New NCAA rule helps Dawgs' freshmen

ATHENS - Georgia's incoming freshman class isn't very big, but, thanks in part to a new NCAA rule, it could be very productive.

For the first time this season, the NCAA allowed football newcomers to receive financial aid in the summer after their high school graduation. That means all 14 of the Bulldog freshmen who qualified were able to get into at least one session of summer school, participate in the conditioning program and get acclimated to college life.

"I like the rule. I like it a lot," Coach Mark Richt said. "They're definitely more ready today than they would have been if they hadn't been in summer school. I'm really pleased with all the true freshman. It's very early, but as I've watched the film, you can see the potential. I don't know if there's one I would count out right now."

Richt specifically mentioned defensive ends Kade Weston and Jeff Owens, wide receivers Michael Moore and Mohamed Massaquoi and linebacker Marcus Washington as "guys who look like they're physically ready to compete."

"A good bit of them will have a chance," Richt said. "They're really a good-looking bunch of guys."

Although Weston may have been the premier recruit in Georgia's class this season, Owens is actually more ready to play right now than Weston, defensive line coach Rodney Garner said.

"He's a little farther along," Garner said. "It might have something to do with the fact he's been here all summer and Kade came in July. Kade was affected by the heat (Friday)."

If weight room numbers are any indication, Owens also is physically stronger. He topped Weston in all three of the team's three major lifts: bench press (485 to 370), squat (530 to 405) and power clean (309 to 242).

Wide receiver is the other position where Georgia desperately needs help. Massaquoi and Moore are even in terms of progress there, wide receivers John Eason.

The Bulldogs also lack depth at linebacker, but linebackers coach John Jancek said he doesn't think any of his newcomers "have" to play.

Still, Richt said Saturday that he expects Tavares Kearney to play right away.

"From what I've seen, he'll play this year," he said when asked if Kearney's one-game suspension would hold until next year if Kearney were to redshirt this year.

In addition to making a difference on the field, the academic hours players accumulate during the first summer will make it easier for players to keep up with the NCAA's heightened degree-progress requirements, Richt said.

The new rule drew mostly praise from coaches at least week's SEC Media Days.

"I think it's a great change," Kentucky coach Rick Brooks said. "Interestingly, basketball has been able to do it for several years."

However, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said he wasn't in favor of the rule because he thinks freshmen should have one final summer to relax before entering the year-round grind of college football.

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