Spring practice is all about self-scouting and individual player development. It is not about filling out a depth chart or implementing game plans. The best coaches get back to the basics and look at the players and season ahead of them with fresh eyes. Everyone has a clean slate and every job is open to competition. It is a critical 15 practices that will set the tone for this new breed of Bulldog.
7. RETURN OF THE FULLBACK?
In 2018, the tight end room was one of the most talented in the program with Isaac Nauta, Charlie Woerner, Jackson Harris and Luke Ford fighting for reps. In an effort to get their best players on the field the Dawgs transitioned away from the fullback towards two tight end sets. One year later, after a mass exodus, the tight end room is very thin and the fullback is poised to make a return. The Dawgs have several walk-on options capable of contributing immediately at fullback which would allow UGA to bring back the toss sweep and add an effective lead blocker in goal to go situations where Georgia was abysmal last season.
6. IDENTIFY A BACKUP QUARTERBACK
There is no quarterback controversy in Athens for the first time in Kirby Smart’s tenure. This is Jake Fromm’s team and barring injury he will take all meaningful snaps in 2019. However, you never know when lightning will strike. Should Fromm miss snaps at a critical moment, either Stetson Bennett or Dwan Mathis will need to step in and lead the team. vvBennett has tremendous knowledge of the playbook and the respect of his teammates while Mathis has undeniable raw tools. It will be a compelling competition throughout spring.
5. REFINE SUBSTITUTION PATTERNS
A hallmark of Kirby Smart’s defense is utilizing multiple substitution packages depending upon the down and distance and opponents tendencies. Over the last three years it has been a blessing and a curse. When executed correctly the Bulldogs defense has dominated opponents but it has also been a liability at key moments. Too many times Georgia has been caught out of position with players running on and off the field leading to penalties or explosive plays by opponents. This spring Coach Smart and Coach Lanning need to self-scout and refine the substitutions patterns.
4. PUSH THE TEMPO?
The Dawgs finished last season 101st out of 130 FBS teams in offensive plays per game. The tempo was so slow that the Dawgs finished one spot behind Georgia Tech. In part by design, to protect a defense that lacked depth and experience, the Dawgs played at a very deliberate pace. On the rare occasion the Dawgs went uptempo Jake Fromm dissected opposing defenses with clinical precision. With another strong recruiting class loaded with defensive talent, UGA has the depth to allow Fromm to push the tempo and take advantage of his extraordinary decision making.
3. DEVELOP IDENTITY ON OFFENSE
In 2019, the Dawgs will be ushering in a new era on offense with the promotion of James Coley to offensive coordinator. During Jim Chaney’s tenure in Athens the Bulldogs ran the ball on nearly 65% of offensive snaps. During Coley’s three seasons at Miami, his run/pass splits was consistently close to 50/50 with a slight tendency to favor the pass. It will be intriguing to see the offensive identity Georgia establishes this spring. Do the Dawgs still lean on the power run game? Does Coley stretch the field vertically more often? These and many more questions will be answered this spring.
2. PHILOSOPHY OF THE PASS RUSH
Coming from the Nick Saban school of defense, Kirby Smart steadfastly believes stopping the run is the primary objective on defense and affecting the quarterback is secondary. However, with the inexperience at cornerback Coach Lanning must find a way to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. The philosophy of “stopping the run on the way to the quarterback” must be abandoned occasionally and the athletes on the edge allowed to hunt quarterbacks. Georgia has too many talented pass rushers to confine in a scheme that does not allow them take advantage of their greatest skill set.
1. BUILD A CHAMPIONSHIP MENTALITY
For two consecutive seasons Georgia has been incredibly close to bringing a National Championship to Athens. For two consecutive seasons the Dawgs fell seconds short in the final seconds against Alabama. There is more than one reason why they fell short, but the biggest reason is a lack of a championship mentality. Instead of keeping their foot on the gas they backed off the pedal and let the opponent back in the game. The moment the team steps on the field this spring Coach Smart needs to instill the core principles of consistent intensity, effort and composure. There are no excuses, it is time to perform like a champion.