For a couple reasons I've been hesitant to talk or type much about differences in the Georgia football program this year. The biggest reason is because we've heard things before about how this off season is different. As a blogger I've been burned before. As a fan I typically lap that stuff up heartily. You do too. Admit it.
Also, there's not much reason to discuss it until you see some of the results on the field. And so now that we're four games in as well as in the throes of the hype leading up to the season's biggest game, I think it's fair to mention a couple things. Because it's clear the program is undergoing some distinct changes in philosophy and practice. The two biggest things that come to mind are strength and conditioning and depth of talent.
Nothing can impact a program year round, from the day after one season ends through the day the next season ends, like strength and conditioning. A program's S&C coach has his hand on the pulse of the program and he's the guy we hear about during off season workouts when our ears are hungry for anything of substance. So it wasn't much of a surprise to hear about new S&C coach Mark Hocke back then. It was actually expected.
But it's fair to say this 2015 Georgia team is as fast as any in recent memory. A lot of that is pure God-given talent. But those athletic bodies are carrying more muscle than they were when they signed. If you're looking for the spot where good coaching meets the well-trained athlete, you need not look further than Leonard Floyd running step for step with a Vanderbilt running back thirty yards downfield to cover a pass.
There is a wealth of freshmen getting playing time and that signals a vast change in philosophy during Coach Richt's tenure. These youngsters are getting actual hands on experience in manageable doses. I don't recall being surprised when some of them graced the field. We knew guys like Trent Thompson were going to be needed and called upon. We figured Rico McGraw would play early and often.
But late in the game Saturday we saw a guy get on the field that I wasn't sure we would see it this season - Michael Barnett. We're pretty deep at defensive end and Barnett had shoulder surgery almost as soon as he stepped onto campus in January. History has shown us that these players tend to spend a year rehabbing, building the muscle back up, and getting used to life as a student-athlete. Some others that might have been on the border in previous seasons - D'Andre Walker, Jackson Harris, Reshad Roundtree, Deandre Baker, Chauncy Rivers, every freshman wide receiver. Yes, even Terry Godwin. (At least until he passed Coach Ball's blocking practice test.) But, all those guys are contributing in some way. Even if it's at the end of a non-conference game with an FCS opponent, that matters. Those live reps really, really matter.
It definitely will matter next season. And it could matter as soon as Saturday evening.