In college football, every season brings turnover. In 2021-2022, Bulldog Nation was concerned with the departures of names like Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean and the historical defense that led them to their first national championship in over 40 years. Now in 2023, the likes of Stetson Bennett and Chris Smith head to the league after giving their all to the Dawgs. Though Bennett is the only actual quarterback of the aforementioned duo, Smith most definitely served as Bennett’s counterpart on the other side of the ball.
Regarding getting someone to fill Chris Smith’s shoes, it’s objectively hard to replace a three year starter, but it is inevitable. Now, Georgia’s defensive back room doesn’t have near the experience for an individual to step in and do exactly what Smith did, but it does have a variety of weapons that can help fill the hole that Smith leaves behind.
One of those weapons being Javon Bullard. A now third-year who’s just as much a heat-seeking missile as he is a UGA defensive back. Bullard exploded onto the scene last year with two sacks in Georgia’s victory against the No. 1 ranked Tennessee Volunteers, a game-ending hit on Marvin Harrison in the Peach Bowl, and multiple turnovers in the 2022 CFP National Championship win over the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs.
At the STAR position in 2022, Bullard was able to put some of his own versatility on display playing in and out of the box and instilling physicality on anyone who came near. Now transitioning to 2023, Bullard appears destined for a new position on the defense. He was recruited as a safety being a “deep part of the field player” according to Coach Smart, so this offseason Bullard has been competing for the starting strong safety spot.
Not only would that move him to another vital spot on the field, but it would give former Freshman All-American Tykee Smith to compete for the STAR position spreading the wealth amongst the defensive backfield. Smith has been struck with the injury bug for a good bit of his time at Georgia. In what is now his fifth year in college, it’s only his first full practicing spring at Georgia. ACL injuries have kept Smith from fulfilling his potential, but now the Philly native has every intention of showing us all the kind of player he can be.
In addition to Bullard and Smith is Malaki Starks, who may be one of the youngest of the UGA DBs but the most experienced at the same time. Starting 14 of 15 games in the 2022 season while being the third most productive tackler on the team has given Starks plenty of time to get accustomed to the field and grow from that experience. He and Bullard are practically set to come back and start in 2023, but where on the field is something the G-Day game will confirm, if that can be a valid opportunity to make that assessment.
As for the quarterbacks, at this point coming out of spring practice, it appears safe to assume that the real duel is between Carson Beck, a former four-star out of Jacksonville, and Brock Vandagriff, a former five-star from nearby Bogart, Georgia. A fair share of fan consideration has been backing a young Gunner Stockton to vie for the starting spot, but at this point judging from Smart’s comments nothing is really pointing that way. At least, right now. Beck and Vandagriff actually share first team reps to some extent. Smart has explained multiple times that the two are constantly getting opportunities to play with the ones because there’s no other way to determine who should be the starter, if they can’t see who plays the best with the first team.
It’s hard to sort out from interviews with the players, but it’s clear the two bring their set of skills to the table. For Beck, it’s his arm strength which has been accredited by former Dawg and current Pittsburgh Steeler George Pickens to be “ripping it” when he throws the ball. More recently, speedster Arian Smith also said that Beck’s arm has impressed him. But where Beck lacks is probably where Vandagriff excels the best.
It’s Vandagriff’s legs that separate him from the pack. His and Stockton’s mobility continues to impress in practice, but Vandagriff’s experience with the offense puts him ahead. Smart has said before that one thing he’s learned from Bennett is that the offense should keep up a certain quality of mobility out of its starting quarterback and that moving forward it shouldn’t be below what Bennett brought to the table. That’s exactly what the former five-star out of Prince Avenue Christian has to offer.
Carson Beck has obviously been the second string quarterback the past two years, and probably for good reason. He’s only had a year up on Vandagriff in terms of getting used to the system, but it’s worked out for Beck as he’s been the first name called up when Georgia has found itself with big leads at the end of games. The starting job looks like his to lose, but in today’s day and age with things like the transfer portal and NIL, Vandagriff staying to compete is telling that the QB battle will continue all the way to kickoff on Labor Day weekend.
If there’s one thing Dawgs do, it’s compete, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing out of the Georgia QBs this spring.