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Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia redshirt junior cornerback Eric Stokes, shown here celebrating after last year's win over Florida, believes the protocols are in place to allow this preseason camp to transpire the same as those before.

In a typical year, college football teams have roughly a month between the start of preseason camp and the kickoff of their season openers.

The coronavirus rendered 2020 abnormal back in March.

Due to continuing concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Southeastern Conference members now have 40 days to conduct 25 practices before this year's opening games, which have been moved from Sept. 5 to Sept 26. Georgia coach Kirby Smart expects to encounter both positives and negatives navigating the league's adjusted preparation schedule.

"It will be unique, because we're going to have fewer days without school, so there is a give and take," Smart said. "It is more spread out, and the medical group advised us on spreading these days out, and I think there is going to be a benefit. When you track concussions and health care and the injury rates and soft-tissue injuries, they typically happen early in camp. It's the first time kids have gone back to having contact.

"By spreading it out over more days, you're giving guys more time for recovery, and there are not those intense repeated practices."

Now for the glass half-empty part.

"The loss of benefit is that there is a lot of programming that goes into these camps prior to school starting," Smart said. "You have speakers come in who speak on a lot of different subjects that don't involve football. They involve life skills, and these kids will miss those speakers, because we'll be transitioning to school pretty quick here this week."

Transitioning to school in Athens and elsewhere around the league will result in players, who have largely been shielded in recent days and weeks, immersing themselves within the student body. Recent back-to-school gathering images from North Carolina to Alabama to Oklahoma State reflected little to no adherence to social distancing guidelines, but players hope the upcoming days can transpire in identical fashion to previous years.

"I pretty much think it's going to be the same," Georgia redshirt junior cornerback Eric Stokes said. "Nobody really has COVID here on our team, so we're really just going to keep it going like it's any other day. We've been playing football since we were little, and if we keep wearing our masks and keep going through the protocols, we're going to keep playing ball."

SEC teams started preseason practices Monday with the same 20-hour rule of workout time per week. There also will be the same acclimation plan in place as previous years, so the first two practices will be held without pads, and full pads won't be allowed until the fifth workout.

Though drills will be more spread out in the weeks ahead, Smart said the intensity will be the same as before.

"COVID is not based on the aggressiveness of your practices," Smart said. "It's making sure you have a safe number of student-athletes out there and that you're controlling the transmissions of COVID from each player. We're trying to keep that outside, and we're doing a lot of testing to keep that away. It's not how the practices go.

"If anything, they're going to have more time off between days now that we've got 40 days to get in 25 practices. There is going to be ample time to get the work done we need to get done to get ready."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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