For coaches, spring games are something to be endured as much as enjoyed. Coaches covet the opportunity to see what their team can do in a competitive, game-simulated environment. But they know they do so at the risk of injury to players they’ll need to win games in the fall.
But it’s different for the players. For the Georgia Bulldogs it’s just another chance to compete. That they get to do so between the hedges at Sanford Stadium in front of spectators is a bonus.
“I can’t wait to play, and I hope I play a lot,” said sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, heir apparent to two-time All-American Jarvis Jones. “I know coach (Todd) Grantham wants to shut the offense up.”
Therein lies the ultimate dynamic for the annual G-Day intrasquad game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday (CSS). Admission is free, but organizers are asking for canned-food donations for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.
With as many as nine players expected to be selected in this year’s NFL draft off Georgia’s 2012 defense, the Bulldogs are in the midst of a major rebuilding job. Conversely, quarterback Aaron Murray and nine other starters are back on offense, meaning Georgia’s record-setting unit simply is reloading for 2013.
While it may sound like a lopsided setup for the game, for Georgia’s defense it’s just what the doctor ordered.
“It’s very important,” said senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith, one of four returning starters on defense. “We want to play as hard as we can and try to dominate against this offense. We know if we can play well against one of the top offenses in the country like we have, we can play good against anybody. Win or lose, it’s all going to make us better at the end of the day.”
Said sophomore defensive end Sterling Bailey: “It’s going to be huge for the defense. A lot of people are looking forward to seeing how we’re going to turn out this year. We’ve got to go out there and show them we can play and that there’s going to be no setback from last year.”
Georgia faced an opposite scenario entering last year’s spring game. The Bulldogs needed a near-total rebuild on offense and had to replace three starters on the line. When spring practice opened, coaches were mortified by what they first saw. But after 14 practices against the Bulldogs’ ballyhooed defense, the offense looked better. The offensive-oriented Red squad actually rallied to defeat the Black 32-31 in a surprisingly entertaining G-Day game.
“We were struggling, and the defense probably won every single day in practice,” Murray recalled. “But they really pushed our offensive line to get better and better every single day. We were able to figure out that we needed to work on over the summer to get ready for the season, and the offensive line went on to have a great year.”
As has been the format for the past few years, Saturday’s teams will feature the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense on one side and the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense on the other. Defensive coordinator Grantham will coach one of the teams, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will coach the other. There will be no kickoffs and no rush or returns on punts or placement kicks.
Coach Mark Richt said every healthy player will play, including stars such as Todd Gurley and Damian Swann. How much they play, he said, will depend on the respective coaches.
“The coaches do want to win, and the players do want to win this game,” said Richt, who will watch much of the game from the press box. “We’re not having steak and lobster (for the winners) and beanie-weenies (for the losers) anymore. … Half the guys who were supposed to eat steak and lobster ate beanie-weenies anyway. But they do want to win.”