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Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia junior outside linebacker Nolan Smith, shown here during a practive last week, was the nation's No. 1 signee in 2019 and enrolled early in Athens. The Bulldogs have 16 midyear enrollees this spring.

When Nick Saban and Kirby Smart were together at Alabama, the Crimson Tide welcomed midyear enrollees such as running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper in 2012, running back Derrick Henry and tight end O.J. Howard in 2013, and offensive tackle Cam Robinson in 2014.

None, according to both coaches, had clinched a prominent role by the fifth spring practice, which is also the first in full pads.

"I don't think it's really fair to judge guys that quickly," Saban said on a recent Zoom call. "I do think that you start to see potential in guys after maybe six, seven or eight practices — maybe after that first scrimmage — that if these guys continue to improve and progress that they will be able to help us in some regard. You may even be able to see that a guy has a chance to be a potential starter at some position.

"It's not that they are a starter at that point. You just see that they have the ability if they progress to be able to do that."

Both Alabama and Georgia have moved past the fifth spring workout this year, with the Bulldogs having conducted six workouts and the Crimson Tide five. The Southeastern Conference's top two recruiting powers of the past several years combined to sign 47 players during the 2021 cycle, including a staggering 31 who are midyear enrollees.

After leaving his role as Alabama's defensive coordinator following the 2015 national championship season, Smart has delivered a multitude of talented signees at Georgia who enrolled early — quarterback Jacob Eason and tight end Isaac Nauta in 2016, quarterback Jake Fromm and safety Richard LeCounte III in 2017, quarterback Justin Fields and offensive linemen Trey Hill and Cade Mays in 2018, and outside linebacker Nolan Smith in 2019.

Smart can't recall any of them solidifying playing time after five spring practices.

"I've had someone be inserted into a position where he wasn't ready to play but where we needed to go ahead and insert him," Smart said. "He wasn't ready, but he got thrust into that because there was no one else by default. We're not very deep at DB right now, but that's not going to be the case. We've got players who have been here, so it's not like a midyear has stepped in. I have been places before where we didn't have anyone else, so they were going to have to play because we were so thin.

"I've been very fortunate for most of my career to be at some deep places. There have been some guys who we knew were going to start on some special teams because they could move and run. We've got some of those guys out there now."

An earlier opportunity to learn the system and therefore contribute is the biggest reason more and more signees enroll early, and there is also the benefit to using a university's athletic medical staff. Georgia redshirt junior running back Zamir White is an example of that, having enrolled in January 2018 after tearing his ACL several weeks earlier in the North Carolina state playoffs.

Regardless of his previous accomplishments, however, a newcomer is instantly behind.

"The biggest discrepancy in our midyear enrollees and our other younger players is usually strength and point of attack," Smart said. "They're just not strong. I'm not going to call out names, but we have a lot of guys out there who are midyear enrollees who may be talented enough, but they're not ready to take on a Justin Shaffer or a Jamaree Salyer or a Jordan Davis or whoever it is.

"They're just not ready for it. They're not going to be able to walk out there and be able to do that."

Some four- and five-star signees get frustrated at this point of spring, according to Saban and Smart, when things haven't transpired for them as quickly as they would have liked. The good news is that there is a second half of the spring, not to mention summer conditioning and nearly a month of preseason workouts.

In other words, there is plenty of time to emerge.

"We've played a ton of freshmen around here, but some of them developed more in the second half of the year," Saban said. "If they can help us win and can make a contribution to the team, we will play them, but I think it's way too early right now to really tell about how that's going to progress at this point."

 

James picks Georgia

Murfreesboro Oakland running back Jordan James, the nation's No. 17 running back and No. 179 overall prospect on the 247Sports.com composite rankings, committed Monday afternoon to Georgia. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is the Volunteer State's No. 3 prospect behind Cordova defensive tackle Walter Nolan, who has yet to commit, and Martin quarterback Ty Simpson, who committed to Alabama late last month.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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