Accompanying the rest of the Georgia beat media, I made my first trip Wednesday afternoon out South Milledge Avenue to the Bulldogs’ recently assembled Club Sports Complex.
With the new Indoor Practice Facility being constructed at Georgia’s normal practice venue behind the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, the athletic department has put down three football fields some three-to-four miles to the south of campus where the team will practice on throughout the remainder of these spring drills, in August preseason and then weekly throughout the fall 2016 season itself while at the same time, also holding workouts and scrimmages between the hedges of Sanford Stadium.
I had read that the first time the media covered the Bulldogs out at this venue, there was considerable complaining about the players being almost off in the distance, so much so that you couldn’t accurately report what was going on with the vanilla-like early drills the writers, radio and TV and internet people are allowed to observe.
But as I walked off the UGA bus that carried us to the fields, I was pleasantly surprised. We were allowed to stand right on the sidelines where the defensive linemen, offensive linemen, and tight ends were going through their paces and they were no more than 10 feet away from the media herd.
Here are a couple of things I observed today in, again, the 15 minutes or so before UGA communications assistants signaled us to get back on the bus.
*** Tracy Rocker and Sam Pittman employ two opposing styles of communicating with their position players. When the defensive linemen were undergoing a step drill, forming a single line and then high stepping over blocking dummies spaced apart, as they maneuvered over the final dummy, a pretty good-sized graduate assistant – who looked like he should still be in pads also – would whack them pretty solidly with his padded forearm. Then the lineman would almost simultaneously pop the G.A. back. When the graduate assistant threw such a blow one time that he knocked the player backward, Rocker screamed, “ ….., he done spiked your a..!”
And in contrast to Rocker’s in-your-face, very vocal coaching tactics, new offensive line coach Pittman hardly raises his voice at his O-linemen, while calmly letting the players know what they’re doing right and, conversely, wrong. As his linemen worked on a staying-low drill and firing off the ball under a practice device with bars designed to keep them from rising up, Pittman would simply say stuff like, “I like it, I like it. Good job.”
*** Among the guys up front, you couldn’t help but notice the chiseled physique of early freshman enrollee Ben Cleveland. The nearly 6-7, 350-pound Cleveland, who hails from Toccata and wears No. 74 on his huge frame, is what the old-time football coaches call simply a “hoses.”
*** Over to the left conducting the tight end drills was another new assistant, Shane Beamer. The son of the ex-Virginia Tech coaching great Frank Beamer, Shane Beamer – again in the short viewing time we had out there – seemed a well-organized, non-screaming coach who keenly focuses on every move his position players make. “Good job, way to go,” said Beamer (also the new special teams coordinator), clapping his hands while lauding one particular player in the TE’s drill.
*** Now, the Georgia quarterbacks were a ways away from our viewing spots, throwing the ball on the opposite side of one of the three fields. But far as I could tell, Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and the freshman Jacob Eason were whipping through the very same early drill they did yesterday inside Sanford Stadium, hurling down-and-out sideline patterns to the Bulldog wide receivers and then, after advancing the ball to a certain point, turning around and playing pitch-and-catch back the other way.
*** One recruiting note from today, Warren McClendon, the brother of former Georgia great Willie McClendon and the uncle of former UGA player and coach Bryan McClendon, was at practice this afternoon accompanying his prospect son, also named Warren. The young McClendon is just a rising sophomore offensive lineman at Brunswick High School. He’s nearly 6-5, 280 already and certainly has the McClendon football genes, starting on the offensive line for the Pirates last season as a mere freshman. Already, Georgia, Alabama and the like are showing great interest. If he does eventually follow his predecessors to Athens, he could also be following present rising Brunswick senior offensive tackle D’Antne “Big Man” Demery (6-6, 306), who could well be committing to Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs in the coming days.
Wednesday’s practice was supposed to have been held Thursday but was moved up a day due to the stormy weather forecast predicted for Athens tomorrow. Come Saturday, Smart will send his charges through their first scrimmage of the spring at Sanford Stadium.
Good to hear that the coaches are coaching up on the great talent available, so good in fact that it’s hard to know the 1st from the 2nd team and that’s what’s going to make UGA an effective Championship Calber Team. GO DAWGS