DC-less Dawgs Start Bowl Practice

ATHENS – Even with two weeks to prepare, Saturday's first practice since three assistant coaches were dismissed was a bit surreal for Georgia's players.

The Bulldogs hit the practice field in preparation for their Dec. 28 date with Texas A&M, but while the focus was strictly on the challenge ahead, it was tough to forget about the events of the past few weeks that led to the departure of defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris.

"It was tough," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "You could definitely tell there was something missing. It was a lot quieter, not a lot of yelling, which sometimes can be good. But all the guys miss them. It was weird not to have them pushing you and motivating you."

Reshad Jones has been at Georgia for four seasons, and Saturday marked the first time Martinez wasn't barking orders at him on the practice field – a void Jones struggled to ignore.

"It was pretty weird not hearing Coach Martinez's voice because he's always talking and coaching," Jones said. "It was strange not hearing his voice out there."

From the start, the day's work was far from normal.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner addressed the defense before practice but made it clear that it wouldn't be his job to keep the players motivated.

Head coach Mark Richt spent a good portion of the day's practice watching the defense and offering his own insight – a bit of a departure from his typical hands-off approach with his defensive assistant coaches.

The cold weather only helped to dampen the mood a bit more, but there was little doubt the players were happy to simply be playing football again rather than waiting for the next rumor about new coaches or lamenting the fate of their old ones.

"It wasn't easy to get back on the field, but it was a little bit better because we hadn't been out there for a while, and it was exciting to just be out there playing," Curran said.

In his address to the team, Garner's message was simple: It's going to take everyone chipping in a little extra to overcome the immense departures of Georgia's former coaches.

"We're doing this as a team," Garner said. "If we're going to be successful against Texas A&M, it's going to take a team effort. … I told those guys, they're men, they want to be treated as men, and you've got two segments that will be in meeting rooms with graduate assistants, and I expect them to show them the same respect they showed the full-time guys."

While Richt asked Martinez, Fabris and Jancek to stay on staff through the bowl game, all three coaches declined, leaving graduate assistants Todd Hartley and Mitch Doolittle to oversee the secondary and linebackers, respectively.

The opportunity to work as a full-time member of the coaching staff will be a challenge and an immense opportunity for the two young assistants, Jones said he has the utmost confidence both will get the job done, and said the reaction to them during Saturday's practice was positive.

"I think they'll do a great job," Jones said. "They know their stuff. They've been breaking down film and giving us positive feedback and we respect those guys."

Still, while the tackling drills were the same and the practice fields were familiar, Saturday's first run-through in preparation for the Independence Bowl was a distinct departure from how the Bulldogs have spent the rest of the season.

More than anything, however, it was a reminder of the losses they endured – both in the standings and in the locker room.

"After everything that's been said, I really feel like we could have bounced back and to some extent that we had some control over it," Curran said. "As far as everyone talking down on the coaches, we had control over that because we were in position to make plays. It's a tough pill to swallow."


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