Georgia football: Freshmen ready to play, but it's a trick to work them into lineup
It’s rare when true freshmen step onto an SEC campus and contribute immediately. There’s just so much to learn, and so much to get used to, that it simply takes time to get acclimated.
And at a place like Georgia, where there’s already plenty of experienced talent, it’s hard for freshmen to make a whole lot of noise and race to the top of the depth chart.
But some young pups are doing it.
You would expect that from the best recruiting class in the nation. There are several youngsters pushing hard for playing time, and now it’s up to the coaches to do the balancing act, hoping to teach well enough on the fly so that talent trumps experience, especially in the early going.
Here are a few guys who seem ready to go right now:
James Cook, running back
James Cook showed up in Athens with a great reputation. He had a great high school career and is also the younger brother of former Florida State star Dalvin Cook. But he also arrived to a very crowded running back room.
No team in the country could go five-deep at running back like the Bulldogs could, and that’s a good thing. That’s because one key piece, fellow freshman Zamir White, is out for the year already with a second ACL injury.
Cook has been the one turning heads. He plays with a ton of confidence, which is rare for a freshman, and he’s also not the least bit afraid of anybody. He’s going to be hard to keep off the field, despite all the running back depth.
“I’ve never played against a running back like Cook before, he has his own little style, and it’s very unique,” Georgia linebacker Monty Rice said last week. “He’s very tough to cover. You can’t be looking at the quarterback when you cover him, or you’ll watch them complete the pass. Little Cook never stops running, he’s fast, I mean, just fast.”
The compliments keep flowing in. “I would compare him to Sony Michel, but a little bit faster,” Georgia defensive end D’Andre Walker said earlier this week. Now that’s saying something.
Tyson Campbell, cornerback
Tyson Campbell, the 5-star cornerback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been physically impressive in camp and it’s going to be interesting to see if he becomes a starter right from the get-go. He has everything you want in a corner — except college experience.
He’s 6-2 and 195 pounds with a lot of speed, length and ball-hawking ability. What everyone seems to like so far is that he keeps getting better with every practice. He’s a star in the making, without a doubt.
Channing Tindall and Quay Walker, linebackers
Both Channing Tindall and Quay Walker were highly-regarded recruits, so it’s also no surprise that they are battling for playing time. Tindall, a South Carolina native, keeps getting better as he gets more comfortable with the scheme. Walker is just a physical beast who’s been blowing people up in practice and scrimmages. They’ve moved him around a lot, and he can do it all, though he still needs to get better coverages backs in the passing game.
Justin Fields, quarterback
We can’t do this story without throwing Fields in there. It’s different with quarterbacks, of course, because you can only play one at a time and it appears that Jake Fromm, last year’s quarterback hero as a freshman, is going the be the starter when the season begins.
But Fields has been impressive since he arrived on campus in January. He’s the total package as a dual-threat quarterback and he’ll definitely be pushing to get on the field.
Coaches put in a lot of pass plays during last weekend’s scrimmage and both QBs struggled a bit. Georgia coach Kirby Smart was a bit critical afterward, which was out of character for him. He’s been praising Fromm and Fields all summer.
“There was a little more passing situations involved,” Smart said last Saturday after the second scrimmage of the summer. “We didn’t have really good timing in the passing game. That could be attributed to two things: Either we played better on defense, or we’re just not where we need to be in the passing game.”
Even if Fields doesn’t start at the beginning of the season, we’ll be watching all season. He’s going to play at some point, for sure.