2020 Dawgs: Position By Position

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2020 Dawgs: Position By Position

George Pickens
George Pickens

Quarterback

Amongst the biggest question marks for Georgia is quarterback. But there is an experienced standout ready to step in, Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman. Not having spring practice, with all the new faces on offense amongst players and the coaching staff, was a hit for the unit. But Kirby Smart’s program was ahead of the curve with Zoom and the various new forms of interaction. With the players back on campus now, the familiarity with Newman and his teammates grows by the day. 

Newman is the strong front-runner to win the job, and the depth is strong and the future bright at the position. Dwan Mathis, what a story, has been cleared, and Carson Beck was an early enrollee. Both have bright futures and are just freshmen, Mathis a redshirt, Beck a true. Stetson Bennett, who was Jake Fromm’s backup last season, is also back. Then there was another Smart roster management gem, Southern Cal transfer J.T. Daniels. We’ll have to see if Daniels is eligible this year. He started as a freshman at USC in 2018, but was injured last year in the season opener. Big picture, when the Bulldogs open the 2021 season against Clemson, there will be a signal caller who has taken a number of significant collegiate snaps. 

For the class of 2021, the Bulldogs have a verbal commitment from Blue Chip local product Brock Vandegriff of Prince Avenue Christian school just down Highway 78 from Sanford Stadium. 

Todd Monken, Georgia’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has talent and depth to work with. Helping mold Newman into an SEC standout and developing those signal callers of the future will make for exciting days with this position group.  

Running Back

One of the best to ever play for Tailback U. is now in the NFL, and D’Andre Swift leaves huge shoes to fill. Brian Herrien was also a terrific player. Not too many teams are crying for the Bulldogs though. 

A healthy Zamir “Zeus” White, who looked dynamite in Georgia’s 26-14 Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor, has the heart, tools, talent and intangibles to be one of the country’s best runners. A Bulldog fan favorite cut from the cloth of the Bulldogs legendary backs of days gone by, White will have his shot to shine in 2020. 

James Cook is a versatile burner with excellent footwork. Getting the ball in his hands in a variety of ways will be on new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s “to-do” list. Kenny McIntosh is physical with some moves. His late game touchdown dash against Arkansas State was an eye-opener. McIntosh looked good late in the season against Tech and in New Orleans against Baylor. He didn’t get a lot of carries in the crowded backfield last year, but McIntosh showed he can be a guy. 

Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards are highly touted recruits who aim to continue the legacy. 

When the quarterback is under center, and the Bulldogs need to use a fullback, there figures to be competition from walk-ons and players who are regulars at other positions. I love that fullback cleaning out the hole for those swift runners – especially when the defense is stacked in tight. 

Dell McGee has done a fantastic job as the Bulldogs running backs coach and is one of the top recruiters in the business. 

Fromm and Swift are two of the most successful players at their positions in Georgia annals. They leave a huge void. But no violins are being played by the Bulldogs rivals. There are so many teams, almost any, envious of a backfield duo of Newman and Zeus, with Cook and McIntosh. 

Wide Receiver

Injury and attrition was staggering at the wide receiver position in 2019. By the time George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock got up to speed as true freshmen, the only game where they teamed with transfer Lawrence Cager at full health was the 24-17 victory over Florida. It just wasn’t meant to be. 

Pickens was voted Most Valuable Player of the Sugar Bowl.  In the second half of the season, he scored touchdowns against Missouri, Texas A&M, Tech, LSU and Baylor. Blaylock scored touchdowns against Florida, Auburn and Tech. But he suffered an injured knee in the SEC Championship Game. His health is a big question. With Blaylock’s injury situation, Pickens is the clear No. 1. As for the other options, there is a derby. Best case, Blaylock is 100 percent, ready to roll, and the sophomore standouts shine. 

Georgia had a great recruiting haul at the position, but it is rare for true freshmen to have an immediate early impact. There are some splashes, but it usually takes until around the middle of the season for the freshmen pass catchers to start to fully get into the groove. There are some big time candidates and the future is bright with the classes of 2019 and 2020. Marcus Rosemy and Jermaine Burton may be the most game ready. Arian Smith is rocket fast. There are Mecole Hardeman comparisons. Justin Robinson has good upside, and Ladd McConkey was a late find. But again, these are freshmen. 

Can anyone from the classes of 2017 and 2018 step to the forefront? How about Demetrius Robertson? He had a sneaky number of big catches last season. A Freshman All-American at Cal, perhaps 2020 is his year in Athens.

Smith is rocket fast. There are Mecole Hardeman comparisons. Justin Robinson has good upside, and Ladd McConkey was a late find. But again, these are freshmen. 

Can anyone from the classes of 2017 and 2018 step to the forefront? How about Demetrius Robertson? He had a sneaky number of big catches last season. A Freshman All-American at Cal, perhaps 2020 is his year in Athens. 

Receivers coach Cortez Hankton will oversee one of the largest position battle competitions of preseason camp. 

Tight End

Charlie Woerner is another of those players who leaves a huge void. He could do it all at tight end – a tremendous blocker with great hands who was never on the ground. Eli Wolf is gone too. He had big memorable catches against Notre Dame, Florida and Auburn. 

 Tight ends coach Todd Hartley is excellent. Bulldog through and through and a top end recruiter, Hartley was ecstatic when Smart hired him in 2019 to return to his alma mater. He has some young players with limited experience, a five star freshman and Florida State transfer. 

 Tre’ McKitty comes to Athens from Tallahassee as a graduate transfer and figures to be the frontrunner for the starting job. Darnell Washington of Las Vegas was a blue chip signee and the top ranked player from the state of Nevada. These are the new faces. 

 For the players who have been in the program for two to three years, John Fitzpatrick and redshirt freshmen Brett Seither and Ryland Goede will be in the fight for playing time. Both at tight end and special teams. 

 Fitzpatrick has the most experience within the program and could be the best bet to open preseason camp in the starting spot. 

Offensive Line

Matt Luke was a grand slam hire for Smart as the Bulldogs new offensive line coach. The dividends were immediately paid in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor and holding together then adding to a lights out recruiting class of offensive linemen, one of the best in college football. 

 Andrew Thomas, like his aforementioned Bulldog brethren above, leaves a huge void at left tackle. One of the best to ever play at Georgia, Thomas was the ultimate anchor on the offensive front. Isaiah Wilson joined him as first round picks, Solomon Kindley went in the fourth and there was a transfer. This is an area where not having spring practice really hurt. 

 But Luke will get down to work. A protege of the great Hugh Nall, Luke’s energy and acumen can give the Georgia faithful confidence that this O-Line will be good. Last year’s was great in pass protection, underwhelming with run blocking. Throw in this freshman class and the crop that is being recruited for 2021, and the depth and talent on the offensive line in ‘21, ‘22, and ‘23 could rival the last two years.

 As for this season, the left tackle spot is the most vital. LT and placekicker are arguably the biggest question marks for the season. 

 Junior Trey Hill is back at center, and seniors Ben Cleveland and Justin Shaffer could be the starters at guard, giving the Bulldogs a lot of experience in the middle. Warren Ericson made his first start in New Orleans and played well. Could former five star Clay Webb have an impact in the middle? 

 Jamaree Salyer is the X-Factor. A ballyhooed recruit and prep teammate of Thomas, Salyer has played all over the line and got the start at right tackle in the Sugar Bowl. He looks like a natural there. Will he stay there, or will the Bulldogs try Salyer on the left side? For players who have been in the program, Xavier Truss, Warren McClendon and Owen Condon will contend for the other starting tackle spot. This will be fierce and fun competition to keep an eye on. 

A slew of true freshmen will have a chance to get their feet wet. Broderick Jones comes in amongst the most highly touted tackle prospects in the SEC. At press time, Georgia has verbal commitments from two of the state’s top offensive line prospects, Micah Morris from Camden County and Dylan Fairchild of West Forsyth. 

Defensive Line

This may not be the deepest of defensive fronts, but the top end of the line is extremely talented and athletic. Defensive tackle Travon Walker was fabulous as a freshman, highlighted by the sack that clinched the win at Auburn. He is quick, strong and athletic, a penetrator who pressures the passer and stops the run. Difference maker. Nose tackle Jordan Davis can clog the middle with the best of the big men in the middle. When he moved into the starting lineup as a freshman in the middle of the 2018 campaign, Davis made a huge impact. When he plays big, Davis is one of the defense’s most impactful players. Malik Herring is a top flight defensive end, strong against the run and he can get to the quarterback. Devonte Wyatt has made a lot of big plays in the middle and Julian Rochester, who redshirted through injuries last season, is back for his fifth year, aiming for his best year. 

These five, if they stay healthy, could be amongst the best quintets in college football. Three true freshmen are coming in. Jalen Carter has the potential to make an impact similar to Davis in 2018 and Walker in 2019. Nazir Stackhouse and Warren Brinson will have a shot to help. A big key to developing the depth is whether the Bulldogs can get some help and snaps from Tramel Walthour, Bill Norton, Tymon Mitchell and Zion Logue. Defensive line is always a recruiting priority. The Bulldogs have commits from a pair of in-state blue-chippers Jonathan Jefferson and Marlin Dean. Georgia is hunting for more. 

Tray Scott is in his fourth season as the Bulldogs defensive line coach, and this has the potential to be the best – though not the deepest – unit he’s had. 

All defenses are multiple now. When Georgia lines up four on the line of scrimmage, with Azeez Ojulari, technically an outside linebacker, playing defensive end, the stop unit is particularly fierce. 

Linebacker

Ojulari is one of the headliners at one of Georgia’s deepest positions. The redshirt sophomore is a difference-maker, a big play maker. Nolan Smith played big as a freshman and the “five star” recruit could be ready for a breakout season. Adam Anderson is long and athletic. He could be ready for a big junior year. Jermaine Johnson, who teamed up with Smith to pressure Ian Book on the clinching stop against Notre Dame, and Walter Grant are the seniors, hungry for a big finish.  

 These are the frontline outside linebackers. Dan Lanning, Georgia’s young defensive coordinator who is a top future head coach candidate, has quite a crew. The depth is outstanding, but there are several players that are going to be hard to keep off the field. It’s a good conundrum. 

 On the inside, Monty Rice is back for his senior season and poised for an all-star campaign. He was a beast in the Sugar Bowl. The depth is great here as well for inside ‘backers coach Glenn Schumann. Nakobe Dean, high school valedictorian, can flat out run. He, Walker, Smith defensive back Tyrique Stevenson were all elite recruits, and all had shining freshmen seasons. Quay Walker and Channing Tindall have been very good and could win starting jobs. Walker can also play outside. He was on the field for that final defensive play against the Irish.

 Rian Davis and Trezmen Marshall are waiting in the wings. Mekhail Sherman is the lone true freshman in the linebacker group. He was a big time pull from Washington D.C. The Dogs have commitments from Chaz Chambliss and Elijah Jeudy, and are in the hunt for at least two more blue chippers. 

This group of linebackers is arguably the deepest and most talented that Georgia has ever had. Will they produce? Last year’s offensive line, again which was very good, but not dominant, is a direct point of reference.

Secondary

Richard LeCounte and Eric Stokes, like Rice, decided to return for their senior seasons. So big. LeCounte is one of the starting safeties. He’s made a lot of big plays and has a nose for the ball. One of the first major recruits for Smart, this could be his year to shine. As good as Georgia’s front should be, LeCounte and his fellow defensive backs, especially the safeties, should have plenty of interception opportunities. And the Dawgs defense, especially as the offense grows, may need to produce more short fields and points. Lewis Cine, who started the final two games as a true freshman last year, is the front-runner at the other safety. High ceiling. The depth at safety isn’t great. But Georgia has versatility in the secondary. Major Burns could help as a freshman this year. The Bulldogs have a verbal commitment from top prospect David Daniel, who has been compared favorably to LeCounte, and are seeking another top flight safety. 

 At the nickel/star position, Mark Webb is back for his senior year. Swift’s cousin, he was in on that pass breakup against Notre Dame to clinch the win. Stevenson can play here or corner. Same for Divaad Wilson. 

 Georgia is in very good shape here. 

 Injuries hit the Dogs at corner last season. A healthy duo of Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell has the promise to be one of the SEC’s best. Stokes was a state track champion in high school and is physical with a nose for the ball. The pro scouts certainly love this fourth year junior. Campbell, a five star recruit, missed half of last season. He’s ready for a breakout junior year. Stevenson and D.J. Daniel will battle for starting spots. Mega recruit Kelee Ringo will be hard to keep off the field. He and Jalen Kimber give the Bulldogs a banner pair of freshmen prospects. 

 Charlton Warren is the secondary coach. Sharp with X’s and O’s and an outstanding recruiter, he stepped in for ace coordinator Mel Tucker last year and the secondary didn’t miss a beat. Hard work is in his nature. He played at the Air Force Academy and was in the service for six years. 

Special Teams 

As last season went along Jake Camarda emerged as one of the best punters in the SEC. He’s also the holder. He’s also a candidate to be the place-kicker. If Camarda winds up kicking, odds are someone else is punting. Either Bill Rubright or Noah Chumley, who’s father Donald was a fine defensive lineman for the Bulldogs in the 1980s and Mr. Irrelevant in the 1985 NFL Draft. 

Ideally, Camarda is the punter, and either true freshman Jared Zirkel, walk on Brooks Buce or a surprise walk-on is a solid kicker. Rodrigo Blankenship, like so many players mentioned above, leaves big shoes to fill. It’s a longshot that the kicker will have an all star year. But Georgia needs someone to at least make the kicks that they are supposed to make. You get to the eight and it’s first and goal, then comes a holding penalty. Hard to get a touchdown, it’s essential to make the, say, 33-yarder. 

As for Camarda potentially doing it all, it’s a lot. The one and only Kevin Butler says that at best a combo punter/kicker will operate at 85 percent of their ability throughout a season. Plus, what if something happens on the injury front? Yikes. 

Payne Walker is the front-runner at snapper, and like with Camarda as the holder, you hope to not have their names mentioned prominently on any kind of kick. That’s when stuff goes wrong. 

Were there some times last year that the Bulldogs were too reliant on Blankenship? Perhaps things are a little different on third, and fourth down even in 2020. 

In the return game, Georgia would like to get more punch. First things first, catch the punts. Blaylock had come on and become really good at it last season, but again, with the injury, we’ll have to see. As for kickoff returns, there aren’t that many anymore, but the Bulldogs would like to get a little more punch there. Cook maybe? One of the freshmen receivers maybe? 

As for the coverage units and in the return game, Georgia’s exceptional depth should show and shine. 

Scott Cochran gained fame and acclaim as Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach. Now he’s the special teams coach at Georgia. He and Smart were good friends at Alabama, and now they are reunited. 

For all the 300-pounders and elite play-makers on the perimeter, so many times, games and championships are decided by kickers. Some of whom are skinny and quirky. Special teams have been a big priority in Smart’s tenure, and it was a constant source of angst for many years in Athens. 

Trying to win championships with unsound special teams is like skydiving with an unreliable parachute. 

Place kicker, the case could be made, is Georgia’s most important position battle of preseason practice.

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