ATHENS, Ga. — It has been nearly three months since Georgia donned full pads on the football field, but the Bulldogs finally dressed out for a practice Saturday, and quarterback Joe Cox said the energy was high.
“It was pretty intense,” Cox said. “We thought the whole day was going to be live, but Coach (Mark) Richt in some drills made it full-speed wrap-up, people going to the ground, just because everyone was getting after it pretty good.”
Of course, Cox has spent much of the offseason touting his energy level as his best weapon on the football field, so he had to make sure he matched the excitement his teammates showed during Saturday’s practice.
“I’m just trying to get people’s intensity up,” Cox said. “It’s nothing crazy, stepping on people’s toes, but I’m definitely making sure that everybody knew this was the first day in pads and we did have to get after it.”
The legend grows
The star of the spring so far might be freshman running back Carlton Thomas. Through four days of practice, he has wowed teammates with a bevy of big runs, even if not everyone has witnessed the heroics.
“I’ve been kind of upset because I’ve been in front of him blocking, so I haven’t been able to see his runs,” fullback Shaun Chapas said. “From the reaction of everybody else, he had some great ones (Saturday).”
Thomas made one particularly impressive run during inside drills Saturday, stiff-arming Justin Houston and bolting downfield for a big gain. Cox was on the other side of the field tossing the football when Thomas’ big run caught his attention.
“I heard the whole crowd go crazy, turned around and saw him running down the sideline,” Cox said.
Since he arrived in Athens last summer, Thomas has been impressing teammates with his big runs, but his size — he’s just 5-foot-7 — has made him a bit of a question mark. But fellow tailback Richard Samuel said that shouldn’t be an issue.
“He might be small,” Samuel said, “but he’ll bring the heat to you.”
That was a sentiment Cox was quick to confirm. Thomas might not have the same size as his competition at running back, but it’s hard to account for heart, Cox said.
“He’s got a motor like no one I’ve ever seen,” Cox said. “He’s tough. You see him get knocked down, but he’s up on his feet before you can even snap your fingers.”
Incoming freshman tight end Orson Charles was in Athens for Saturday’s practice, and while he has yet to receive a copy of the playbook, he assured Cox that he’ll be ready to go on Day 1.
“He actually was standing on the sideline and I came off the field, he was like, ‘I already know the offense. I’m good to go,’” Cox said. “I started laughing and said, ‘Alright, we’ll see once you get here.’”
Charles may have been embellishing his knowledge of the Bulldogs’ game plan just a bit, but his fervor made quite an impression on his soon-to-be teammates.
“It’s good to see someone with his enthusiasm who is willing to learn and wanting to learn,” tight end Bruce Figgins said. “I think the coaches get pumped off that, and I definitely get pumped off that, reminding me I need to push myself, too.”
While there are likely a few nuances to Georgia’s offense Charles hasn’t mastered after watching one practice, he said he hopes that won’t be the case by the time he arrives in Athens for good this summer. His goal for his visit this weekend was to gather as much information as possible, so he’ll be fully prepared to earn some playing time right off the bat when fall camp opens in August.
“Hopefully I’ll be coming back with a box full of stuff so I can get ready,” Charles said.Baby steps
They still look confused, frustrated and befuddled, but Georgia’s three early enrollees are making progress. For all their mistakes, however, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Dallas Lee are still getting plenty of pats on the back from teammates.
Lee has gotten a quick introduction to the rigors of the SEC under offensive line coach Stacy Searels, but center Ben Jones said he’s reminded the new freshman that things will get better.
“Everybody goes through it,” Jones said. “It’s just part of football.”
Murray and Mettenberger have had their struggles learning the basics of playing quarterback while under the intense spotlight that comes with the position, but Cox said the two have shown signs of improvement in both players after just a few days.
“You can tell they’re getting more and more confident,” Cox said. “The throws they’re making and their decisions as opposed to the first day - the first day it was just being in the huddle, having to say the play, having everyone looking at them, it just caught them off guard - they’re definitely looking better.”
Time to shine
Midway through the 2008 season, Georgia was so short on tight ends that lineman Kiante Tripp and fullback Brannan Southerland had to take turns at the position. When the 2009 season kicks off, however, the Bulldogs will be flush with talent, with as many as five healthy scholarship tight ends on the roster.
This spring, however, the ranks remain thin and that might leave an opportunity for freshman Bryce Ros to prove he belongs in the competition for playing time with Figgins, Charles, Aron White and Arthur Lynch.
“I think this is a really important time for Bryce,” tight ends coach John Lilly said. “With Bruce out and Tripp (Chandler) graduated, Bryce is getting his first real chance in these 15 days (of spring practice). His answers to questions and those things are starting to come together. Now can he take what he knows and take it on to the field?”