ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia opened practice on Friday with a new perspective on familiar championship goals.
After losing to Alabama in overtime in the national championship game, Georgia is more motivated than ever to finish the job.
The Bulldogs know they face higher expectations after winning the Southeastern Conference championship and coming so close to their first national title since 1980. The SEC title wasn’t enough to make up for the pain still lingering from the 26-23 loss to Alabama in Atlanta.
“We had a chance at it last year and didn’t get it done,” tight end Isaac Nauta said Friday. “We use that as motivation to get back, because that’s a terrible feeling, something you don’t want to happen again. I think about it regularly. Every time I get to work I think about the feeling I had.”
The 13-2 season provided momentum that carried through recruiting. Georgia coach Kirby Smart landed the nation’s top signing class, including quarterback Justin Fields and tailback Zamir White. Both enrolled early for spring practice, though White was still recovering from right knee surgery.
Smart said Friday that White has been cleared for practice but will wear a brace on the knee. That’s big news for a team looking to replace tailbacks Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
“He’s not going to be limited in any way,” Smart said of White. “He should be able to do all drills, and he’s just gaining confidence on his knee. But the brace will just help him with that.”
D’Andre Swift, third on the team with 618 yards rushing last season, is the favorite to start at tailback. Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien and freshman James Cook will compete with White.
Fields signed with Georgia even though freshman Jake Fromm ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency. Fields, skilled as a runner and passer, brings a different look to the position. He likely will earn a role in the offense even if Fromm keeps the starting job, as expected.
Fromm wore what Smart described as a “precautionary splint” on his left, non-throwing hand. He suffered a small fracture in the hand when he was on a boat and hit by a tow rope used for skiing this summer.
“You probably wouldn’t even notice it if you weren’t zooming in on it from 100 yards away trying to get a picture of it,” Smart said. “But he’s fine. He’ll be able to do everything we need him to do.”
Smart is eager to promote competition at every position, including quarterback. Asked if Fields could beat out Fromm, Smart said any starter could be challenged.
Fromm’s strengths last season were calling the right plays and avoiding mistakes in an offense that leaned heavily on its running game. Those strengths could serve him well as he tries to keep his starting job.
Smart said he will pick the quarterback “who’s going to play with the most consistency, who’s going to do things naturally as a leader and understand and develop and make right decisions at every position.”
Nauta said the spring showed both quarterbacks can win.
“We have two of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Nauta said. “Both those guys are going to have a great competition in camp. One guy has already been established and one guy, we’re all waiting to see what he can do. Two great players, two great guys working together. It’s only going to make them both better. I’m excited to see what they both do.”
No quarterback was made available for interviews on Friday.
NOTES: DB Deangelo Gibbs (shoulder) has been cleared to practice. WR Terry Godwin will be limited by what Smart said is a “minor issue” with his left knee. DB Divaad Wilson (knee) is still recovering from a knee injury in spring practice. ... Smart said Georgia continues to await a ruling from the NCAA on the 2018 eligibility of former California WR Demetris Robertson, who has announced he is transferring to Georgia. “Obviously we’re hopeful, but it’s out of our hands and the NCAA will get back to us when they get done with the appeal.”