The Georgia Bulldogs returned to the practice fields Saturday morning for the first time since their 30-24 upset of Georgia Tech on Nov. 28.
Saturday marked their first workout for the Dec. 28 Independence Bowl against Texas A&M, and it was their first without Willie Martinez, Jon Fabris and John Jancek. The three defensive assistant coaches were fired Dec. 2 by head coach Mark Richt, and their replacements have not been named.
"It was a little awkward not hearing Coach Martinez's voice and not having him out there with us, but that wasn't the main focus," sophomore cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "We're just trying to get ready for Texas A&M. While we miss them, I think we did a good job staying focused and doing what we had to do."
Richt did not address the media after practice in order to visit with recruits, but defensive line coach Rodney Garner admitted it was different as well.
Martinez was a member of Richt's inaugural staff in 2001, coaching the secondary for nine years and assuming the role of defensive coordinator after Brian VanGorder left following the 2004 season. Fabris also was hired in '01, while Jancek joined the staff after the '04 season to take over VanGorder's linebacker chores.
"I don't really know what happened, and I don't feel like it's my place as a player to get involved in it," Boykin said. "I've talked to Coach Martinez, and he told me to keep my spirits high, not worry about it and continue to play as hard as I can. We'll still be keeping in contact. He just told me that this is a business."
Said sophomore end Justin Houston: "Honestly, I was mad about Coach Fab, but things happen in life that you've got to adjust to and move on."
Richt pledged last week to work alongside Garner and graduate assistants Mitch Doolittle (who is overseeing the linebackers) and Todd Hartley (secondary). Boykin believes Richt was more involved Saturday but added that it was more of a supervisory role and that the graduate assistants did the hands-on work.
"I know there have been a lot of emotions that everybody has been going through the last week," Garner said. "What we've got to do is to be challenged to get these guys prepared to go to Shreveport and play probably one of the most prolific offenses we've faced all year."
Boykin and Houston expressed excitement in returning to practice following the win at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Bulldogs went 7-5 in the regular season, losing badly to East Division rivals Tennessee and Florida but defeating Auburn in addition to the Yellow Jackets.
By defeating the Aggies, Georgia would become the only team nationally to win eight or more games for 13 straight seasons.
"Any year we beat Tech makes it a great season," Houston said.
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs were scheduled to hold their team banquet Saturday night and will practice again Wednesday. ... Ray Guy Award winner Drew Butler was named Saturday as a Football Writers Association All-American, the program's first since David Pollack in 2004. ... Garner said the Bulldogs now likely will try to sign a quarterback in the 2010 class.