You know who thinks the new redshirt rule is no big thang?
Kirby Smart, that’s who.
“I think you guys are making way to big a deal about this redshirt rule, and here’s why. I don’t really have a philosophy. The guy can either play or he can’t. I think y’all think we sit around a table and go ‘well, we should wait and hold this guy because in four years . . . These kids these days, they can either play or they can’t play.”
Last year, five of the 25 players who made it to campus for Georgia’s 2017 signing class redshirted for the Bulldogs, although if the rule had been in effect last year, linebacker Jaden Hunter (who played in just one game), would be classified as a redshirt freshman instead of a sophomore this fall.
Holding players back who can help the team now doesn’t serve any purpose, according to Smart.
“You want to develop them, you want to grow them, but by four years they’re either waiting to leave, they’re graduating, getting out of there or they’re possibly transferring,” he said. “So, if they can help your team now, you play them now. You don’t sit there and say well, he’s going to better his fifth year if he redshirts. Think about redshirt seniors, and tell me how many redshirt seniors have really been effective, played a lot, played major roles on teams. They really don’t.”
Snarky response: maybe that’s because of the ones who leave early for the NFL. But I digress.
What’s fascinating to me is comparing Kirby’s point of view with Paul Johnson’s.
Johnson called it “very much needed” and “good on so many levels.” One reason Johnson gave was that, because Tech’s walk-on depth is limited because of the difficulty in gaining admission to the school, having all of the scholarship players available to play will give coaches more flexibility.
However, Johnson isn’t quite sure how it will play out.
“There’s going to be some strategy in when do you play them,” Johnson said at the ACC Kickoff on Wednesday. “I don’t think you just go throw ’em out and play ’em the first four games. You kind of have to watch and see.”
… One issue Johnson raised is getting freshmen ready to play. In the past, freshmen who were to be redshirted played on the scout team, preventing them from gaining experience practicing the team’s offensive or defensive schemes. A freshman who works solely with the scout team would have a difficult time playing with the offense or defense in an actual game. Special teams might be a different matter.
“That’s going to be a challenge to transition them to see who’s going to play,” Johnson said.
Johnson also was hopeful that, for such players, the chance of playing in games will improve morale.
“It’ll keep those guys more interested,” he said. “They feel like they’re more part of the team.”
When you’re a coaching have, like Kirby Smart, you’ve got the threat of competition to keep a deep roster motivated. When you’re Georgia Tech, you now have the carrot of playing time to accomplish the same end with a thinner one, with more flexibility to evaluate your talent without handicapping the future.
For what it’s worth, I suspect Kirby is underselling his end of it. For one thing, I believe the new rule is an enormous help for special teams management, an area that’s profoundly impacted by the kind of recruiting depth he’s brought in. For another, even deep teams like Georgia can face in-season injury problems at a key position. Also for what it’s worth, I expect that most coaches, if asked, would side with Paul Johnson on the new rule’s impact.
In any event, it’s going to be interesting to watch how this changes the college football landscape as it rolls out this season.
UPDATE: Here’s a good analogy from Andy Staples.
These are the teams most likely to use the freshman class the way a Major League team uses the 40-man roster at the end of the season. Just like Clawson at Wake Forest in 2014, new coaches in programs that need major work don’t want to throw true freshmen to the wolves. But if they can replenish the roster before game nine with players who have spent the previous three months practicing, those teams have a chance to get better faster. Players will have some experience heading into the following year’s spring practice, and coaches will know how the young players responded in game action and what they need to improve upon most.