More games add up to more time right away

Freshmen figure to reap the benefits of a 12-game schedule, stepping in to fill the need for more depth.

Published July 18, 2006

GAINESVILLE - When Urban Meyer stood behind the lectern on national signing day in February, there was a recurring theme in his giddy post-recruiting speech.

He had landed what many analysts called one of the best freshman football classes in the nation, and over and over he made it clear that many of those players would "have a chance to come in and contribute right away."

There was a time when freshmen played sparingly. Sometimes not at all. But more and more, when coaches tell a youngster he can come in and play immediately, they no longer are stretching the truth. Observing and absorbing are becoming a thing of the past.

"I've taken a different approach this year," Florida's coach said. "I think I know these kids coming in. I don't see us redshirting. I see us playing a bunch of guys. I'd say more than half."

Last season, Florida played 18 freshmen, 10 directly out of high school. With the addition of the 12th game, the prospect of a much longer season and the increased probability of injuries, Meyer isn't alone in that line of thinking.

"I think more guys are going to have to play," Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said. "With 12 games you're going to have more injuries. You're going to have one less open date in most cases. Consequently, everybody on your team, your 85-man roster, or if you include the walk-ons it's 100-plus guys, have got to be part of equation. If they aren't, you're going to be very fortunate to make it through the end of the season with just the guys that start the season. You're looking at 12 - and really everybody is hoping for 13 or 14 games."

Success in the SEC means a lot of football - a trip to the SEC Championship Game and a bowl appearance totals 14 Saturdays.

"You just about have to play them (freshmen)," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "They make it more difficult on football players every year, for some reason. We'll play (the) 15 games, it doesn't make any difference. But most of us as coaches, we were in favor of having another date to play - adding another (week) in there and not just jam it into the dates we already have. For instance, we go 12 games without an open date. That's almost suicide in the SEC. I can understand we need to raise more money, we're all for that, but give a little something back if you're going to add something."

Summer sessions across the league have begun and incoming freshmen are getting used to college academics as well preparing for the season, without individual workouts and conditioning.

Georgia's Mark Richt said he and other coaches know there will be players "that aren't going to be ready to compete" as incoming freshmen.

The answer?

"They may have to play anyway," he said.

Ideally, the decision would be based strictly on how quickly a player adapts, Richt said. But the reality is much different.

"If you have a kid that comes in and there's a lot of strength at that position and he's just not ready to play, then you redshirt him," Richt said. "We expect all of our guys to come in and compete for playing time. When you get to about our second or third scrimmage in the preseason, they pretty much have a good feel on whether or not they are ready to compete and we will too. But some guys aren't ready to compete, but we just don't have enough depth and they have to anyway."

In Meyer's mind, that might not be such a bad thing. After all, today's players often enter college with the NFL on their minds, so playing them early might be in the best interest of the school.

"With these kids leaving early, if you're worth a darn anyway, everybody's going to want to take a shot and play them (immediately)," Meyer said.

From now on, that may just be the way it is.