I attended every practice that was open to the media during Fall Camp 2017 and there was one major big change from previous years – the indoor practice facility. The staff has used the indoor facility to maintain a high level of reps while allowing players’ bodies to recover from the outdoor steam bath that is Athens in August. The idea is to keep the team at peak conditioning levels to allow for maximum performance during practice reps, rather than being worn down by continuous outdoor sessions in the heat.
5. Offensive line: The single biggest question mark for Smart’s Dawgs in 2017. Replacing three starters on an underwhelming 2016 unit is going to test the skill of offensive line coach Sam Pittman. Will JUCO transfer D’Marcus Hayes get up to speed? Has Ben Cleveland found his niche? Which freshmen, beside Andrew Thomas (right tackle), might find his way to the starting lineup? Is Pat Allen ready for prime time? There are questions at every position (with the exception of left tackle where Isaiah Wynn is entrenched) and none of them will be answered until the young line faces game action against Appalachian State.
I look for an improved offensive line, but SUBSTANTIAL improvement is needed to give quarterbacks time to throw and provide creases for running backs to break through the line of scrimmage. This position group is the key to the season.
4. Defense: This side of the ball should be Georgia’s rock. Ten starters return and even with the early season loss to injury of cornerback Malkom Parrish, the defense will be able to provide cover for the young and inexperienced offensive line to grow. Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker have consistently repped the talented young freshmen (Eric Stokes, Ameer Speed, Trey Bishop, William Poole and Richard LeCounte) to find depth in the defensive backfield. These are talented young players who will need to mature quickly shore up the numbers in the secondary.
The defensive line and linebackers should be Georgia’s strongest unit with Trenton Thompson fully healthy after missing spring practice. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy return to anchor the edges for the Dawgs, while Natrez Patrick, Roquan Smith and Reggie Carter plug the middle behind stalwart nose guard John Adkins.
3. Running Backs: Everyone is familiar with Georgia’s outstanding group of returning backs, but wait until you see D’Andre Swift. This freshman certainly lives up to his recruiting hype and is sure to be a crowd favorite with his hard-nosed running style, combined with breakaway speed. Swift is also an excellent receiver. Sony Michel has been taking a lot of snaps at the slot position during fall camp. To the extent that Michel takes game reps in the slot, Swift could be the number 2 tailback. He is going to be fun to watch.
There is no such thing as too much depth at running back. These guys take a pounding and having Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien in addition to Chubb, Michel and Swift will serve the Dawgs well as the season grinds on.
2. Receivers: Most pundits have forecast the Dawg’s wide receiver group is a serious problem. There were too many dropped passes in 2016 but, as with other position groups, the 2017 recruiting class added several talented receivers to the line-up. I have been impressed with early enrollee Jeremiah Holloman and summer enrollee Mark Webb are a couple of names to remember. However, my favorite new receiver is Ahkil Crumpton the JUCO transfer. Crumpton will remind you of Isaiah McKenzie but may be even quicker and he has glue-like hands. He will likely step into a kick/punt return role as well as being a wide receiver.
1. Coaching: There’s been lots of angst in the fan base about Georgia’s coaching staff after last season’s disappointing finish. Much of that concern has been directed toward offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Chaney has to get the offense going this year and what better place to start than to utilize the nation’s best group of tight ends. Blazevich, Harris, Davis and Nauta are experienced ready to both block and provide targets for a more mature Jacob Eason. All of Chaney’s offensive cards have to be played in 2017.