Young Dawgs get their shot

ATHENS – As much as anything could, today represents a circle-of-life approach to college football that Mark Richt tries very hard to hold close.

Georgia's graduating seniors will not practice this morning so they can focus their attention on commencement ceremonies. That will give the Bulldogs a chance to do something they rarely have done under Richt during bowl practice – scrimmage their young players.

Georgia (8-4), which plays No. 14 Virginia Tech in the Dec. 30 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, has plenty of youngsters who need live-action experience. Of the Bulldogs' 24 true freshmen, 18 redshirted this season.

That brings the story back to today, when 12 Bulldogs or former Bulldogs will be graduate. There are many reasons to redshirt young players, but the most important to Richt, he said, is it increases the odds of graduation.

"That was a big part of my thinking," he said. "I want these guys to graduate. I want these guys to maybe slow down their mental clock. I think a redshirt really helps ground them academically and socially."

By contrast, Florida played 14 true freshmen on the way to earning a berth in the BCS national title game this year. Only three other Division I-A schools played more.

If Georgia had played as many of its newcomers, it would have avoided the depth issues that plagued its special teams the second half of the season so it wasn't an easy decision for Richt.

"You know that they can help and you know maybe by midseason they may even play some scrimmage downs," he said. "Quite frankly, you need competition to keep guys in line sometimes you know."

Still, the cost wasn't worth the payoff, he decided.

There were a few freshmen who were particularly hard to keep off the field, like running back Knowshon Moreno. As late as the eighth game of the season, Georgia hadn't ruled out playing the New Jersey product.

"Gosh, you hand him the ball, and he really did such a nice job of running," Richt said. "He struggled like most young acks with pass protection, and then you've got three junior (running backs) who can really play. We just really felt like it was in his best interest to wait. Now, he's got four seasons to look forward to and after the three seniors go next year, he's the guy with the most experience, and he's got a chance to be that way for three years."

How about a hard-hitting safety? The Bulldogs could have used one of those on more than one occasion this year, and all the while, their most physical defensive back – Houston County native Quintin Banks – was toiling through a season on the scout team.

"It was a little difficult knowing that on Saturdays you couldn't play with the guys," Banks said. "During practice, it went through pretty smoothly, better than I thought it would. But it's hard not being able to play after playing for so many years, but it's a learning experience, and I think it keeps you humble."

Moreno and Banks and the other 16 freshmen who spent their season on the scout team will get their first chance to go full speed in more than three months today.

"It's just to give them a little taste of playing again really," Richt said. "When you hook it up, you get better, and we'll learn some things about them, how they're going to react to full-speed contact."

Many schools treat bowl workouts as an extension of spring practice and begin preparing for next year by giving their youngsters more work. Georgia traditionally hasn't gone that route, but, after redshirting those 18 players this year and with the possibility of signing as many of 30 in the Class of 2007, the Bulldogs could have nearly 50 scholarship players next year who have never taken a college snap.

In light of that, getting the youngsters some work this month will help down the road, Richt thinks.

"It's going to help us by doing that, but I've always made the No. 1 objective to win the ball game, probably more than most people do," Richt said, "and it'll still be that way."

Dawg Post Top Stories