- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia is clearly counting on freshman offensive lineman John Theus to contribute immediately, so it helps that the Bulldogs have an All-America pass rusher to go against him during preseason practice.
Jarvis Jones, who led the SEC with 13.5 sacks last season, said he has already worked against Theus -- whom ESPN rated as the nation’s No. 5 offensive tackle prospect in the 2012 signing class -- “all the time” in the first six days of practice.
“I’m trying to make it my business to have him ready for Day 1 when we tee it off,” Jones said.
Of course, Jones’ is not directing that attitude only toward Theus.
“That’s a good mission. He’s on a mission to get everybody ready,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “But I think Theus is improving quite a bit. He’s highly motivated. I think he’s been knowing for a while, when he got here, that we expected him to fight for a starting role and he’s right there in that battle.”
Theus has impressed the coaching staff in Georgia’s early practices, having already worked as first-team right tackle in several practices while starting right guard Chris Burnette was out with an illness and Watts Dantzler shifted to Burnette’s spot.
The extra time has helped Theus, Richt said.
“He’s right there getting a lot of work,” Richt said. “He’ll be game-ready.”
Richt went so far as to say that Theus is further along at this point in camp than Trinton Sturdivant was in 2007. Sturdivant went on to start all 13 games and was named a freshman all-American that season.
“They both were in a position where they had to play and were probably going to start,” Richt said. “John’s not gotten to the point where we’re going to name him the starter yet, but I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s going to play and he knows that.
“I think he’s comparing pretty favorably, I think with Trinton, as far as learning quickly. He’s a quick study and he works hard at it and he’ll know what to do when the time comes.”
It’s up to Tibbs: Richt has already made it clear to freshman wide receiver Blake Tibbs that the opportunity exists for him to play this fall. The rest is up to Tibbs.
“I said, ‘When we had our meeting, we think you can help us this year. It’s going to be up to you, though. You’ve got to know what to do. You’ve got to get to the point where we think you’re reliable as far as assignments and ball security,’ ” Richt said.
“You don’t want to put a back or a receiver out there where you think the first time he gets hit, the ball’s going to pop out of there. So you show me ball security, you show me you know what to do, you’ll probably play.”
Senior Tavarres King -- one of several Georgia wideouts who played as true freshmen -- agrees with Richt’s assessment, saying Tibbs “could play for us right now.” The key, King said, is learning what to do and faking it when you’re unsure.
“Learn the playbook, be as consistent as possible and when in doubt, run full speed because you never know when that ball’s coming to you, you never know what’s going to happen,” King advised. “It’s the SEC so it’s fast pace so just run fast, run hard and learn everything you can.”
Speaking of freshmen: Sheldon Dawson is in a similar position to that of Tibbs. He plays a position, cornerback, where the Bulldogs could use another competent player. So if he acquits himself acceptably in camp, expect to see him on the field this fall.
“It’s just we need help,” senior cornerback Branden Smith said. “He’s got to step up to the plate and that’s what he’s doing.”
Senior starter Sanders Commings is suspended for the first two games, leaving Smith, Damian Swann, Malcolm Mitchell, Blake Sailors, Devin Bowman and possibly Dawson to man the cornerback spots early. Smith said Dawson thus far has shown that he wants to be included in that group.
“In the meeting room, he’s up asking questions and you can tell that he wants to learn and to be on the field,” Smith said. “To tell you the truth, he’s really got to be on the field so he’s really got to get in the playbook and learn everything. He don’t have no choice but to learn the playbook.”
First scrimmage: The Bulldogs held a special-teams practice at Sanford Stadium on Tuesday and will return to the stadium on Wednesday for their first full team scrimmage.
That will be the first test of knowledge for the team’s younger players, who will be forced to operate without a coach standing over them and telling them what to do before each play.
“I want to just see what we can do without a script, without offensive guys knowing where the defensive guy is going to be and without the defensive guy knowing where the offense is going to be, and seeing how we match up with our offense,” Swann said.
Richt agreed, saying, “Even in some of our drills, every once in a while, there will be a coach in a guy’s ear to kind of help him along the way. When you scrimmage, I’m the only one out there on the field and I’m not saying anything to anybody. I want to know what they know. I want to see what they can do without a coach being there to give them a hint.”
Injury update: Burnette (illness) and defensive end Abry Jones (knee contusion) returned to practice Tuesday.
Outside linebacker James DeLoach (hamstring strain) and Swann (neck sprain) practiced in green non-contact jersey and participated in a limited role. Defensive end Ray Drew (concussion) was at practice in a green jersey, but is out. Outside linebacker Dexter Morant (shoulder sprain) and safety Marc Deas (hamstring strain) were also out.
13hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough