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Bulldog News

    ATHENS — Coach Kirby Smart is doing his best to make sure that Georgia’s best and brightest players will all be available to play in the G-Day Game. But there is increasing evidence some key players may have to sit out Saturday’s heavily-promoted intrasquad game at Sanford Stadium. As of Thursday evening, Smart was holding out hope that offensive stars Terry Godwin and D’Andre Swift will be available. Godwin practiced in a limited capacity Thursday but looked a bit gimpy while doing so with groin and knee injuries. Swift was also going through position drills but hasn’t been participating in full-contact work the last week. “Terry’s been banged up a little bit but we expect him to be able to go and to play,” Smart said. “He’s pushing through. He’s been really tough about it. He has some groin soreness and a slight MCL knee (injury). He’s been able to go.” As for Swift, Smart said: “We’ll see how he does. He’s been able to do some things but hasn’t been able to do everything. He hasn’t been live tackling. He’s getting a lot of mental reps and things like that. He’s still kind of a game-time decision.” One player who definitely won’t play Saturday is cornerback Mark Webb. The converted receiver suffered torn cartilage)in his right knee in practice on Tuesday and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Thursday. However, he should be available to compete in preseason camp in August, or earlier. “Mark had a torn meniscus and he won’t be able to play in the spring game,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ 14th practice. … We’re expecting a full recovery. He should be back.” Webb had been moving up the ranks in the secondary and appeared poised to contend for a starting position at cornerback. Instead, the Bulldogs are down to just 10 defensive backs overall. Georgia is also going to be without freshman early enrollee Divaad Wilson, who suffered an ACL tear the first week of spring practice, and safety Jarvis Wilson, who has a sprained foot. Sophomore William Poole may have to switch back-and-forth between the Red and Black squads on Saturday in order to preserve competitive balance. Godwin is the leading returning receiver from last year. He had 639 yards and scored six touchdowns, including one via a fairly miraculous catch at Notre Dame Stadium. Swift averaged 7.6 yards a carry and scored three touchdowns while playing behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as a freshman last season. He finished with 618 yards and was also the Bulldogs’ leading receiver out of the backfield with 17 catches for 153 yards and one score. The post Some key Georgia players may be missing for G-Day appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — New Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean has finally pulled the trigger on naming a second assistant basketball coach. Joe Scott, most recently an assistant coach at Holy Cross, sports 16 seasons of head coaching experience at three Division I schools. He joins Chad Dollar on the Bulldogs’ staff. “I’m excited to welcome Joe, Leah, Ben and Jack to our Georgia Basketball family and the entire UGA community,” Crean said in a statement released by the school. “Joe is known nationally as someone who excels at coaching, teaching and competing. He has tremendous respect of his peers who have gone against him and those who have worked along side him. He will bring many different elements to our program, but overall and he will help our young men get better every day.” Said Scott, also in a statement: “My family and I are extremely excited to be joining the Georgia family. The University of Georgia is a special place. This is a tremendous opportunity to help Coach Crean implement his vision and make Georgia Basketball special. I cannot wait to get started coaching our players to develop and get better every day.” Scott was tabbed one of the nation’s top-20 “Xs & Os” coaches in a survey of his peers by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman in 2013. He was head coach at Air Force for four seasons, Princeton for three campaigns and Denver for nine seasons. He also has served as an assistant coach at Monmouth, Princeton and Holy Cross. All told, Scott sports 27 years of collegiate coaching experience. Before breaking into the head coaching ranks, Scott was an assistant coach at Monmouth during the 1991-92 season and at Princeton from 1992-2000. While at Princeton, Scott helped the Tigers to five consecutive postseason appearances, with trips to the 1996, 1997 and 1998 NCAA Tournaments and the 1999 and 2000 NITs. The Tigers won three Ivy League titles from 1996-98, including perfect 14-0 records in the final two seasons. Princeton upset defending national champion UCLA in the 1996 NCAA Tournament and ranked as high as No. 7 nationally in 1998 en route to earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest ever for an Ivy League team. The post Georgia’s Tom Crean finally settles on a second assistant coach appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia held their final actual practice of the spring at the Woodruff Practice Complex on Thursday. Under clear skies and relatively cool temperatures, the Bulldogs were working out in shorts and helmets and were scheduled to for about two hours. The next time they get together and play as a team will be during G-Day Saturday at Sanford Stadium (4 p.m., ESPN, News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB). Actually, it will as two teams. UGA on Thursday released its split rosters for the Red and Black squads for Saturday’s intrasquad game. This year, Georgia’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Jake Fromm, will be the Red team. The Black Squad will be led by the Bulldogs’ No. 1 defensive unit — and freshman quarterback Justin Fields, of course. Fromm’s Red squad will be protected by the first-string offensive line — which included both Solomon Kindley and Kendall Baker to play left guard. It will also feature juniors Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien at tailback and Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman at wideout and Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner at tight end. Fields’ No. 2 offensive unit will have walkons Prather Hudson and Ian Donald-McIntyre in the backfield and will feature a receiving corps of Ahkil Crumpton, J.J. Holloman, Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers and Tyler Simmons. Of course, the Black team will be hanging its hat on a defensive team led by Tyler Clark, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, Jonathan Ledbetter, Julian Rochester and Malik Herring and inside linebackers Juwan Taylor, Tae Crowder and Nate McBride. D’Andre Walker, Robert Beal and Walter Grant will man the outside linebacker positions. The secondary for the Black squad has Deandre Baker and Tyrique McGhee at the corners, William Poole at star and J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte III at the safeties. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs appeared to be going through normal drill work and play-polish in the early portions of practice on Thursday. Following are a few observations: Senior Terry Godwin was going through regular drill work with the receivers but appeared to be a bit gimpy in doing so. He had a reinforced brace on one knee and a regular sleeve on the other. Cornerback Mark Webb was not practicing after suffering a knee injury of undisclosed severity on Tuesday. Indications are it’s not a “major” injury. D’Andre Swift was going through bag drills with the running backs and did not exhibit noticeable limitations. He is dealing with a groin injury, according to coach Kirby Smart. Defensive tackle Michael Barnett (knee) was not at practice again, assuring that he’ll miss G-Day. Justin Young, who missed practices last week due to a minor knee sprain, has been able to practice and might be able to play. One area lacking depth that has not been much discussed is deep snapper for special teams. The Bulldogs technically have just one on the roster in redshirt freshman Oren Morgan of Toombs County. But senior fullback Nick Moore also snaps to the kickers. Former tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were watching Thursday’s practice from the sideline and having a good time commenting on what they say. Asked which tailback they expected to be the leading rusher for the G-Day Game on Saturday, they simultaneously said “Prather Hudson.” Hudson is a redshirt sophomore walkon from Columbus. Recently-matriculated receiver Javon Wims was also at practice watching his position group. All of them plan to attend on Saturday, with Chubb conducting an autograph-signing at the bookstore.   The post Practice report: Jake Fromm to lead Red against Justin Field’s Black squad on G-Day appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Welcome to a feature on DawgNation, where our writers answer (or try to answer) the best questions submitted by Georgia fans. If you’d like to submit a question, please e-mail us at ugaquestionoftheday@gmail.com. Look for the Question of the Day every Monday through Friday Dear DawgNation: What is up with Nate McBride? —  James McConnell, Chickamauga What’s up with Nate McBride, you ask? Lots of things are up with the linebacker from Vidalia. First off, he’s up in class. He’s a legitimate sophomore academically, even though he’s still in his first year at UGA. He’s also up in age and experience, as well as strength and size. And while he’s up, he’s also down. Not mentally, but physically. Lee Chomskis (pronounced HOM-skiss), his coach at Vidalia High, said McBride is down to about 218 pounds after playing last season at Georgia at 225 and his senior year at Vidalia at almost 230 pounds. That said, having had a year under his belt with strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair, he looks a bit different physically. Not necessarily thinner, but certainly more cut. But reading between the words of your brief, one-line question, I suppose that’s not exactly what you meant by, “what’s up with McBride?” You probably are wondering, like a few folks I’ve heard from, why we aren’t hearing more about him. Why isn’t he creating more buzz and why isn’t he a starting linebacker for Georgia already? That’s what people often wonder when a former blue-chip prospect of McBride’s ilk — he was the No. 2-rated inside linebacker in the country at one point — is not starring by his second year on campus. A couple of points here: McBride is not even all the way to his second year at Georgia yet; two, we don’t fully know exactly what McBride’s role is going to be on the defense in 2018. We do know that he is competing with Monty Rice, Juwan Taylor and Jaden Hunter for the Will linebacker position manned so well last season by Roquan Smith. Though early signs point to Rice leading that competition, nothing is written in stone — or even on paper — and there is a long way to go before that’s decided. We also know that McBride has the size and skills to earn playing time at the Mike, the other inside linebacker spot in Georgia’s defense, and that the Bulldogs desperately need help at both spots in 2018. Regardless of how those competitions turn out, you’re still bound to see a lot of McBride this season, just like we did last season. In fact, while playing on several of Georgia’s special teams units McBride was one of just six true freshmen to play in all 15 of the Bulldogs’ games. The others were Jake Fromm, Andrew Thomas, D’Andre Swift, Walter Grant and Malik Herring. Rice played in 14. So you can bet that the swift-footed McBride will be on the field at least for special teams, if not also in a defensive role. He has one of the traits that coach Kirby Smart covets most — speed — as his four Class AA sprint championships as a high school senior attest. To date, I haven’t had a chance to ask Smart about McBride. But I reached out to Chomkis, who communicates with him on a regular basis, for a little insight. “He played on a team that played for the national championship,” Chomkis said. “That means there’s a lot of talent there at Georgia. He could’ve gone to Vanderbilt or Missouri and started every game, but he wanted to play for championships. I think he’s running with the 2s or 3s right now during the spring, and that’s because he’s still learning the position and having to think a lot. “But I think he’s an outstanding kid and an outstanding football player and I think he’ll play a lot for Georgia before it’s over. He has good size and great speed and that’s why they recruited him, because he can run so well. He can flat fly, and I’m not sure that there’s many that can run with him.” That pretty much sums it up. As Smart and the Bulldogs like to say this year, he “ain’t going nowhere.” Have a question for beat writer Chip Towers? E-mail us at ugaquestionoftheday@gmail.com The post ‘What’s up’ with Georgia linebacker Nate McBride? appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Really, we don’t know all that much about Georgia’s Monty Rice. But you have to like what the sophomore linebacker has to say about the enormous challenge that’s before him and the Bulldogs’ entire defense in succeeding Roquan Smith and that star-studded unit of a season ago. “We can’t live off what Roquan did, or Lorenzo [Carter] did, or Dom Sanders did,” said Rice, who is poised to follow Smith at the Will inside linebacker position. “What’s Juwan Taylor gonna do? What’s Nate McBride gonna do? What’s Monty Rice gonna do? We’ve got to live off what we’re going to do. We can’t dwell on last year’s success.” Monty Rice Truer words have not been spoken this spring about Georgia’s defense. The Bulldogs lost a boatload of exceptional football talent off last season’s 13-2, No. 2-ranked team. That fact will be underscored in the NFL draft next week. Most notable among those departures is Smith. The Butkus Award-winning linebacker is expected to be an early first-round draft choice. The battle to replace him is ongoing. But the odds-on favorite to handle that considerable task is Rice, who is really kind of a mystery man. If you don’t follow recruiting closely, you might need a refresher. Rice sort of just showed up at Georgia. Rivals and 247Sports pegged him as a 3-star recruit, but his offer list said otherwise. He had upwards of 20 offers, including pretty much the whole of the SEC. Rice actually committed to LSU (over Auburn and Georgia) in mid-December 2016. It’s something he now says was an act of confused desperation. But, as an early enrollee, he’d long been pursued by Mel Tucker, first at Alabama and then as defensive coordinator at Georgia. In the end, Rice pursued that relationship and simply enrolled at UGA without signing a letter of intent, according to his high school coach. “When he announced that day that he was going to go to LSU, me and everyone else going in thought it was going to be Georgia, just because of his relationship with Coach Tucker and Coach [Kirby] Smart,” said Wade Waldrop, Rice’s coach at James Clemens High School in Madison, Ala. “They already knew him, because he had visited Alabama a number of times throughout his sophomore and junior years, so they were familiar with him. “He came out right away and said, ‘I think I made a mistake.’ I said, ‘That’s all right. You haven’t signed a thing. As long as you let Coach [Dave] Aranda and Coach O [LSU coach Ed Oregeron] know, you do what’s best for you. You’ve got to wake up in that dorm room every day.’ ” Said Rice: “I just followed my heart.” Rice’s arrival in Athens in January 2017 has been a blessing both for the Bulldogs and for Rice. As a freshman last season he played in 14 of Georgia’s 15 games and even got a start against Missouri in the season’s seventh game. He finished with 22 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. The one start came at Mike linebacker alongside Smith after Natrez Patrick was suspended and Reggie Carter was injured. But he primarily as a Will — or weakside linebacker — which happened to be the position manned by Smith. So it was difficult to get on the field much with the defense. His work came mostly at “garbage time” and on special teams. But Rice said last season’s experience was invaluable to him, if for no other reason than getting to know Smith and watching how he worked. “Roquan is not a selfish person,” Rice said. “He was helping me out when I first got here, telling me what calls I had to make, telling me what to do or whatever. So he was real helpful. So was Lorenzo and Davin [Bellamy] and all of those guys.” As for motivation, Rice doesn’t need a lot of help in that department. This is a young man who has had his sights set not only on major college football but the NFL for a long time. That’s what distinguished Rice at James Clemens High. Originally from Huntsville, Ala., he actually lived with another family in Madison while playing there. The reason for that was two-fold. One, he wanted to play high school football at the highest level possible; and, two, he needed to escape the crime and poverty that ravaged the community in which he was raised. That ended up being a move made in heaven. Not only was Rice wildly successful as a player — he recorded 137 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 touchdowns to lead the Jets to the Class 7A quarterfinals as a senior — but also as a student. “Monty Rice is a football player,” Waldrop said. “He came to school every day — and he had a 3.2, 3.1 GPA — and he did well in school because he wanted to play football. Everything he does is to play football. A lot of people, it’s the other way around. He did what he had to do on a daily basis to be a big-time football player. You didn’t have to hold things over his head to get him to do something. He loves playing football.” It’s not all about money and fame for Rice, either. He hopes football can give him a platform to call attention to a cause that is very personal to him: excessive force used by police, particularly against victims suffering from mental illness. You can read about it yourself from the pinned tweet at the top of Rice’s Twitter account, @RiceMonty. It takes you to a Facebook page dedicated to telling the story of Horaesheo Rice, a cousin eight years Rice’s senior who was killed by police gunfire on Sept. 20, 2017. That was the Wednesday before the Bulldogs would play Mississippi State in Sanford Stadium. Rice has his cousin’s name tattooed on his right forearm as a reminder of what he’s playing for. “I know he’s looking down and smiling about what I’m doing,” Rice said Thursday night after Georgia’s 13th practice of the spring. “We used to live together, so I was real close to him. I’m not a big social media guy, but I don’t want his name to ever be forgotten. I don’t want what happened to be, ah, this is just another killer. I want it to be known what happened to my cousin.” So, yes, Rice is supremely motivated. And apparently he’s a pretty good player, too. At this point there’s still no guarantees that Rice will be the undisputed starter and/or primary player at Georgia’s all-important Will linebacker spot. Among others, he’s competing with senior Juwan Taylor and fellow sophomore Nate McBride, not to mention two freshmen who will join the team in June. But indications are that No. 32 has been making a name for himself at that spot during spring practice. “He’s pretty difficult,” sophomore tackle Andrew Thomas said of trying to block Rice. “He has one speed. He’s, like, full-going all the time and he’s going to hit you. He doesn’t care if you’re bigger than him, he’s going to strike you and try to make a play. He’s making us all better.” That this one-time 3-star prospect is in position to become a full-time starter at a marquee position in his sophomore year may come as a surprise to a lot of people. But not to those in Madison and Huntsville who have known Rice for a while. “I’m absolutely not surprised, because he’s driven,” said Waldrop, who visited with Rice shortly before spring practice began. “He has a purpose. The purpose of just trying to start is probably big for him. He’s got NFL aspirations. He knows if he does the things that Coach Smart and Coach [Glenn] Schumann and those guys tell him to do and he buys into it, he knows he’ll have a shot to one day go get money.” And perhaps draw greater attention to a cause that is dear to him. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes on the football field, but for now we have an idea of what Monty Rice is all about. The post Georgia’s Monty Rice: Linebacker with a cause appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Elijah Holyfield has officially retired. From boxing, that is. “Oh, no. Heck, no!” Holyfield said Tuesday of a possible return to boxing, which he last did competitively as a middle schooler. “I’ve been out of it too long, and I wouldn’t want to go in there and get hit again. I don’t want to get punched anymore. I get hit enough running.” That would be running with a football. And he’s going to stick with that a bit longer. In fact, Holyfield’s football career is just beginning to take off, in college anyway. At least it looks that way as the Georgia Bulldogs move toward the end of spring practice in Holyfield’s third year. All signs are point to the rising junior from College Park with the famous last name being Georgia’s primary ball carrier when G-Day kicks off this Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN, News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB). In a position largely defined by the “survival-of-the-fittest” model, Holyfield has both survived and proved the most fit this spring. As the Bulldogs prepare to play before an estimated crowd of 78,000 at Saturday, Holyfield is the odds-0n favorite to play the role of Georgia’s No. 1 tailback. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have moved on, of course, and heir apparent D’Andre Swift is slightly gimpy with a groin injury. But Holyfield might’ve been the man anyway. In fact, that’s exactly what some of his teammates were saying about him on Tuesday. “That’s a man right there,” said defensive end David Marshall, who gets to tackle Holyfield almost every practice. “I love how he practices, I love how he comes hard every play. I’ve never seen him slacking, ever.” Holyfield and fellow junior Brian Herrien have managed to stay healthy while getting the majority of repetitions in Georgia’s considerable running back corps this spring. Ballyhooed freshman signee Zamir “Zeus” White is running drills but has not been cleared for contact while recovering from December knee surgery. Fellow blue-chip recruit James Cook hasn’t arrived yet. Georgia also has a small selection of walk-ons at running back, including sophomores Prather Hudson and Ian Donald-McIntyre. But Holyfield has created the buzz in camp. Not only does he look physically imposing, he has been playing a high level, as well. “He’s a physical, tough guy, one of my favorite competitors out there,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said last week. “He’s got to pass protect better. He’s got to work on it, and that’s been a big emphasis for him. But I’m excited to see where he goes. He’s had some really good, tough runs this spring.” Holyfield’s opportunities to show his stuff have been very limited since he signed with the Bulldogs out of Atlanta’s Woodward Academy. Playing a mop-up role behind Chubb and Michel the last two seasons, he has only 56 career rushing attempts for 322 yards. But he has averaged 5.8 yards on those carries and recorded 2 touchdowns. Both of them were impressive, but especially the 39-yarder early in the fourth quarter against Florida last October. He capped it off with a Superman dive into the end zone. “Breaking that was really a confidence builder for me to know I can play on this level,” Holyfield said. Holyfield, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, is known as a strong, tough runner. But that play and the 90-yard kickoff return against Notre Dame that was nullified by a holding penalty demonstrated that he also has speed and some moves. But Holyfield is exceptionally strong and works hard to be that way. He doesn’t mind telling people that he can hang with Chubb when it comes to pumping iron. “I try to do what he could do,” Holyfield said. “I look at his numbers and try to get to those.” Asked if he matched any, Holyfield said, “Oh, yeah. Ask Chubb” — but he withheld details. Doesn’t matter. Playing running back is all about performing on the field. And while Saturday won’t be a sanctioned college football game, Holyfield’s excited to show Georgia fans what he has to offer in 2018. “I’m looking forward to G-Day and running the ball in front of a lot of people,” Holyfield said. “As I get the ball more I think everybody will see all the things I can do.” At one time, Holyfield was known as that Atlanta running back who looks strikingly similar to his famous father, world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. But his goal is to be known as an exceptional football player by his own right. And he’s working hard to make it happen. “It’s not really a shadow,” he said of his father’s fame. “If it is, it’s just motivation to get out of it.” The post Tailback Elijah Holyfield excited for Georgia fans to ‘see the things I do’ appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Good thing Georgia practices football on Tuesdays rather than Mondays. The weather was absolutely gorgeous on Tuesday, 75 degrees with a slight breeze as a few dozen Bulldog Network sponsors looked on during the first portion of what is scheduled to be a two-hour practice. The Bulldogs were in full pads and full-contact mode for practice number 13 of 15 this spring. Offensive and defensive linemen were going through hitting drills during the brief media observation period and offensive skill position players were being put through intense ball security drills, with coaches yelling and screaming and managers and support personnel slapping at the football with all manner of instruments, including blocking dummies, boxing gloves and, yes, hands. Practice No. 14 is Thursday and No. 15 will be Saturday as they conduct the annual G-Day instrasquad game at Sanford Stadium (4 p.m., ESPN, News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB). Here’s a few tidbits from today’s viewing period: Natrez Patrick was there practicing with the inside linebackers. Figured I’d mention after Saturday’s debacle. D’Andre Swift was dressed out and practicing the ball-security drills and play polish with the rest of the running backs. He did not seem to be moving at quite the speed of the other backs, however. He has been dealing with a groin injury, according to coach Kirby Smart. The way the backs lined up in order during drills were junior Elijah Holyfield, junior Brian Herrien, Swift, Prather Hudson and Zamir White. Speaking of White, he appeared to be working at a pretty quick pace, was in full pads and was going through all the drills with the rest of the backs. He is wearing one of the custom-made braces on injured knee. Also getting a lot of work was Ian Donald-McIntyre. The redshirt sophomore from Fayetteville (Whitewater High) is 5-foot-10, 207 pounds, wears jersey No. 33 and physically looks like a very good athlete. One somewhat funny moment was when Daquan Hawkins-Muckle pancaked Julian Rochester during a one-on-one drill. They were working on some new turf and that probably caused Rochester to lose his footing. But it brought a laugh from a few, including Rochester and Hawkins-Muckle, who politely helped up the fellow nose guard. Cameron Nizalek has been assisting the punters, who clearly could use benefit from his help after his one tremendous season on the team as a graduate transfer. Post-practice interviews today will be with linebacker Monty Rice, defensive end David Marshall, offensive tackle Andrew Thomas and Holyfield.     The post Practice report: All backs present, active as Bulldogs log spring practice No. 13 appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — There’s no play in football that’s as alternately exciting or boring as the kickoff, depending on what kind of personnel a team has. A great kick returner or a big-legged kicker can be a powerful weapon. Georgia was pretty good on both fronts last year, with Rodrigo Blankenship booming most of his kickoffs out of the end zone and Mecole Hardman tantalizing the masses with hair-raising returns. But a new rule in college football will affect them both this season. Starting this season, a returner can call for a fair catch inside the 25-yard line and it will result in a touchback. The rule change was approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel this past Friday. The move was made in an effort to curtail injuries. The hope is that the rule will result in fewer returns and more touchbacks. That’s why the NFL moved up kickoffs to the 35-yard line from the 30 in 2011. It promises to have a profound effect on the game — or not. It really depends on how effective your kicker is. In the Bulldogs’ case, they have Blankenship on their sideline. The junior kicker was one of the best in the business last year. Sixty-seven of his 94 kickoffs – or 71.3 percent – resulted in touchbacks, which shattered the school record previous held by College Football Hall of Fame member Kevin Butler. So the anticipation is it won’t represent much of a difference for Georgia. Smart indicated it’s not going to initiate a radical change for the Bulldogs in terms of their strategy on kickoff coverage. “We’re not going to change anything,” Smart said Saturday. “We’re going to prepare for it. Higher, shorter kicks will be fair caught. If we don’t think we can get to the 25, we’ll be better off fair-catching it. A lot of it depends on the what type of kicker you’re facing.” That’s the other side of the equation. Hardman was one of the SEC’s best returners last season. He averaged 25.3 yards and, as every Georgia fan will tell you, was a whisker away from breaking several returns for touchdowns. Alas, he never did. I’ll have to see what this looks like this fall on a Saturday-to-Saturday basis before I decide exactly how I feel about it. In the past, I would’ve called myself kind of a football purist. I didn’t like it when they started flagging head-hunting safeties for targeting when they hit receivers high and hard. That, I reasoned, was the price of trying complete a pass over the middle. But then I had a little boy that likes to play football. You review the concussion statistics in football and read about the long-term effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease that has been found in dozens of former NFL players, and you start to think maybe we’ll just stick to tennis and golf. That’s why you won’t hear Smart complaining about this new rule. Like the rest of us, he’s curious to see how it works in games. Otherwise, though, you won’t hear him complaining about it. “It’s a dangerous play,” Smart said. “If you track kickoffs, the rules committee has statistics on it and will tell you, concussions are a little bit higher, there’s a few more injuries there. … You’ve got guys running 40 yards into each other. If they say it’s safer, I’m obviously in support of safety. I think anything you can do to make players safer it’s a wise decision.” But it is a change and changes always require adjustments. It won’t be much of one for Blankenship. Smart said they’ll still tell him to blast the ball out of the end zone if he can on every kickoff. But for Hardman and Elijah Holyfield and whoever else lines up back deep for the Dogs this year, it will take some getting used to. “That’ll be interesting because there’s no kid that’s ever sat back there on a kickoff and waved fair catch on the 1-yard line,” Smart said. “He’s going to have to make that decision now.” The post New kickoff rule will take some ‘getting used to’ for Bulldogs, all of us appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – Georgia might play its spring game without arguably its most dynamic offensive player, tailback D’Andre Swift, who continues to deal with a groin injury. Swift suited up for Saturday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium, but did not participate in full-contact parts. Head coach Kirby Smart answered “not sure yet” when asked if Swift would play in G-Day next Saturday. “He’s been practicing every day,” Smart said. “He goes out there, he does pass (protection), he does some routes, as much as he can do. He just hasn’t been doing full, live tackle.” Swift is the Bulldogs’ leading returning rusher from 2017. As a freshman last season, he ran for 603 yards and three touchdowns as a backup for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel last season. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry while also catching 15 passes for 146 yards and another TD. If Swift can’t play, that would mean a heavy dose of junior tailbacks Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien, who would be the only healthy scholarship tailbacks for G-Day. Freshman Zamir White, the five-star early enrollee, is still working his way back from knee surgery. James Cook, another highly-touted signee, arrives this summer. Don’t ask As the receiving production for Georgia tight ends has decreased over the years, the questions from fans (and media) about the subject has increased. And when offensive coordinator Jim Chaney moved from quarterbacks to tight ends coach this spring, the speculation turned to whether that would mean more involvement for Chaney’s new unit in the passing game. But Smart made his annoyance clear with that subject when asked Saturday. “I am so tired of the tight end questions,” Smart said. “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if they caught it more or less. The end line for me is how many points do we score. To me, when they chart you, it’s how many points do you score. If they give us 14 points for Isaac Nauta to catch a touchdown, we’ll start throwing it to him more. If we get 21 points for Charlie (Woerner) to catch one, I promise you we’ll design a play to get a 21-point play. But right now, we’re just trying to score points. And if that includes tight ends, that’s great. Georgia tight ends accounted for just 22 of the team’s 186 catches last year. Nauta saw his catch total go from 28 as a freshman to nine last year. But Nauta has said he thinks he actually had a better year last year, citing his improved blocking. And Georgia’s offense overall was much better. “Do I think our tight ends have caught more balls this spring? Probably so, because we’ve thrown the ball more this spring than we have in the past,” Smart said. “But tight ends have to be a matchup disaster. Charlie had a big catch today. Isaac Nauta had a big catch today. I don’t know if they are being targeted more or if they are getting open more. A lot of it has to do with that GPS number, which is how fast they are running. ‘Balanced’ scrimmage The team had its second scrimmage of the spring, the third and final one being G-Day next week. While the first scrimmage generally went in favor of the offense, according to Smart, the second one was more balanced. “We tried to run the ball some more, figuring we would test the defense, and I thought the defense had one of their better practices when it came to being able to stop the run,” Smart said. “And the offense kind of dominated the third-down period, and the defense had been dominating that.” Smart also called it a “good, spirited scrimmage,” that was very competitive. (No players were available to talk about the scrimmage, which was not open to the public or the media.)  Another injury update Defensive back Jarvis Wilson sprained his foot on Thursday and was unable to scrimmage on Saturday. Wilson, a senior, has been working at safety, mostly second team, as well as nickel back. “We don’t know how long he’ll be out,” Smart said. Smart also revealed that redshirt freshman receiver Matt Landers is playing with a thumb injury that requires him to wear a hard cast. However, he said Landers made some good plays during the scrimmage Saturday. LeCounte responds on field Smart criticized safety Richard LeCounte on Thursday, indicating the sophomore had to make better decisions on the field and learn the playbook faster. So two days later Smart was asked how LeCounte did in the scrimmage. “He did better,” Smart said, looking at reporters: “Maybe you guys helped him.”   The post UGA may have to go without RB D’Andre Swift for G-Day, and other news appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Whether Natrez Patrick will participate in the G-Day Game next Saturday or Georgia’s season opener next fall remains unclear. But he was at the Bulldogs’ practice Saturday and preparing to play sometime in the 2018 season. Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked about the Bulldogs’ starting middle linebacker after he wasn’t spotted during the media observation period early in Saturday’s practice, which represented practice number 12 of the 15-practice spring session. “He was at a funeral,” Smart told reporters. “He got there 12 minutes after y’all left.” Patrick was reinstated to the team for the 2018 season after missing six games last season due to disciplinary suspensions. He entered substance-abuse treatment in December after an arrest following the SEC Championship Game and missed both of Georgia’s College Football Playoff appearances. Smart still hasn’t detailed whether Patrick will be immediately eligible next fall or will miss more games. “That’s not important right now,” Smart said. “The important thing is Natrez is doing everything he needs to do to be everything he can be on and off the field.” The Bulldogs could definitely use Patrick on the field. They lost all four starting linebackers from the 2017 team that went 13-2, including Butkus Award-winning inside linebacker Roquan Smith. Patrick recorded 35 tackles while starting seven games alongside Smith  last season. He started nine games in 2016 and finished with 59 tackles while also missing time due to suspension. The competition for the snaps logged last season mostly by Smith and Reggie Carter has been intense. Converted tailback Tae Crowder was repping with the No. 1 defense at the Mike position early in Saturday’s practice. Senior Juwan Taylor is also getting work there alongside sophomores Monty Rice and Nate McBride. Sophomores Jaden Hunter and Jaleel Laguins are also getting looks there. None of them have anywhere close to the experience of Patrick. The senior out of Mays High School has played in 30 games with 18 starts and has totaled 116 tackles. The post Linebacker Natrez Patrick expected to be on field for Georgia — at some point appeared first on DawgNation.

Local News

  • A firm from China says it will set up shop in Walton County, creating dozens of new payroll positions in a multi-million dollar investment. From the office of Ga Governor Nathan Deal...  Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that Top Polymer Enterprise, a Chinese manufacturer of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), will create 70 jobs and invest $15 million in a facility in Social Circle. New jobs will include positions in manufacturing and production.   “Georgia’s manufacturing sector continues to drive statewide investment by attracting industry leaders from around the world,” said Deal. “As the No. 1 state for business, Georgia has the highly skilled workforce, logistics infrastructure and low cost of doing business necessary to provide a strong foundation for Top Polymer’s continued growth. These resources will strengthen the company’s competitive edge in the global market as Top Polymer expands both in the U.S. and abroad. We look forward to this partnership with Top Polymer as the company invests in Social Circle and creates employment opportunities for our citizens.”   The manufacturing plant in Walton County will be Top Polymer’s first facility in the U.S. The first phase of the facility will be approximately 60,000 square feet with three compounding lines.   “This is an exceptional time for Top Polymer Enterprise and we are extremely excited to be part of the Social Circle community,” said Marcus Tsong, president of Top Polymer Holding Company. “We see our Social Circle facility as being the first key step to becoming an internationally recognized manufacturer and supplier of premier TPE system.”   Top Polymer exports to more than 30 countries and regions. The company currently has two production bases in China, located in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province and Liyang City, Jiangsu Province.   Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) Project Manager Nikki Yu represented the Global Commerce Division in partnership with GDEcD Director of China Initiatives Stella Xu, GDEcD Managing Director of Chinese Investment John Ling, Georgia Power, the Georgia Department of Labor and the Development Authority of Walton County.    “Walton County and the City of Social Circle are excited to welcome Top Polymer to our community and we are looking forward to a strong partnership with them,” said Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County. “This partnership could not happen without the great support from the team at the Georgia Department of Economic Development.”   “We are excited that Top Polymer chose Georgia for its first U.S. facility,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “This announcement is a testament to our partnership approach to economic development, and I want to congratulate everyone involved.”   About Top Polymer Top Polymer Enterprise Limited (Top Polymer Enterprise) is dedicated to developing and manufacturing thermoplastic elastomer, which are copolymers or a physical mix of polymers that consists of materials with both thermoplastic and elastomeric properties. Top Polymer is committed to meeting customers' requirements by supplying the best TPE solutions to customers, offering infinite imagination for design objectives. Hiring and employment searches are being conducted by Human Resource Dimensions (www.hrdracc.com) and Global Recruiters of Wilmington (www.grnwilmington.com).
  • Faculty and staff at the University of Georgia will soon have a few extra dollars in their paychecks: UGA president Jere Morehead says merit-based salary increases will kick in after the first of the year.  From UGA president Jere Morehead... As the FY 2019 budget development process begins, we are pleased to announce a 2.0% merit-based salary increase pool for faculty and staff, with an effective date of January 1, 2019. While FY 2019 state appropriations for the University System of Georgia did not include funding for merit-based pay adjustments, we are able to fund a merit-based salary increase pool of up to 2% using internal resources.   The FY 2019 merit-based salary increases can be provided in the range of 0 to 4.0%. In addition, UGA is directing additional funds in its FY 2019 budget to increase its minimum hiring rate from $24,000 to $24,500 on July 1, 2018.    We are pleased to share this good news and appreciate your continued service to the University of Georgia.
  • An investigation continues in Gainesville, where a man working at the Chattahoochee Golf Course was killed in what appears to have been an accident: David Silcox was 69 years old. He was mowing grass when his riding lawn mower overturned, crushing him to death. It’s the second such accident in recent weeks in northeast Georgia: E.G. Higginbotham was 76 years old. Elberton Police say he was mowing grass at the Elberton County Club when his mower overturned into a pond on March 20, pinning him in the water.  A man was killed Thursday morning while working at the Chattahoochee 
  • The Georgia Bulldogs spring football game, G-Day (4 p.m. Saturday at Sanford Stadium), will offer the first look at the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs.  Here are five Bulldogs to keep a particularly close eye on Saturday:  Elijah Holyfield, RB— Holyfield has been a name on a lot of lips this spring and not just because of his massive guns. Head coach Kirby Smart recently called Holyfield one of his “favorite competitors out there.” With D’Andre Swift (groin) expected to be limited, if he plays at all, expect Holyfield to get plenty of carries and turn a few heads.  Brenton Cox, OLB/DE— Cox, an early enrollee, is a player too talented and versatile to not play as a freshman, whether that be at defensive end or outside linebacker. Smart noted recently that Cox has been getting some work with the first team, so he should get plenty of minutes at both positions at G-Day.  Richard LeCounte, DB— LeCounte, a rising sophomore, was considered by many a shoo-in for the starting safety spot vacated by Dominick Sanders. But Smart has been critical of LeCounte this spring, calling his performance “up and down.” J.J. Holloman, WR— Although Smart has expressed concerns about many positions this spring, he’s been pretty upbeat about the receivers. He singled out Holloman and early enrollee Kearis Jackson — another player to watch — as second-team guys who are “challenging the guys in front of them.” Justin Fields, QB— There is no player whose performance will be more scrutinized and overanalyzed than Fields. He’s one of the highest-rated players the program has ever signed and plays at the most high-profile position on the field. A lot of fans have speculated he could see the field as a change of pace behind center — a la Tim Tebow in his freshman year at Florida — or even beat Jake Fromm outright. While the latter seems highly unlikely, the former is well within the realm of possibility. 

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Coach Kirby Smart is doing his best to make sure that Georgia’s best and brightest players will all be available to play in the G-Day Game. But there is increasing evidence some key players may have to sit out Saturday’s heavily-promoted intrasquad game at Sanford Stadium. As of Thursday evening, Smart was holding out hope that offensive stars Terry Godwin and D’Andre Swift will be available. Godwin practiced in a limited capacity Thursday but looked a bit gimpy while doing so with groin and knee injuries. Swift was also going through position drills but hasn’t been participating in full-contact work the last week. “Terry’s been banged up a little bit but we expect him to be able to go and to play,” Smart said. “He’s pushing through. He’s been really tough about it. He has some groin soreness and a slight MCL knee (injury). He’s been able to go.” As for Swift, Smart said: “We’ll see how he does. He’s been able to do some things but hasn’t been able to do everything. He hasn’t been live tackling. He’s getting a lot of mental reps and things like that. He’s still kind of a game-time decision.” One player who definitely won’t play Saturday is cornerback Mark Webb. The converted receiver suffered torn cartilage)in his right knee in practice on Tuesday and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Thursday. However, he should be available to compete in preseason camp in August, or earlier. “Mark had a torn meniscus and he won’t be able to play in the spring game,” Smart said after the Bulldogs’ 14th practice. … We’re expecting a full recovery. He should be back.” Webb had been moving up the ranks in the secondary and appeared poised to contend for a starting position at cornerback. Instead, the Bulldogs are down to just 10 defensive backs overall. Georgia is also going to be without freshman early enrollee Divaad Wilson, who suffered an ACL tear the first week of spring practice, and safety Jarvis Wilson, who has a sprained foot. Sophomore William Poole may have to switch back-and-forth between the Red and Black squads on Saturday in order to preserve competitive balance. Godwin is the leading returning receiver from last year. He had 639 yards and scored six touchdowns, including one via a fairly miraculous catch at Notre Dame Stadium. Swift averaged 7.6 yards a carry and scored three touchdowns while playing behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as a freshman last season. He finished with 618 yards and was also the Bulldogs’ leading receiver out of the backfield with 17 catches for 153 yards and one score. The post Some key Georgia players may be missing for G-Day appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — New Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean has finally pulled the trigger on naming a second assistant basketball coach. Joe Scott, most recently an assistant coach at Holy Cross, sports 16 seasons of head coaching experience at three Division I schools. He joins Chad Dollar on the Bulldogs’ staff. “I’m excited to welcome Joe, Leah, Ben and Jack to our Georgia Basketball family and the entire UGA community,” Crean said in a statement released by the school. “Joe is known nationally as someone who excels at coaching, teaching and competing. He has tremendous respect of his peers who have gone against him and those who have worked along side him. He will bring many different elements to our program, but overall and he will help our young men get better every day.” Said Scott, also in a statement: “My family and I are extremely excited to be joining the Georgia family. The University of Georgia is a special place. This is a tremendous opportunity to help Coach Crean implement his vision and make Georgia Basketball special. I cannot wait to get started coaching our players to develop and get better every day.” Scott was tabbed one of the nation’s top-20 “Xs & Os” coaches in a survey of his peers by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman in 2013. He was head coach at Air Force for four seasons, Princeton for three campaigns and Denver for nine seasons. He also has served as an assistant coach at Monmouth, Princeton and Holy Cross. All told, Scott sports 27 years of collegiate coaching experience. Before breaking into the head coaching ranks, Scott was an assistant coach at Monmouth during the 1991-92 season and at Princeton from 1992-2000. While at Princeton, Scott helped the Tigers to five consecutive postseason appearances, with trips to the 1996, 1997 and 1998 NCAA Tournaments and the 1999 and 2000 NITs. The Tigers won three Ivy League titles from 1996-98, including perfect 14-0 records in the final two seasons. Princeton upset defending national champion UCLA in the 1996 NCAA Tournament and ranked as high as No. 7 nationally in 1998 en route to earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest ever for an Ivy League team. The post Georgia’s Tom Crean finally settles on a second assistant coach appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia held their final actual practice of the spring at the Woodruff Practice Complex on Thursday. Under clear skies and relatively cool temperatures, the Bulldogs were working out in shorts and helmets and were scheduled to for about two hours. The next time they get together and play as a team will be during G-Day Saturday at Sanford Stadium (4 p.m., ESPN, News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB). Actually, it will as two teams. UGA on Thursday released its split rosters for the Red and Black squads for Saturday’s intrasquad game. This year, Georgia’s No. 1 offense, led by quarterback Jake Fromm, will be the Red team. The Black Squad will be led by the Bulldogs’ No. 1 defensive unit — and freshman quarterback Justin Fields, of course. Fromm’s Red squad will be protected by the first-string offensive line — which included both Solomon Kindley and Kendall Baker to play left guard. It will also feature juniors Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien at tailback and Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman at wideout and Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner at tight end. Fields’ No. 2 offensive unit will have walkons Prather Hudson and Ian Donald-McIntyre in the backfield and will feature a receiving corps of Ahkil Crumpton, J.J. Holloman, Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers and Tyler Simmons. Of course, the Black team will be hanging its hat on a defensive team led by Tyler Clark, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, Jonathan Ledbetter, Julian Rochester and Malik Herring and inside linebackers Juwan Taylor, Tae Crowder and Nate McBride. D’Andre Walker, Robert Beal and Walter Grant will man the outside linebacker positions. The secondary for the Black squad has Deandre Baker and Tyrique McGhee at the corners, William Poole at star and J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte III at the safeties. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs appeared to be going through normal drill work and play-polish in the early portions of practice on Thursday. Following are a few observations: Senior Terry Godwin was going through regular drill work with the receivers but appeared to be a bit gimpy in doing so. He had a reinforced brace on one knee and a regular sleeve on the other. Cornerback Mark Webb was not practicing after suffering a knee injury of undisclosed severity on Tuesday. Indications are it’s not a “major” injury. D’Andre Swift was going through bag drills with the running backs and did not exhibit noticeable limitations. He is dealing with a groin injury, according to coach Kirby Smart. Defensive tackle Michael Barnett (knee) was not at practice again, assuring that he’ll miss G-Day. Justin Young, who missed practices last week due to a minor knee sprain, has been able to practice and might be able to play. One area lacking depth that has not been much discussed is deep snapper for special teams. The Bulldogs technically have just one on the roster in redshirt freshman Oren Morgan of Toombs County. But senior fullback Nick Moore also snaps to the kickers. Former tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were watching Thursday’s practice from the sideline and having a good time commenting on what they say. Asked which tailback they expected to be the leading rusher for the G-Day Game on Saturday, they simultaneously said “Prather Hudson.” Hudson is a redshirt sophomore walkon from Columbus. Recently-matriculated receiver Javon Wims was also at practice watching his position group. All of them plan to attend on Saturday, with Chubb conducting an autograph-signing at the bookstore.   The post Practice report: Jake Fromm to lead Red against Justin Field’s Black squad on G-Day appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Welcome to a feature on DawgNation, where our writers answer (or try to answer) the best questions submitted by Georgia fans. If you’d like to submit a question, please e-mail us at ugaquestionoftheday@gmail.com. Look for the Question of the Day every Monday through Friday Dear DawgNation: What is up with Nate McBride? —  James McConnell, Chickamauga What’s up with Nate McBride, you ask? Lots of things are up with the linebacker from Vidalia. First off, he’s up in class. He’s a legitimate sophomore academically, even though he’s still in his first year at UGA. He’s also up in age and experience, as well as strength and size. And while he’s up, he’s also down. Not mentally, but physically. Lee Chomskis (pronounced HOM-skiss), his coach at Vidalia High, said McBride is down to about 218 pounds after playing last season at Georgia at 225 and his senior year at Vidalia at almost 230 pounds. That said, having had a year under his belt with strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair, he looks a bit different physically. Not necessarily thinner, but certainly more cut. But reading between the words of your brief, one-line question, I suppose that’s not exactly what you meant by, “what’s up with McBride?” You probably are wondering, like a few folks I’ve heard from, why we aren’t hearing more about him. Why isn’t he creating more buzz and why isn’t he a starting linebacker for Georgia already? That’s what people often wonder when a former blue-chip prospect of McBride’s ilk — he was the No. 2-rated inside linebacker in the country at one point — is not starring by his second year on campus. A couple of points here: McBride is not even all the way to his second year at Georgia yet; two, we don’t fully know exactly what McBride’s role is going to be on the defense in 2018. We do know that he is competing with Monty Rice, Juwan Taylor and Jaden Hunter for the Will linebacker position manned so well last season by Roquan Smith. Though early signs point to Rice leading that competition, nothing is written in stone — or even on paper — and there is a long way to go before that’s decided. We also know that McBride has the size and skills to earn playing time at the Mike, the other inside linebacker spot in Georgia’s defense, and that the Bulldogs desperately need help at both spots in 2018. Regardless of how those competitions turn out, you’re still bound to see a lot of McBride this season, just like we did last season. In fact, while playing on several of Georgia’s special teams units McBride was one of just six true freshmen to play in all 15 of the Bulldogs’ games. The others were Jake Fromm, Andrew Thomas, D’Andre Swift, Walter Grant and Malik Herring. Rice played in 14. So you can bet that the swift-footed McBride will be on the field at least for special teams, if not also in a defensive role. He has one of the traits that coach Kirby Smart covets most — speed — as his four Class AA sprint championships as a high school senior attest. To date, I haven’t had a chance to ask Smart about McBride. But I reached out to Chomkis, who communicates with him on a regular basis, for a little insight. “He played on a team that played for the national championship,” Chomkis said. “That means there’s a lot of talent there at Georgia. He could’ve gone to Vanderbilt or Missouri and started every game, but he wanted to play for championships. I think he’s running with the 2s or 3s right now during the spring, and that’s because he’s still learning the position and having to think a lot. “But I think he’s an outstanding kid and an outstanding football player and I think he’ll play a lot for Georgia before it’s over. He has good size and great speed and that’s why they recruited him, because he can run so well. He can flat fly, and I’m not sure that there’s many that can run with him.” That pretty much sums it up. As Smart and the Bulldogs like to say this year, he “ain’t going nowhere.” Have a question for beat writer Chip Towers? E-mail us at ugaquestionoftheday@gmail.com The post ‘What’s up’ with Georgia linebacker Nate McBride? appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Really, we don’t know all that much about Georgia’s Monty Rice. But you have to like what the sophomore linebacker has to say about the enormous challenge that’s before him and the Bulldogs’ entire defense in succeeding Roquan Smith and that star-studded unit of a season ago. “We can’t live off what Roquan did, or Lorenzo [Carter] did, or Dom Sanders did,” said Rice, who is poised to follow Smith at the Will inside linebacker position. “What’s Juwan Taylor gonna do? What’s Nate McBride gonna do? What’s Monty Rice gonna do? We’ve got to live off what we’re going to do. We can’t dwell on last year’s success.” Monty Rice Truer words have not been spoken this spring about Georgia’s defense. The Bulldogs lost a boatload of exceptional football talent off last season’s 13-2, No. 2-ranked team. That fact will be underscored in the NFL draft next week. Most notable among those departures is Smith. The Butkus Award-winning linebacker is expected to be an early first-round draft choice. The battle to replace him is ongoing. But the odds-on favorite to handle that considerable task is Rice, who is really kind of a mystery man. If you don’t follow recruiting closely, you might need a refresher. Rice sort of just showed up at Georgia. Rivals and 247Sports pegged him as a 3-star recruit, but his offer list said otherwise. He had upwards of 20 offers, including pretty much the whole of the SEC. Rice actually committed to LSU (over Auburn and Georgia) in mid-December 2016. It’s something he now says was an act of confused desperation. But, as an early enrollee, he’d long been pursued by Mel Tucker, first at Alabama and then as defensive coordinator at Georgia. In the end, Rice pursued that relationship and simply enrolled at UGA without signing a letter of intent, according to his high school coach. “When he announced that day that he was going to go to LSU, me and everyone else going in thought it was going to be Georgia, just because of his relationship with Coach Tucker and Coach [Kirby] Smart,” said Wade Waldrop, Rice’s coach at James Clemens High School in Madison, Ala. “They already knew him, because he had visited Alabama a number of times throughout his sophomore and junior years, so they were familiar with him. “He came out right away and said, ‘I think I made a mistake.’ I said, ‘That’s all right. You haven’t signed a thing. As long as you let Coach [Dave] Aranda and Coach O [LSU coach Ed Oregeron] know, you do what’s best for you. You’ve got to wake up in that dorm room every day.’ ” Said Rice: “I just followed my heart.” Rice’s arrival in Athens in January 2017 has been a blessing both for the Bulldogs and for Rice. As a freshman last season he played in 14 of Georgia’s 15 games and even got a start against Missouri in the season’s seventh game. He finished with 22 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. The one start came at Mike linebacker alongside Smith after Natrez Patrick was suspended and Reggie Carter was injured. But he primarily as a Will — or weakside linebacker — which happened to be the position manned by Smith. So it was difficult to get on the field much with the defense. His work came mostly at “garbage time” and on special teams. But Rice said last season’s experience was invaluable to him, if for no other reason than getting to know Smith and watching how he worked. “Roquan is not a selfish person,” Rice said. “He was helping me out when I first got here, telling me what calls I had to make, telling me what to do or whatever. So he was real helpful. So was Lorenzo and Davin [Bellamy] and all of those guys.” As for motivation, Rice doesn’t need a lot of help in that department. This is a young man who has had his sights set not only on major college football but the NFL for a long time. That’s what distinguished Rice at James Clemens High. Originally from Huntsville, Ala., he actually lived with another family in Madison while playing there. The reason for that was two-fold. One, he wanted to play high school football at the highest level possible; and, two, he needed to escape the crime and poverty that ravaged the community in which he was raised. That ended up being a move made in heaven. Not only was Rice wildly successful as a player — he recorded 137 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 touchdowns to lead the Jets to the Class 7A quarterfinals as a senior — but also as a student. “Monty Rice is a football player,” Waldrop said. “He came to school every day — and he had a 3.2, 3.1 GPA — and he did well in school because he wanted to play football. Everything he does is to play football. A lot of people, it’s the other way around. He did what he had to do on a daily basis to be a big-time football player. You didn’t have to hold things over his head to get him to do something. He loves playing football.” It’s not all about money and fame for Rice, either. He hopes football can give him a platform to call attention to a cause that is very personal to him: excessive force used by police, particularly against victims suffering from mental illness. You can read about it yourself from the pinned tweet at the top of Rice’s Twitter account, @RiceMonty. It takes you to a Facebook page dedicated to telling the story of Horaesheo Rice, a cousin eight years Rice’s senior who was killed by police gunfire on Sept. 20, 2017. That was the Wednesday before the Bulldogs would play Mississippi State in Sanford Stadium. Rice has his cousin’s name tattooed on his right forearm as a reminder of what he’s playing for. “I know he’s looking down and smiling about what I’m doing,” Rice said Thursday night after Georgia’s 13th practice of the spring. “We used to live together, so I was real close to him. I’m not a big social media guy, but I don’t want his name to ever be forgotten. I don’t want what happened to be, ah, this is just another killer. I want it to be known what happened to my cousin.” So, yes, Rice is supremely motivated. And apparently he’s a pretty good player, too. At this point there’s still no guarantees that Rice will be the undisputed starter and/or primary player at Georgia’s all-important Will linebacker spot. Among others, he’s competing with senior Juwan Taylor and fellow sophomore Nate McBride, not to mention two freshmen who will join the team in June. But indications are that No. 32 has been making a name for himself at that spot during spring practice. “He’s pretty difficult,” sophomore tackle Andrew Thomas said of trying to block Rice. “He has one speed. He’s, like, full-going all the time and he’s going to hit you. He doesn’t care if you’re bigger than him, he’s going to strike you and try to make a play. He’s making us all better.” That this one-time 3-star prospect is in position to become a full-time starter at a marquee position in his sophomore year may come as a surprise to a lot of people. But not to those in Madison and Huntsville who have known Rice for a while. “I’m absolutely not surprised, because he’s driven,” said Waldrop, who visited with Rice shortly before spring practice began. “He has a purpose. The purpose of just trying to start is probably big for him. He’s got NFL aspirations. He knows if he does the things that Coach Smart and Coach [Glenn] Schumann and those guys tell him to do and he buys into it, he knows he’ll have a shot to one day go get money.” And perhaps draw greater attention to a cause that is dear to him. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes on the football field, but for now we have an idea of what Monty Rice is all about. The post Georgia’s Monty Rice: Linebacker with a cause appeared first on DawgNation.