Sunday, May 7, 2017

Why Georgia will be vastly improved in 2017

First, a caveat: I never subscribe to the theory that returning more starters than other teams makes for a great season. It greatly depends on who is returning, and who is gone.

This was my contention when everybody was picking Tennessee to do great things last year. Sure, they were returning some solid college players (Dobbs, Kamara, Malone, etc.). However, there were very few players that I felt were anything more than that; solid.

Now, look at what Georgia lost, compared with what's coming back, and further, look at where some of those players were in their careers last year. Lastly, consider who is not returning.

It's no secret now that Georgia had one player taken in the NFL draft (free agent signings notwithstanding). Isaiah McKenzie was the only player leaving Georgia that NFL teams felt strongly enough about to use a draft pick on. There were a few of Georgia's senior O-Linemen that have, for the moment, caught on as free agents, but time will tell if/how long they'll last. (I do understand the notion that Georgia was forced to play a couple folks out of position)

The key here is that Georgia had no fewer than 4, and possibly 5 juniors who decided to return who would have been drafted: Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, and possibly Dom Sanders.

Chubb, by all accounts, looks to be much closer to his pre-injury self this year, making he and Michel arguably the best tandem of running backs in the country.

Bellamy and Carter were inconsistent last year, but the ability is there, and with another year of seasoning, should be at least as good and hopefully better.

With the rest of Georgia's front seven, there was an abundance of raw talent, flush with freshmen and first-year starters last year. Obviously, Trent Thompson will need to be back healthy, but there is just so much depth filled with talented guys who were just getting their feet wet.

Jonathan Ledbetter is starting to round into form after a 6-game suspension last year, and guys like Tyler Clark, David Marshall, Julian Rochester will be more than capable of making plays and providing depth.

The linebacking corps, which includes All SEC candidate Roquan Smith in the middle, is athletic and experienced.

The Secondary, which added the surprising JR Reed, seems far more settled than it was going into last year (when guys like Juwuan Briscoe, Rico McGraw, and Reggie Wilkerson held some seniority, but were by accounts neither willing nor able to fit in with the new staff's demands).

I just see a talented and deep defensive unit.

The offense is full of a lot more "ifs," but they are ifs that weigh in Georgia's favor if you go by history.

2nd year QB, 2nd year impact players like Riley Ridley, Isaac Nauta, and Mecole Hardman's probable switch to the slot among others. A larger o-line with everyone seemingly settling in to positions for which they are best suited. A LOT of competition coming in at WR (JJ Holloman already seems set to challenge for significant playing time, for example).

Granted, these are still "ifs." If Eason makes the strides that a lot of QBs do from their true freshmen to sophomore years (or, hell, if Jake Fromm somehow beats him out because he's just that good), and if the o-line is more dominant and consistent, and if some WRs step up and become legitimate threats, and if Cheney and staff are able to better identify potential mismatches, etc. and so on.

The best thing, though, is that if nothing else, there is going to be far, far more competition at every spot on the field, especially when the bumper crop of freshmen O-linemen show up in the summer and fall. That's just something that Georgia hasn't had much of in recent years.

Now, here's where some folks chime in with "show me," or, "I've heard this all before. I want to see it on the field." That's certainly fair enough, but as the first game is almost 4 months away, this is all we can go off of for now.

I will say that I haven't been overly optimistic about a Georgia team in several years. I didn't expect much last year (figured we'd beat Vandy, though). I just see a team with more talent and experience, as well as a team where both the coaches and players have a better idea of who they are and what they can be.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

For Mecole Hardman, Spring Practice is Key

Fans, especially those who keep a close eye on recruiting, always begin to shudder when one of their prized 5-star recruits switches positions.

It's easy to understand why. After all, no matter how good an athlete he is, getting his first reps at a foreign position in college puts him squarely behind the eight-ball. For Hardman, it's not as though the cornerbacks ahead of him are a bunch of Rudy Ruettigers, being 5 foot nothing, a hundred and nothing, with hardly a speck of athletic ability. Likewise for the receivers he'd be tasked with covering on Saturdays.

Many have said since he first signed that Hardman (5'11, 190lbs) could be a fascinating option on offense in the slot, or on some specially designed plays out of the backfield. So, while he does appear to be easing into that role this spring, the question Georgia coaches must answer heading into fall will be, "Is Mecole Hardman a cornerback, or not?"

To be completely fair and reasonable, this is not to suggest he needs to either earn a starting spot or be 100% migrated to offense. He is only heading into his sophomore year, after all. But, there does need to be a level of improvement and enough flashes of "it" as to warrant him staying put.

In my mind, there are basically two possibilities with respect to his starting to get some reps on offense this spring. Either he's beginning to grasp the concepts and techniques at CB to the point where he can afford to miss a few reps at the position, or he's coming along so slowly to the point where it's time to start seeing what he can potentially be on offense instead. Hopefully, it's the former.

There have been instances in the past where a highly rated prospect came to Georgia without a home (position). Richard Samuel and Brandon Miller stick out as guys who started one place, and then ultimately bounced around and never contributed to the level of what many expected. However, those were different cases, as they were both kind of "tweeners" in terms of size and speed. Not fast enough or perhaps quick enough for true speed/quickness positions, and not big enough for more size/strength positions.

With Hardman, he's definitely big enough, quick enough, and fast enough to play either CB or WR. So, the time between the end of spring practice and the beginning of fall is when Georgia coaches need to make a decision. To CB or not CB, that is the question.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Gary Danielson, and the dreaded "REBUILDING" year

Many fans dismiss Danielson's analyses because he also tends to fall in love with teams and players, typically not Georgia. He still secretly wishes Tim Tebow had 10 more years of  eligibility.

That aspect notwithstanding, if you listened carefully to what he was saying about Georgia, particularly offensively, you see that he knows what's going on.

After dissecting several plays, and I'm not saying this is all a big secret, he nailed our issues on offense.

In a nutshell, there was no protection, no run-blocking, no separation by receivers, etc. But, more to the point, all those things pointed to Florida being able to sit on anything short or intermediate, because the lack of worry of getting beat deep, coupled with the fact that they knew there would only be a clean pocket for maybe 2 seconds, turned a tough situation into an impossible one.

Georgia's o-line, time and again, had one or more o-linemen getting tossed aside or otherwise man-handled by a bigger, more athletic defensive front.

Even when Georgia was able to run a play that should have been successful x's and o's-wise, it resulted in either a dropped pass or an errant throw.

We as fans had hoped that Georgia was a team that never had to rebuild; just reload. We were wrong.

To recap:

Freshman QB, sub-par O-Line, mediocre receivers, Chubb at 75%-ish, rookie head coach, young defense, no pass rush by front 4, pitiful punting game/special teams, overall lack of senior leadership...probably leaving a few off.

The jury is still out on Cheney for me, but I did see him trying a number of different things to get the offense going. The real issue was that nothing was working. To me, this boils down to youth in some areas, but mainly just not having the horses to do what we want to do.

Thus, we are (HOPEFULLY) in a rebuilding phase. We had what looks like a solid '16 class, and if we can finish strong, should have an excellent '17 class (big 'if' if we don't win a few more games this year).

However, because it will take another year or two for these classes to bear fruit, we're stuck in this rebuilding, and not reloading phase. And it sucks.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What you don't want to hear, but have to deal with this season

First, to be clear, Georgia has not played well this season for the most part. We know that. Can't lose to Vandy at home.

But, while the coaching staff and players continue to try to improve, we as fans are either at, or fast-approaching a crossroads. The crossroads consists of two choices, so it's a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, for those who are old enough or young enough to get the referenced.

1) You decide that Kirby is in over his head, that Chaney is not a good OC, that Beamer cannot coach special teams, etc., and scrap this little "experiment" before it's too late.

2) You acknowledge that this is a transition year, rife with the characteristics brought by a whole confluence of events which include, but are not limited to:

- First year head coach
- New offensive system
- Undermanned/Under-talented offensive line
- True Freshman QB
- Departure of a (from what we know) beloved head coach causing some lack of 'buy in'
- Lack of senior leadership
- Significant minutes being played by underclassmen
- Lack of familiarity with personnel/Lack of personnel equipped to do what we're trying to do

Now, to be fair, let's all acknowledge that there is a fine line between a reason and an excuse. Those with closed minds who are fed up beyond reason will say these are nothing but excuses. Perhaps they are. I believe that they are legitimate reasons.

Many will go back to what I initially acknowledged, that "even with all this, you still shouldn't lose to Vandy." No, you shouldn't, but you did. So, what exactly does that mean?

The simple truth is that nobody knows. When you are dealing with a laundry list of problems related to newness and inexperience, there's no real bar set as far as how good you should be, or how bad you're "allowed" to be.

So, again, you're nearing a crossroads.

My preference, which is in line with what I believe, is that we're having to break down a lot of aspects of the program in order to build it back up better. That's not always a pretty thing (which is not to say there aren't exceptions). I know I wasn't alone in being weary of fruitless 9 and 10 win seasons. So, if we have to deal with a 6 or 7 win season to set up for better years in '17, '18, and beyond, then that's something I'm willing to deal with, and it doesn't matter to me that we suffer a few embarrassing losses this year.

Now, we lose to Vandy next year, and I'll start to see what the other pages of that Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book look like.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Blame the loss on coaching? No freakin' way

Read some ridiculous comments about how Rico McGraw running out on the field without his helmet, leading to a crucial 15 yd penalty, should be blamed on coaches. Likewise, Georgia's inability to knock down a hail Mary pass was due to poor coaching.

Wrong.

When you have one guy (I guess a second in street clothes made his way out there) out of nearly a hundred doing something like that, it's the fault of an individual player. Perhaps next time the coaches should put shock collars on everyone if it's their fault.

As for misplaying the Hail Mary, I can say with a high degree of certainty that that scenario is practiced (properly) many times before and during the season. The only potential change I could see would be having a few taller folks out there. Maybe put Javon Wims, the 6'4-6'5 WR planted on the goal line, but that's splitting hairs. The bottom line is that UT's WR got in just the right spot, and our players did not.

Hell, I can look at Georgia's touchdown prior to the heartbreaking Hail Mary and tell you that UT's DB was probably given explicit instructions: "Do NOT let them get behind you, whatever you do." But, their DB got lulled to sleep by Ridley, who then turned on a burst to catch a long TD.

All this is not to say that the coaches don't have their share of responsibility in these cases. It is, of course, up to them to make sure they're not only teaching their players what to do and what not to do, but that they get players to respond and execute.

Kirby cites a lack of discipline. It is ultimately up to the coaches to make sure the players are exhibiting said discipline, but no matter who you are as a coach, in the moment, sometimes players just don't do what they're supposed to or need to do.

This loss, while devastating to me as a fan, will be a better teacher than any coach or drill can be going forward.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Stop trying to come to a conclusion on Kirby after 4 games!

As a Georgia fan, I get that you were hoping to see some noticeable turnaround in the way we performed in big games under the new staff. I was hoping, too. But, that's all it was; hope. 

There's a lot of areas where people are laying blame for Saturday's debacle. Depending on who you are and what "camp" you're in, they primarily focus on talent (or lack thereof), poor recruiting which led to the lack of talent, the current staff to play the right players and call the right plays, etc. There are other areas of concern as well, but this post isn't about that.

The main point to concern yourselves with is that, if you felt the program under the previous regime was inherently flawed, as the administration and boosters did, then you have to allow for more than 4 games to untangle all the knots and start to rebuild. 

You may not want to, but you have to.

"Tom Herman was able to do it!!" That's the primary response to the aforementioned suggestion. 

He's done a phenomenal job to this point, but that situation is an exception, and there is also a lot more than just looking at the end results when going into a job. Also, if we're throwing out single examples, I submit to you Gus Malzahn. After making a huge splash going 12-2 and losing in the BCSNCG, the Tigers are a combined 17-13. So, an instant turnaround means as much as the opinion of you or me when it comes to predicting medium and long-term success (though, it seems Malzahn earned a stay of execution after narrowly beating LSU). 

People are making fun of "The Process" already. But, you have to let Kirby and staff do what they believe will be the best for Georgia in the medium and long term. While I in no way believe they're not trying to win now, I do believe they're trying to win in a way that will lay the foundation for the future. Altering your process now, in year 1, to win an extra game or two with smoke and mirrors would not be the right choice. 

Being that this is the case, there's no reason to try to draw a conclusion that Kirby Smart is somehow in over his head, too stubborn, too stupid, Chaney doesn't know how to call plays, Mel Tucker is lousy, etc. 

Hopefully, we'll see some incremental improvement this year, significant improvement next year, and true competition for an SECC or beyond in year three. And, who knows, if some things break our way, maybe we'll those things sooner.




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nicholls game was awful, but it doesn't matter!

Most folks are ready to wash the bad taste of the Nicholls game out of their mouths. We'll obviously get to do that Saturday night, and it will either be replaced by a minty-fresh win over Missouri, or more of what we've had this week.

Having read all kinds of comments and opinions being offered up this week, though, it amazes me the number of people who have already decided that the Dawgs don't have any talent (or, very little), Kirby Smart is a stubborn fool, Jim Chaney has no idea what he's doing, etc.

Look, this is a young team with a new coaching staff. There are going to be ups and downs. What will ultimately decide how this season goes is two-fold: How quickly will the team and staff reach a level of consistency (preferably a "good" consistency), and until then, which weeks will the peaks and valleys occur, and how high and low will they be?

To the first point, that's anybody's guess. They may permanently gel (more or less) beginning this Saturday, it may take several more weeks, or they may not find any true cohesiveness until next year. It cannot be accurately predicted by anyone given the newness of player and staff personnel. Don't bother trying, lest you be an arrogant blowhard.

To the second point, since we don't exactly know which team will show up and what kind of improvement to expect, don't base your season outcome upon either of the first two games. As I've said before, if Nicholls was week one and UNC was week two, the talk would be all about how much Georgia improved. That didn't happen, but it doesn't change the fact that were relatively good against UNC and unequivocally bad against Nicholls. If anything, that inconsistency and apogee of good and bad is the quintessential earmark of a young team and new coaching staff. They've both got to get traction, and there's no way to predict when that will happen, or what they team may look like when things settle in and take hold.

There may be a talent issue, but I promise you, teams far less talented than Georgia will blow the doors off of Nicholls this year. There may be a coaching issue, but teams with far inferior coaches will blow the doors off of Nicholls this year.

It...is...too...early...to...tell.