least according to the stats.
"I don't know about all those stats they give you guys sometimes," said Grantham, Georgia's defensive coordinator.
That wasn't meant to downplay Floyd's production, rather Grantham was alluding to his belief that more sacks would be credited to his defensive players if the rules of the scrimmages were different. In which case, Floyd may have actually been credited with a sack, since he wasn't on Wednesday, though he did have four tackles and was singled out for praise by head coach Mark Richt.
In any case, it's become clear by now that Floyd, who came to Georgia after a year at prep school, is pushing presumed starter James DeLoach at the Sam outside linebacker position. DeLoach earned that first-team spot after spring practice, but he had thumb surgery two weeks ago and is playing with a clubbed-up hand. Floyd, meanwhile, has been drawing notice in practice and making plays in scrimmages.
"We're always gonna play guys that produce, so if you make plays in scrimmage and stuff, you're gonna end up playing," Grantham said. "I think Leonard has shown flashes of being a playmaker. I think James has the ability to do those things too. It's nothing wrong with having more than one. We're gonna find ways to get guys on the field. ... It's a good problem to have when those guys are competing."
Senior T.J. Stripling's performance in the scrimmages may have also helped him get in position for playing time, likely as a second-team outside linebacker.
"I think Strip has done a good job of try to make himself a better player," Grantham said. "He's worked to be good in run and pass and be an overall complete linebacker. I've seen him out there working on his own in the spring and summer, just out there working as you're driving by. He takes a lot of pride in trying to be a good player, and it's shown up in preseason camp. He's made some plays, been effective. We'll definitely have a role for him, as we move forward in the next five or six days we'll see how that role plays out. ... He'll definitely do something for us."
Young receiver decisions await
The depth at receiver is such that a surprisingly-impressive freshman (Reggie Davis) still might not play this year, and another highly-touted freshman (Tramel Terry) doesn't need to get rushed back from injury.
Receivers coach Tony Ball indicated that any decision on whether to redshirt Davis or Terry would not come immediately. The top six are basically set, although oft-injured senior Rantavious Wooten is out again, this time with a hamstring injury. Georgia typically plays five-to-seven receivers, so it seems Davis, Terry, redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs and newcomer Jonathan Rumph are battling for one or two spots.
Terry's situation might be the most fluid. If healthy he would almost certainly play, but he has been candid about not being fully recovered from knee surgery last December. So what is Ball's approach with Terry?
"If he can improve like we need him to improve, and he can be productive, then you play him," Ball said. "He's still being evaluated like everyone else is being evaluated. He has further to go, obviously, because of his injury. So we've all got to be patient with him. ...
"He's still recovering, and it's just good to have him out there and learning the system, and learn how to get back in the groove," Ball said. "You've gotta understand, he didn't come from a passing system. So he's having to learn new terminology, new patterns. And then obviously coming back from the surgery. The thing for him is just being out there working, and being patient."
Then there's Davis, who was one of the more low-profile members of Georgia's 33-member signing class, but has drawn raves from teammates for his performance this spring.
"Anybody that runs under a 10.5 (in the 100), that's running," Ball said. "And he did it consistently, and he did it in the state of Florida. That gives you an idea of his ability to run. But yeah, what he's doing right now doesn't surprise us."
Rumph has made "tremendous strides" since the spring, according to Ball, echoing what head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have said. It's still uncertain if it's enough to get Rumph a lot of snaps, given the crowded situation at receiver, but clearly Rumph has improved in the eyes of coaches.
"He's headed in the right direction," Ball said. "Really and truly starting to get confidence. Learning the system is always a challenge, and he feels comfortable doing that. And now he's starting to play with the confidence and make plays."
Kick return possibilities
Ball is also in charge of the kick return unit, which means deciding on who will return kicks. There seem to be an infinite number of possibilities there, including one intriguing new name.
Keith Marshall has been getting a look there, along with fellow tailback Todd Gurley, who returned kicks early last season.
"I'd like to see if Keith can do it also," Ball said. "He's a speed guy as well."
They're joined in the mix by Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Brendan Langley, J.J. Green and Sheldon Dawson. It's a crowded group, but Ball would like to not only experiment early in the season and see if someone emerges, but be flexible as the season goes on.
"I'd like to be able to have that luxury of (saying): Hey you get back there this time," Ball said.
Tray Matthews has been limited in practice for most of the past two weeks, while Corey Moore remains out with a knee sprain. But Grantham didn't sound too worried, saying Matthews went through spring practice, and Moore is in his third year in the program.
"The plan that we had for (Matthews) and how we were gonna bring him back, the whole focus was to get him ready for Game 1," Grantham said. "We've got a feel for what he can do, we've just gotta get him honed in on the calls and get him some work, really. ... We'll just have to see how Corey keeps progressing, and see what happens over the next week."
Grantham was encouraged by the plays that freshmen cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins made in the scrimmage. Each had an interception, and Langley returned his for a long touchdown. Those two are in position to get a lot of playing time in the team's nickel and dime formations, so Georgia is rushing to prepare them for the start of the season.
"We're not there yet. But we don't have to play yet," Grantham said.
And finally ...
There is no firm update on the right tackle starting spot, where last year's starter John Theus is being pushed by Kolton Houston.
Offensive line coach Will Friend was not available for interviews after Thursday's practice, and Bobo kept his summation brief.
"They're battling it out," Bobo said.