Saturday, August 5, 2017

Terry Godwin - Slotted For Success?

Last season, Terry Godwin was expected to build upon his fairly successful freshman campaign. In fact, he posted virtually the same exact numbers, and failed to reach the end zone (with a reception, as he did have the onside kick score vs. USCjr.).

Reports suggest that he will be assuming the role of slot receiver vacated by the electric Isaiah McKenzie. It's pure conjecture at this point, but there are certain aspects of his game that would seem to lend themselves to this being a more natural and productive fit.

The use of the slot receiver has really made a jump over the last couple decades, particularly in the NFL. Long thought of as a safety blanket, the slot is now an integral weapon for offenses. It's quite common for a team's slot receiver to lead in total receptions, which was unheard of until about 10 years ago.

What makes a good slot receiver?

A lot of people's first instincts are to say that he's smaller and quicker. While quickness is key, stature is becoming less and less important. For example, Larry Fitzgerald had a resurgence of sorts last year with the Cardinals moving over to the slot, and he's a good 6'5".

To me, all receivers need some degree of quickness, but your slot receiver needs to run precise routes, have excellent hands, and perhaps above all, be tough. Most catches are happening at or just beyond the second level, and often in the middle of the field, so you need a guy whose not going to get those alligator arms, as the danger of an interception is augmented when throwing to those areas.

Godwin has shown that, while quick, he doesn't have elite top-end speed, and at 5'11", he's not going to typically "out-physical" a DB either.

What surprised me most, especially since he did not really play WR in high school, are his hands and his toughness. He's had very few, if any, drops in his career, and I love the way he catches everything with his hands out away. He has the ability to snatch balls out of the air. It wouldn't surprise me if some of this comes from playing so much baseball (he got a tryout with the Braves farm system before settling on UGA), where quick and instinctive hand-eye coordination is vital.

I was also surprised at how tough he is, particularly for someone of a relatively slight build. He's tough to bring down, and doesn't mind contact. Again, at his size, he seems to enjoy delivering a blow to opposing DBs if the opportunity to make a guy miss is not there.

In the end, Georgia needs a legitimate deep threat to help loosen up defensive secondaries. So, I'm not expecting Godwin's move to be the be-all, end-all of fixes for the offense. But, I absolutely think he will be a much better fit than his was outside. If Wims, Ridley, and a couple of the incoming freshmen (Holloman, Webb) can provide that outside presence, then look for Godwin to have a career year and possibly lead Georgia in receptions.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dawgbone May Not Want to Hear This, But Coaching CAN'T Fix Our Kickoff Coverage

OK, maybe "can't fix" is a bit strong, but obviously Georgia's kickoff return coverage in 2016 left fans wanting. The Dawgs finished the season ranked 115th of 128 teams, giving up an average of nearly 24 yds per return.

I was perusing these stats, as well as where certain teams fell, and while I don't want to say I was able to draw some iron-clad conclusions, I found some things very interesting.

First, with respect to some teams with stacked rosters and presumably good coaches, I found it interesting that Alabama ranked 79th, Michigan at 92, and Florida at 110. On the flipside, teams that you wouldn't think would have the depth to support an excellent KO coverage team (of course, they may play a lot of starters) topped the rankings. Bowling Green, for example, led the nation. Purdue, who played a lot of talented teams last year, came in at #5.

So, it's tough to find a correlation between a team's talent and depth, and I submit that these teams aren't lacking in coaching, unless Bowling Green's ST coach(es) is a diamond in the rough, in which case Kirby should hire him tout suite.

Here's what I find even more interesting.

In 2015, Alabama was ranked a more typical 23rd. Michigan and Florida were at a mediocre, but not poor, 50 and 51, respectively.

Bowling Green went from 62nd to #1. Conversely, Georgia Southern went from #1 to #83.

So, did the teams that improved just "figure it out," while the teams that had it figured out simply forgot what the heck they were doing? I can say with a certain degree of certainty that the level of talent neither improved nor dropped off so dramatically as to cause such a great variance in ST performance.

One variable is the kickers themselves, but even here, there doesn't seem to be much correlation. Florida, who, again, was barely better than Georgia at #110, led the nation in kickoff yds/kick, and was 15th in touchbacks. Memphis was 3rd in touchbacks, and 2nd overall in kickoff coverage. So, while I know that most teams would love a guy who can kick it through the back of the end zone every time, there's still no real conclusion to be drawn as far as coverage on non-touchbacks.

OK, but what does it all mean, Basil?

I don't want to say that a more complete, talented, and deep roster won't have any effects on Georgia's kickoff coverage, and I applaud Kirby for hiring an assistant away from Auburn to be more of a consultant/adviser.

But, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that kickoff coverage is coached pretty much the same way all around, and sometimes, chit happen.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lorenzo's (Carter) Oil

If you got that reference, then congratulations on being a Susan Sarandon fan.

As I dissect every sentence uttered by Kirby Smart during his post-practice pressers, I often have to remind myself that they'll probably have at most a 50% chance of being a telling prediction of the upcoming season.

On aspect that I found interesting yesterday regards Lorenzo Carter. Carter, you'll recall, was a high 4-star/5-star recruit who many viewed as the next Leonard Floyd. A lengthy, athletic, first-off-the-bus kind of guy who could be a terror off the edge once he matured and gained experience.

While far from bad, Carter's career seems to have been marked by inconsistency, as well as an inability to finish off plays.

I was intrigued to hear Smart talk about Carter as a high-energy guy, a motor, to go along with his freakish size and athleticism.

To me, high energy implies that he doesn't take plays off, doesn't let up until the whistle, etc. Take that, along with his natural ability, and you wonder why he hasn't had more of an impact to this point in his career.

As he supposedly played at around 235-240lbs last year, you might make a case that he was a bit underweight to hold up for 60 minutes against the run, and yet, I would have still expected more sacks and QB pressures.

Kirby made it a point to mention that they are going to try to keep his weight at or above 250lbs. this year, so perhaps that will pay dividends. He's also mentioned himself that the finality of this season with respect to college ball (and no championships to speak of) has really hit him, so perhaps that will be the extra motivation he needs to finally get over the hump.

It will be interesting to follow his play this year, and honestly, I think we'll be able to tell early on if this will be the Lo Carter we've been hoping to see since he arrived in 2014. App State's offense doesn't lend itself to many true sacks, but if he goes off against Notre Dame, look out. If he's sitting at 1/2 a sack and 1 QB pressure after 3 games, then the defense might be in a bit more trouble than we thought.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

OK, we've got 'em, now where do we put 'em? Georgia's welcome conundrum

If you followed and/or hated on Mark Richt, particularly during his downfall years, you noticed an alarming trend; two, actually.

First, you saw a woefully undermanned roster in terms of total players on scholarship. The top number of 85 was certainly not reached, and even dropped to around 70 for a time.

Secondly, you saw under-recruited or mis-recruited positions and position groups, necessitating several position changes to provide adequate depth at these positions.

What followed was not only a shortage of talent on the field at certain spots, but also a lack of true competition during spring and fall. Not to suggest anyone was lollygagging by any means, but it's human nature to kind of go through the motions if you know a job is yours.

So, now it's 2017, and after what seemed to be some deft roster management (bringing in another kicker for a 1-yr scholarship, bringing in what many hope to be the next I-Mac, etc), Georgia finds itself with a fair amount of depth at most every spot on the field. Granted, much of it is young and untested, but it's there nonetheless.

Now the questions of who starts and who plays arise, but just as importantly, where do a lot of these guys settle in.

The biggest area for this to me comes in the DB group.

Georgia is clearly going in the direction of taller, lengthier DBs. They go 6ft, 6ft, 6ft, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and 6-3 as far as who the Dawgs signed in the last class. Now you've got to figure out who is a true corner, who's at the Star, and who might grow into or be a natural safety. You might even see, depending upon how the 2018 class goes, some redshirts who grow into LBs. LBs can grow into DE's, and so forth.

As confusing as it can get, the beauty is that the Bulldogs are, at present, not going to be required to make these changes based upon need at another position. There won't be much, "We really need some more depth at safety, so who's our biggest CB?" Instead, it will be because, after assessment in practice and eventually games, the staff will be able to make some changes based upon, "This guy's best position is such-and-such."

I'm not suggesting there will never be a roster issue, or a depleted position group, but for now, it's nice knowing we've got the talent and sheer number of bodies to not have to play musical chairs.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Most Talked About Buzz Players Of Fall Camp

Of course, last year at this time, it was an AllEyezOnEason situation in Athens. He was Mr. Big Shot (in the fans eyes, not necessarily his own), and everybody wanted an hourly update on how he was progressing, and whether or not he was surpassing Grayson Lambert for the starting job.

Other than the general "how's Kirby doing," and maybe to a lesser extent "how's Chubb looking after the injury," that was pretty much it.

This fall, there are some more wide-ranging storylines to follow, and doubtless questions that will be asked by the media ad nauseum. These shall include, but will not be limited to:

How's Mecole Hardman doing after his full-time transition to WR? Will he challenge for significant PT?

Which of Georgia's incoming O-Line haul are practicing w/ the 2's already? Any getting time with the 1's?

How's Nick Chubb looking after the injury?

How's Jake Fromm doing in comparison to Eason?

Which of the young WRs are separating themselves and putting themselves in position to see the field early in a non-special teams capacity (presumably, other than Holloman, who seems to be well on his way already)?

The tricky thing about following the various fall practice reports is that there seems to be some misdirection, hyperbole, or misinterpretation that goes along with them. We'll likely hear about at least one or two walk-ons who are mentioned as playing really well, yet they will not likely play, for example.

Whatever the case, I can't recall a time when there were so many incoming freshmen to "worry about" in the fall practice reports. We used to have just a few that we expected to make a splash early, but this time around, it seems there are several spots where a freshman could be a big contributor. So, it will definitely be fun keeping an eye on those insider reports.

Of course, the current policy calls for very limited media access, so we'll also have to deal with hearing how so-and-so dropped yet another catchable ball during pass skel, and the subsequent write-him-off fallout.

In other news, Ronnie Powell had another big practice.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Will Georgia's Offensive Line Really Be Better This Year?

It's one of the central story lines of this off-season/pre-season, and will likely continue to be as the 2017 season progresses. Will the Bulldogs' much-maligned O-Line be adequate, or, dare we dream, good?

The prevailing opinion is that they'd pretty much have to be. After all, to the untrained and trained eye alike, the 2016 O-Line was about as poor as there's been in recent memory. The sacks and pressures per drop back were abysmal, and the lack of any consistent push or opening of holes (get your mind out of the gutter) was beyond frustrating.

Unfortunately, there's little substance to that rationale.

So, what can we look at to say, "yes, they'll be better," or, "I have no reason to think it won't be more of the same?"

Start with O-Line coach Sam Pittman. To this point, he's proven to be a great recruiter of talent. Georgia's 2017 haul was possibly the best in terms of "ranked" linemen in Georgia history. The Dawgs have not had an offensive lineman drafted in the first round in nearly 15 years, but the odds are good that will change once these guys (Wilson, Thomas, Johnson, Schaeffer, Hayes) reach their junior or senior years.

Pittman has also garnered a great deal of respect from many of the lines he's coached in the past. He's averaged better than one player per year being drafted, and many of his lines at Arkansas and Tennessee led or were near the top in fewest sacks allowed, to go along with potent running games.So, the know-how is definitely there.

Moving along to the more important piece of the puzzle: The Players.

Last year seemed to be a hodge-podge, makeshift line. You had your best guard in Greg Pyke forced to play Right Tackle, and you had to bring in a transfer from Rhode Island to play possibly the most important line position at Left Tackle. You also had a guy who, despite the fact that his knowledge or effort could never be questioned, was overmatched at Center. Lastly, you had seemingly undersized Guards to complete the fail.

OK, so there's a rundown of how you end up with a sub-par line, but how's that piece going to be fixed?

For starters, it would appear Isaiah Wynn has got a stranglehold on the LT spot. He "started" there throughout spring, and has put on another 15lbs of good weight. Many thought he was the better option last year, but was needed at guard. The knock on Wynn is his height. At 6'2", he has far from the ideal size typically found in LTs. However, many suggest he has more length, with a wingspan typically seen among your 6'4"-6'5" tackles.

Next, you've got a huge upgrade in terms of size at guard. Solomon Kindley will have a chance to hold off the 2 incoming freshmen at one spot. He played one snap last year before ultimately being granted a redshirt season. At upwards of 345lbs, he has 50 lbs. on Dyshon Sims who started last year. He also has been one of those guys spoken of as having a "nasty streak" in him, so hopefully that helps.

Move to Right Tackle. This one should be interesting. Many expect either JC transfer Demarcus Hayes, or incoming 5-star Isaiah Wilson to ultimately win the job. Either would figure to be an upgrade from last year, since tackle has been their natural positions for far longer than Pyke. Both have prototypical size, with Wilson being obviously the biggest lineman on campus.

For me, though, the linchpin of the line may be at center. It's tough to automatically assume that Lamont Gaillard will be an upgrade from Kublanow. He's listed at virtually the same exact size, though some have suggested he's both more athletic (which makes sense, as he's a converted D-Lineman) and stronger. If he can be more stalwart than Kublanow, then I think this year's line will take a big step forward.

Overall, if nothing else, we should have an upgrade in overall size in terms of weight and length. We should also have a line that has folks playing at positions for which they are best suited.

I don't think the talent along with experience is quite there to predict a great O-Line, but I expect Sam Pittman to have more and better pieces to work with this year, and I expect him to craft a line that can at least be relied upon to run an efficient offense.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Will Dawgs Run More RPO This Year?

Obviously, with the Justin Fields saga ongoing, many are assuming, whether correctly or not, that he wants to know Georgia will incorporate more Run-Pass Option into its offense. After all, it's been shown to be a valuable asset to any offense's arsenal, and would be something Fields can definitely excel at.

The question at hand is, can Georgia run it with Eason at the helm?

From my chair, the answer is absolutely.

There's no doubt that, all else being equal, you'd prefer to have a QB who runs a 4.5 or 4.6. However, Eason showed last year that, when necessary, he absolutely has decent game speed when it comes to tucking the ball and running.

Don't confuse this with the statue-like plays we saw at times in the pocket. I attribute that much more to his inexperience than athleticism. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were possibly the two slowest QBs in a dead-run. However, they both became extremely adept at taking a step here or there to elude would-be sacks, so that part of the position is something that involves experience and instinct far more than sheer athleticism.

To have an effective RPO aspect requires a couple of things.

First, you do need to be fast "enough." While Eason is never going to challenge for fastest man on the team, I have seen enough to show me that he can move enough to demand a defense's respect for that option. That's really a major part of the equation.

Second, you need to be able to sell it, which comes from repetition and coaching.

It might surprise you to know that Georgia great David Greene ran a 4.78 40 at the NFL combine way back in 2005. I'm not sure what Eason could run, but in comparing the two, I would bet it would also be in that range. That's fast enough to run away from D-Linemen, and enough to pick up 5-10 yards before DE's or LB's catch up to run him out of bounds. And, at 6-5 and around 230lbs, he definitely has the size to shed arm tackles and take a few indirect hits.

So, the key will be, how quickly can he learn to "sell" the RPO? That, too, comes with practice and experience, but I do believe Georgia will run it occasionally for the same reason you run play-action. It's to give the defense just the slightest bit of pause in diagnosing and reacting to a particular play. I believe Eason is big enough and athletic enough that defenses cannot just say, "ignore the QB as a runner. We can react quickly enough that he won't get far regardless."

Check out the 1:21, 2:00, 2:35, 3:20, 5:00, 5:25, and 9:30 marks in the video below for starters. You'll see him on the move, and in several cases being chased by LB's who are either slow to catch him, or not catching him at all. Granted, these are often busted plays, but to me he looks quite comfortable and self-assured running the ball.

Look, we're obviously not going to incorporate RPO has an integral part of moving the ball, but we can definitely feel comfortable using it and knowing that defenses will need to respect Eason as a runner, even if they don't necessarily fear him.

(as a bonus, watch the whole thing to remind yourself just how great this kid can be once he really "gets it.")