April 5, 2013

G-Day about opportunity

Saturday's G-Day game at Sanford Stadium (1 p.m., CSS) has been described by some as nothing more than a glorified scrimmage, but that doesn't mean players aren't taking it seriously.

On the contrary.

For youngsters like early enrollees J.J. Green and Tray Matthews, it's an opportunity to show coaches they're ready to take that next step come fall. For others, like junior defensive end Ray Drew, it's a chance to finally prove he's ready for the big stage.

"For me, it's just go out continue to improve on what I've done so far and just cap off the spring with a great day," Drew said. "You want to go out with a bang, have that kind of day where you can go into the off-season and know that when coaches review the film they know you're ready to go."

Just don't look for anything fancy, especially from the offensive's perspective.

"It's probably just going to be basic stuff, especially the game," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "It's for the fans and get them excited for the season but you're not going to see any flat-back rooskies like we had against Ole Miss and stuff like that. We'll just be going out there, pound it out, have some fun, let the young guys plays a lot. It's not going to be too complicated."

Bulldog spring games rarely are.

Over the years, the annual contests aren't usually high-scoring affairs, something head coach Mark Richt said is by design as the Bulldogs will scrimmage the first-team offense against the first-team defense, with the second units also going head-to-head.

"We always try to put our best on the best so that it becomes more of an even game. We'll have 12-minute quarters, but we won't take time off for kicks. We're not even going to kick-off; we'll just set the ball on the 25," Richt said. "When we punt, we'll line up in a punt set but we're not going to rush it. If the guy kicks it 80 yards, it's still going to be a 35-yard net punt. We're not going to cover it. We'll line up for PATs and field goals and go ahead and kick them, but we won't rush those either and the time won't run during that."

So, how much will your favorite Bulldog stars play?

Murray will get his share of looks, as will running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, although it will likely only be for a half as coaches want to give the younger players their opportunities to shine.

"You can definitely count on playing the first half, but obviously, the goal of the spring in general is to get the younger guys, get them up to speed in terms of the playbook and how they are going to be utilized," tight end Arthur Lynch said. "For guys who are not as seasoned, they can definitely expect to play more at G-Day."

That includes quarterbacks Parker Welch, Christian LeMay and Brice Ramsey, who are battling it out for the No. 3 spot behind Murray and backup Hutson Mason. Redshirt freshman Faton Bauta remains out with an injury.

"It's big for those guys because they're trying to earn that third spot and try to be the guy who is able to travel. It's pretty big to be that third guy," Murray said. "Practices are great, but it's those scrimmages and G-Day where you have the chance to show all that you've learned, and how you can produce on the field in game-like situations."

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins said the defense will be looking to make it just as hard on the offense as it possibly can.

With eight starters gone off last year's unit, there's been plenty of opportunities to go around, and although the names will be different, Jenkins predicts fans will like what they see.

"They're going to be asking 'who was this and who was that?'" Jenkins said. "We've got some playmakers."

Apparently, that includes a number of the early enrollees who will be making their respective debuts in front of Bulldog fans.

Among the group, Green, defensive linemen Chris Mayes and John Atkins, linebackers Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin, along with defensive backs Reggie Wilkerson, Quincy Mauger and Matthews.

Matthews, who is battling for the starting job at free safety, has been particularly impressive.

"He's been impressive. I really don't know if he's doing everything correct, assignment-wise, but he's a very fundamentally-sound football player and tackler. He enjoys competing, and he enjoys the physical aspect of the game. When a guy can tackle out in space like he does and just plays with speed and confidence, it's been impressive," Richt said. "He hasn't nailed down any particular job yet, but he's made a very strong impression on everybody. I think he's proved that he's earned playing time. "

NOTES: The Bulldogs will be without wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (underwent meniscus surgery Friday morning) and cornerback Sheldon Dawson (hamstring). … The UGA Athletic Association will be teaming up with the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia during G-Day to host a canned food drive. Bins will be set up at the Main Gate as well as Gates 2, 4, 6 and 9 to accept the canned goods from fans attending the game. Donation stations also will be in place for monetary contributions, as one dollar equals four pounds of food. All canned food and proceeds will go to assisting families in Northeast Georgia.