ATHENS - The misconception, those who have been through it say, is that they are ever told what’s going on. Maybe they sense it, maybe they think it, but very rarely are they ever sat down and told this point-blank by a coach: You are not going to play this year.
“It just happens,” said Georgia junior Mike Thornton, who redshirted in 2010. “It’s not anything personal, like, ‘Hey you can’t play, so you’re redshirting this year.’ ”
“This season, I’ve heard some fans chirp about redshirting or whatever. But the coaches have not,” said Watts Dantzler, a junior offensive lineman who has not redshirted but wishes he had at some point.
Now less than two weeks from the season opener, the Georgia coaches must decide who will definitely play this year and who it will start out planning to redshirt. It’s not always an easy call, and the history of it isn’t perfect.
In some eyes, there might be a stigma to redshirting, the process of a player taking a year off and saving some eligibility. The vast majority of the time, it means the team just doesn’t need the player that year. But some of Georgia’s best players have redshirted. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray did in 2009, before starting his record-breaking career. Senior tight end Arthur Lynch did in 2010, after his freshman year, and enters this year as a second-team All-American, according to several lists.
Murray and Lynch’s top backups (Hutson Mason and Jay Rome) also redshirted. Junior Michael Bennett and sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley, two of the team’s key receivers, redshirted their first year on campus.
“I’m so glad I did,” Bennett said. “We didn’t need me because we had A.J. (Green) obviously. So throw to him every time. It was awesome for me. I know it’s been great for a lot of guys.”
“Sometimes a guy gets sad if they end up redshirting,” head coach Mark Richt said. “But in the end sometimes they realize what a blessing it is. We’ve had a bunch of players redshirt and become first-round draft picks around here, too.”
Of course there’s some risk in that. Knowshon Moreno redshirted in 2006, very infamously, meaning Georgia only got two years out of the star tailback when he turned pro. When Moreno made his leap over a helpless defender in the 2008 season opener, and Richt was asked about it afterwards, the coach shook his head and said sheepishly, “And I still redshirted him.”
That’s one reason it can be a very delicate decision. This year, it might be best in the short term for freshman Tramel Terry to redshirt, because he’s not fully recovered from knee surgery. But Terry is a dynamic talent who might not be around Georgia five years anyway.
Then there’s the opposite problem for Richt. One of his assistant coaches might be in a rush to get a player on the field, thinking about that game or that part of the season. Sometimes Richt will have to step in and think about the long-term benefit for the program and the player.
“If I just think it’s a bad decision, I’ll do that,” Richt said. “If I just think it’s a debatable decision, I’ll at least let them know my thinking on, ‘Are you really sure that this is the right thing to do. And if that’s the decision you make, then we need to make it worth his while by getting in the game. If it’s just a band-aid for a one-game situation, I don’t think it’s worth not redshirting him for that.’ We discuss personnel a good bit, and we’re usually on the same page. Every once in awhile we’ll have to have one of those meetings.”
Defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said redshirting isn’t really something he thinks about as a position coach. That’s Richt’s job.
“He’ll kind of ask us where we are and give him some ideas on where to go with it,” Lakatos said. “But he ultimately looks at the whole program, the scholarship situation and the recruiting situation, because there’s so many factors that go into it.”
Lakatos’ secondary was hit by a rash of early departures before last year. So there have hardly been any redshirts. But the receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends have been deep lately, so it’s no accident there have been a lot of players waiting their turn and taking a year off.
“It’s a numbers game,” Thornton said. “My year, we had Demarcus Dobbs, Kiante Tripp. There were a lot of us. So if he could have I’m pretty sure he would have redshirted me and (classmate) Garrison (Smith) that year. But because of some injuries Garrison got the chance to step up and play that end (spot) early on. I took the redshirt, and I love it, because it gives me two years to play.”
Sometimes a player can get caught on the wrong side of the numbers game. Dantzler is an example.
Two years ago, he played in just three games as a true freshman. Ideally he would have redshirted, but the depth on the line was weak. Last year, the depth was a bit better, but he played in six games. This year the depth is very good, and Danztler isn’t projected as a starter for the season opener, but apparently redshirting still isn’t in the picture.
Asked if he wished he could sit out a season, Dantzler took a deep breath before answering.
“You know I don’t regret anything that’s happened. I’ve had a great two years here at Georgia. The first year, we had at one point about eight linemen. . So shoulda, woulda, coulda, I wish I had redshirted then,” he said. “Then last year an ankle sprain, I missed five games. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, I wish I had redshirted. I had moved up as the season (began), but that injury kinda hurt me all year.
“I came into camp looking to earn playing time, looking to earn a spot, to where the team can count on me. If I’m in the game the team can count on me. I didn’t come in like, ‘Oh I might redshirt.’ That hasn’t been my mindset. If the coaches came to me and said they want me to redshirt, I would. But I think that’s not in the picture right now hopefully.”
This year, Georgia hopes it will be in much better position to bring players along slowly. There are 31 newcomers, giving the team nearly a full scholarship allotment, so there’s some wiggle room.
“The thing about a redshirt is guys that redshirt, No. 1, they graduate. And No. 2, they’re going to be better their fifth year than their first year,” Richt said. “It’s going to be more important how a guy finishes his career than his first year. So there’s a lot of benefit. Guys get stronger, guys understand the system better. So redshirt’s not an awful thing.”