Last week the Georgia Bulldogs opened up preseason camp with a couple of practices with no gear. Those practices were needed and they happened for a reason. The list of things the Bulldogs can achieve at this time is limited, but head coach Kirby Smart and his staff are probably pretty elated to see their team back on the field. Although Smart has said in the past that he learns a lot more about his team when the chinstraps are buckled, helmets come on and the pads are in place.
Unfortunately, the helmets and pads won’t be available until next week at least, but that won’t disparage what the team is currently doing. It’s a known fact that UGA didn’t have spring practice and that this week is very important for the program in regards to the 2020 season.
For the first time since late December, the Georgia coaching staff will finally get to plan accordingly and set weekly goals. Also, the coaches can now get a glimpse of where they are as a team and as units; especially after months of zoom meetings and a month and a half of voluntary workouts.
This week is huge for two groups – the offense and incoming freshman. This will be the first time in recent memory that the players will get to come in and go full speed against one another with a football present as the coaches watch. It will also be the first time the new crop of freshmen that arrived this summer will be allowed to be directly instructed by their position coaches. Over the past month, everyone has been working with the training staff while competing in player-led drills.
Speaking of the offense…
The entire offense is getting a facelift with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken taking over as play-caller. It will also be the first time new position coach and associate head coach Matt Luke (who has been with the program since December after replacing Sam Pittman) will be able to work with all the newcomers on the line. But for Monken, things will be extremely difficult because it’s a race against time to get the full install ready by the season’s start. As a former NFL assistant coach, he is used to having OTAs (organized team activities) and mini camps, but he won’t have either of those options while at the college level. Spring practice would have really benefitted him well, but of course Covid-19 cancelled those plans.
The quarterback situation will be heating up this week as the Bulldogs finally take the field. New transfer quarterbacks Jamie Newman and JT Daniels have a lot of work to do. The duo will finally be taking snaps during their first coordinated drills as Bulldogs all while competing against three other scholarship quarterbacks. Stetson Bennett and D’wan Mathis have been in Athens for at least a year, and former four-star Carson Beck has been with the program since January. Newman (who has also been here since January) is the projected starter, but it is his job to lose.
Could the lack of reps in spring leave open the door for Daniels (who received his waiver to play from the NCAA) to start? Such questions will be answered on the practice field starting this week.
But of course that isn’t the only question surrounding the offense.
The receivers will be learning new routes and where to line up, but also will be growing a rapport with a couple of new signal callers. Timing is key in these situations and that is something that the unit doesn’t have right now.
The coaches will also be looking for players who will be willing to step up other than some prime targets. Those primary wideouts include George Pickens, Demetris Robertson and Dominick Blaylock, but after those three, the field of competitors is wide open. A trio of returnees such as Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers, and Tommy Bush will finally get to showcase their talents; or else, there’s a batch of talented freshman that are ready to make an impact.
Jermaine Burton and Marcus Rosemy are two talented youngsters that come to mind. From what we’ve been hearing, those two have made a huge splash onto the scene during voluntary workouts. Arian Smith is another freshman speedster who’s name has been thrown around, but he is currently working on repairing a torn meniscus. Hopefully he will be able to see some some action in practice once he is fully healed. Justin Robinson and Ladd McConkey are the two other freshman wideouts who will have the opportunity to turn some heads starting from this week on.
On the offensive line, there dons a few question marks. There’s the matter of replacing a trio of NFL draft picks on the offensive line, including a pair of first-rounders in Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson. Also, Cade Mays (who played meaningful snaps at various positions on the line last year) is gone.
Jamaree Salyer seems to be the guy who will take over the job at left tackle, despite the fact it’s a position he’s playing for the first time. Ben Cleveland seems like a nice fit at right guard, Trey Hill (center) and Justin Shaffer (left guard) offer a ton of experience at the other positions. That just leaves a question mark at right tackle and practice should be able to answer that. The Bulldogs have a ton of talent across the board on the line, and there are also several freshman who have been turning heads since arriving in June.
Zamir White and James Cook will be learning new schemes and will likely be the top two candidates at running back entering fall camp. Although, freshman Kendall Milton might be able to make some noise alongside sophomore Kenny McIntosh starting this week.
At tight end, Florida State graduate transfer Tre’ McKitty seemed to be turning heads in player-led workouts. He has some speed to him and experience, which is great when you’re looking for a starter. But don’t count out freshman Darnell Washington, who stands at 6-foot-8 and can leap easily over defenders for the ball.
Where the defense can improve…
The Georgia defense will have a much different challenge than the offense.
The Bulldogs return a ton of talent from the nation’s No. 2 overall defense from a season ago, and their biggest concern will be complacency. Smart has said in the last several weeks is that feeling will do nothing for them.
They must once prove again that they can a force to be reckoned with, and that starts this week by getting back to the grind. The basics of hard-nose fundamentals and grit will be expressed this week. It helps to have leaders such as Richard LeCounte and Monty Rice back for their senior campaigns as well.
There are also several areas that the Bulldogs can improve on and they will focusing on that as well. Those areas include: creating more turnovers, racking up more sacks and getting more consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Expect Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning to preach about that in upcoming preseason interviews. Also, predict that defensive line coach Tray Scott will have his unit practicing hard and focusing a lot more on shutting down the run as well. Remember last year that Georgia only gave up two rushing touchdowns and they were both to quarterbacks. The first rushing score they gave up was in November against Auburn, which is an incredible feat to go that long without surrendering one.
It will also be of interesting to see incoming defensive freshman like Jalen Carter, Nazir Stackhouse or Kelee Ringo and how they stack up against older competition. Make a note of that because pretty much every position on UGA’s defense has depth. These three are some of the highest-rated freshman in the 2020 class and they will quickly learn that ‘iron sharpens iron.’
Also, once again, remember that all this will be done as non-contact practices. Georgia will need to get the player’s best efforts in these bonus practices if they want to win a championship in 2020. Most would agree that the biggest questions are surrounding the offense, but there are some surrounding the defense as well. It will be interesting to see how things will go moving forward.