The University of Georgia football program is set to begin it’s 2017 spring practice in just two short weeks on March 21st, and there are a few key questions the Bulldogs would like to get answered before heading into the summer.
While the return of junior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel along with junior outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter for their senior seasons is a big plus for Georgia headed into the 2017 season, the Bulldogs did lose some key starters along with some depth at certain positions from last year’s squad. One unit that has the most shoes to fill will be the offensive line.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Gone are starters at offensive tackle in Tyler Catalina and Greg Pyke along with center Brandon Kublanow. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman will be looking to find a new starting center and a couple of new starters at both left and right tackle. Lamont Gaillard looks to be the main favorite to vie for the center position. He played in and started all 13 games for Georgia last season as a redshirt sophomore at right guard. Competing with Gaillar will likely be redshirt freshman Chris Barnes along with redshirt sophomore Sean Fogarty. If Fogarty’s name is unfamiliar to you, he was a late addition to the Bulldogs’ 2016 class as a transfer from Savannah State. Of course, if Gaillard moves from right guard, who will take over for him?
Look for redshirt freshman Solomon Kindley to compete for a start at offensive guard and to replace Gaillard’s vacated spot at right guard in particular. Then there is senior Isaiah Wynn who could compete for a start at right guard or at offensive tackle. Speaking of the offensive tackle spots, 2017 JUCO transfer D’Marcus Hayes is an early enrollee, and he could play a large part in the battle at either LT or RT. Senior Aulden Bynum will compete for playing time at OT as well, but I don’t expect either tackle spot to be settled until fall camp. The other incoming five class of 2017 signees will shake things up here, namely Isaiah Wilson. The question will be is how quickly can he come in, get in shape for SEC football and learn enough to vie for a start?
Taking snaps behind the offensive line will be last year’s starter, rising sophomore Jacob Eason, but there is a new gunslinger in town for spring. They call him Fromm … Jake Fromm. And while I don’t expect Fromm to beat out Eason for 2017, especially in the spring, I do expect him to give ‘Skinny’ some darn good competition. The better question here is will Fromm come out of spring practice as the No. 2 on the depth chart at QB?
RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
Of course, the quarterbacks have to have someone to throw the ball to. Last year, with Malcolm Mitchell plying his skills with the New England Patriots, there was a big ‘ole question mark on who would step up at receiver for the Bulldogs. To the surprise of many, that guy was Isaiah McKenzie aka the ‘Human Joystick,’ who was more known for his punt return skills that his receiving skills. McKenzie declared early for the draft, and outside of him it was receiver by committee.
McKenzie declared opted to not return for 2017 and declared for the draft, though, and Reggie Davis is also gone. Now, there are probably more question marks at the receiver spot for this upcoming season than there was last year. But there are some potential rising stars like rising sophomore Riley Ridley who was really becoming an integral part of the offense until his injury later on in the season. Could the light final come on for rising juniors Michael Chigbu, Terry Godwin, and Jayson Stanley? Will Javon Wims, a 2016 JUCO transfer who started to come on late last season, answer the call? Or could early enrollee Jeremiah Holloman make a freshman impact similar to A.J. Green or Malcolm Mitchell? He certainly has a lot of potential.
As many questions as there are at receiver, there is little to be concerned about with tight end. Everyone is back; including rising seniors Jeb Blazevich and Jordan Davis along with rising junior Jackson Harris. Then there are last year’s freshmen, Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner. Nauta played in all 13 games and started five as a freshman, could be the next great Georgia tight end to follow in the steps of Orson Charles, Randy McMichael, Shannon Mitchell, and Ben Watson.
Not a lot to talk about here other than Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are back for their senior seasons, and they should hold down the top two running back spots on the depth chart. How much work they get in the spring, will be the biggest question. Look for rising sophomores Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield to get a lot of work to determine who comes out of spring as the No. 3 guy. Georgia’s lone RB signee for 2017, D’Andre Swift, will join the team over the summer.
DEFENSIVE FRONT 7
Jumping over to the defensive side of the ball, all of the front seven returns for Georgia from last season, but there are some positions to look at in this group. Namely, along the defensive line and at inside linebacker. At defensive tackle, with Trenton Thompson out seeking care for an undisclosed medical condition, who will step up in his place? I expect this to be a committee effort, but senior John Atkins and rising sophomore Julian Rochester along with rising junior Daquan Hawkins-Muckle are all quite capable. Keep your eye on talented Michail Carter, though. He might have the most potential out of the group.
Rising junior Jonathan Ledbetter and rising sophomore David Marshall look to be the two guys to watch in spring coming off the edge from the defensive end position along with redshirt freshman Justin Young. The biggest question is to see whether or not sophomore Michael Barnett returns to defense to work on the d-line or stays working on offense with the offensive lineman.
While Reggie Carter and Natrez Patrick are healthy and good to go at inside linebacker, Roquan Smith will likely miss most of the spring after having surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. So bodies to get through spring practice is the biggest concern here. Competing with R. Carter and Patrick will be rising junior Juwan Taylor and rising sophomore Tae Crowder, who switched from running back to ILB last fall, along with early enrollee Monty Rice. Rising sophomore Jaleel Laguins could also factor into the equation here.
Like Chubb and Michel at running back, there is not much question as to who the two main outside linebackers will be. Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter will likely hold onto their No. 1 spots. Behind them, Chauncey Manac and D’Andre Walker are likely the next two deep.
The position group on the defensive side of the ball that requires the most scrutiny will be the secondary. Gone are safety Quincy Mauger and defensive back Maurice Smith. Coach Smart and his defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will need to find a safety and a player to take over at the STAR and Nickle CB spot. The good news here is that Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis are back for their senior season and provide a lot of experience at safety. There is also junior Jarvis Wilson, but a lot of eyes will be on freshman five-star DB Richard LeCounte III. How far up the depth chart can he climb this spring? Where will play in the secondary?
And then there are special teams. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship would seem to be the odds-on favorite to remain the Bulldogs’ placekicker for PATs and field goals along with the leg on kickoffs. For spring, Mitchell Wasson will compete with Blankenship, but I expect ‘Wild Thang’ to hold on to his job for now. Coach Smart is bringing in some more competition this fall for the kickers, though. 2017 preferred walk-on signee Brooks Buce will join the Bulldogs over the summer, and 2017 graduate transfer David Marvin was offered a 1-year scholarship to come in and compete at kicker.
Punting was inconsistent for Georgia in 2016 and is one area that Coach Smart and tight ends / special teams Coach Shane Beamer would like to see improvement in. Brice Ramsey took over for Marshall Long after he went down with a dislocated patella injury, but he struggled with placement, hangtime, and distance. Long is not likely going to be available to fall, and there is no guarantees on how soon he will be cleared to be able to play. There is also the question as to whether or not Ramsey will remain with the Bulldogs after spring.
With those uncertainties, the Georgia staff are bringing in a couple of punters which include preferred walk-on 2017 signee Bill Rubright and Cameron Nizialek, a walk-on graduate transfer from Columbia University. Both 2017 signees at kicker Brooks Buce and David Marvin could also try out at punter.
As I mentioned earlier, Reggie Davis and Isaiah McKenzie are gone, and will not only be missed at receiver but on kick and punt returns. While Davis had mixed results as a kick returner, McKenzie was flat out dangerous as a punt returner, a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball. Both Davis and McKenzie will need to be replaced. Who will step up? Many fans are hoping to see rising sophomore Mecole Hardman Jr. and I expect he’ll get a shot this spring as well as freshman Richard LeCounte III. Both are dynamic playmakers with the ball in their hands.
WRAP IT UP, I’LL TAKE IT
Well, there you have it Bulldawg fans. In just two short weeks, the Georgia football team will hit the practice fields and start wearing off that new Indoor Athletic Facility smell as they prepare for the 2017 college football season. We will be doing a more detailed spring preview for each position group starting this weekend as we countdown the days till the start of spring camp. Plus, keep a watch for a couple of podcasts as well.
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