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.")


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Is Georgia among the best of the "good" programs, or among the worst of the "best" programs?

It piques my curiosity, thinking about Georgia's place in the college football world.

I think that we, as Georgia fans, tend to have a higher view of our team, as most fans do. That is to say, we probably think Georgia is bigger and badder than perhaps it is.

There are certainly some things to point to that support the claim that Georgia is at least close to being an elite program. They include, but are not limited to:

1) 3rd all-time in bowl victories behind only Bama and USC
2) Multiple (or just one, depending on who you talked to) National Championship(s)
3) 3rd in SEC Championships behind Tennessee, and way behind Alabama
4) 11th all-time wins Div-IA/FBS

With those statistics, it's completely reasonable to include Georgia among the college football elite. They're not going to be on the level of Alabama or USC among others, but definitely in the 1A category.

However, it's the lack of much "real" success over the last 20-25 years that really knocks the Dawgs down a peg.

1) 2 SEC Championships in the last 35 years
2) No National Championships in almost 40 years (!)
3) 5 SEC East victories (SECCG appearance) in 25 years

I know no rational Dawg fans are suggesting that Georgia be mentioned in the same breath as Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, etc. in terms of greatness, and of course, you have to set the parameters for what you consider "great" anyway. If it's top 5 programs of all time, then Georgia is definitely not one of the greats. As you get to the 8-10 range, then you can certainly make a compelling case that Georgia is.

I have been thinking a bit about this lately because of the looming expectations facing Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs this season.

Without getting into specifics regarding the previous regime's success, or lack thereof, or the comparison in perceived talent among the SEC East, it seems clear that Georgia fans feel a measure of success beyond 10 wins including a bowl game is long overdue.

So, back to the original point. If you feel Georgia is really nothing more than a good program, then a conference championship (particularly in the SEC) is not something you should ever expect. It should be a once-in-a-while thing you get when everything just happened to break right. However, if you feel Georgia is a great program, then you're damn skippy they should win it more than twice every 25 years.

What say you?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Georgia needs to win this many games to keep the recruiting momentum up and rolling in '18

While recruiting is a fickle beast, it seems evident that Kirby Smart and staff are as good recruiters as there are in the country. Keeping together the '16 class during a coaching change, landing the #3 class in the country last year, and, although all the dominoes are yet to fall for '18, word around the campfire is that this class could be as good as or better than last year's.

That being said, there is still the matter of translating the talent to wins on the field. Likewise, that lack of success in recent years would seem to be the ace in the hole for other schools to negatively recruit against Georgia.

So far, Kirby can counter that by saying, "New staff, new day, look at how we've recruited so far - that will lead to big things, etc." However, that only lasts for so long.

While another mediocre season will not lead to a mass exodus by current recruits/commits, it's reasonable to expect that it would cause the Dawgs to lose at least a few key recruits. After all, a lot of top recruits want to feel confident that the school they are choosing will be competitive and challenge for a conference championship.

So, that brings me to my point: How many games/what type of season must Georgia have to more or less quash that one major negative recruiting point, that Georgia gets all these big time recruits, and does very little with them?

My thought is at least 9-3 w/ a trip to the SECCG, or possibly 10-2 and no SECCG. I think that either of those scenarios will be good enough this year to show recruits that Georgia has basically arrived, or will have by the time they get to school.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Position by Position Breakdown Predicts Dawgs Will Be Better in '17

Preseason conjecture. It's about as reliable as star rankings on those beloved recruiting sites. That's not to say it's worthless. Far from it. Rather, it's to say that, for every example we find that proves its accuracy, we can easily find several others that prove out its flaws.

But, as we have no current examples to support conclusions, with kickoff still 2 months away, I present to you, dear unfaithful readers, about as close to a realistic scenario as one can come up with in early July.

Compare and contrast each unit with last year's deeply flawed, yet somehow still 8-5 team; a general improved/same/regressed, along w/ a degree of 1-10 on the level of improvement or regression.

Offense

QB: Improved, 7. History supports the notion that the biggest level of improvement for a QB, particularly one that starts his freshman year, comes from year one to year two. Although he looked eerily similar to last year in the first half of G-Day, Jacob Eason was throwing fluidly and accurately as the game went on. By all accounts, his familiarity with the system, playbook, calls, checks, etc. is night and day from last year. Add to that Jake Fromm, who, while most doubt will supplant Eason as the starter, is doing everything he can to keep Eason from resting on his limited laurels.

RB: Improved, 3. It's a very similar situation to last year. The improvement comes in what should be a healthier and more confident Nick Chubb, and the addition of the versatile and talented D'andre Swift. Count me among the biggest believers that Chubb will be closer to his pre-injury self, which will make a boatload of difference when it comes to breaking off some longer runs, and getting the extra yard or two that often mean the difference between a stalled drive and a scoring drive. Sony Michel, I feel, will be further utilized in the passing game along with his 10-12 carries per game.

WR/TE: Improved, 6. This one is tough to defend with any empirical evidence. After all, the top receiver, Isaiah McKenzie is now in the NFL, and there wasn't much behind him in terms of production. Where I see a marked improvement comes in terms of both experience and a huge bolstering of talented depth. TE's Nauta and Woerner should be better with a year under their belts (and Woerner having recovered from some nagging injuries). Ridley and Wims have a ton of talent, and should also be improved w/ an added year of seasoning. Godwin will be reliable if not spectacular. But, the interesting thing to me is that you've got the uber-talented Mecole Hardman making the transition to WR, and then 3 very talented pure WRs and a tall, athletic, yet raw WR coming in as freshmen. So, the Dawgs should have plenty of experience to go along w/ more talent than we've had at these spots overall in quite some time.

OL: Improved, ?? This is the wild card, and I suspect, as many do, that the fortunes of the offense will ultimately ride on just how much better the O-Line gets. The traditional thinking is that losing starters at any position, but particularly the O-Line, can't help but create problems, because as bad as this unit was last year, the guys behind them obviously couldn't beat them out. Enter JC transfer Demarcus Hayes, and the best O-Line recruiting haul in the history of modern recruiting rankings at Georgia. The overall competition created alone should pay dividends, and there is nobody more respected as an O-Line coach than Sam Pittman. I have a hard time believing that this unit will be unimproved from last year's. The question is, will it go from well below average to simply below average, or will it jump to average or beyond? If they can be at least average, then I see good things for the offense. If they go beyond that, look out.

Defense

DL: Improved, 2. This unit was very good last year, and I expect a slightly better version this year. Trent Thompson should be fully healed, and John Atkins anchors the line for what seems like his 9th season at Georgia. Add to that the fact that sophomores like Marshall, Clark, and Rochester will all be stronger and more technically sound with a year under their belts. The unit did lose coach Tracy Rocker, but new DL Coach Trey Scott is regarded as a rising star, so I'm bullish on the D-line for sure.

LB: Improved, 2. Here again is a unit that was very, very good in '16. Having Bellamy and Carter return at the OLB spots is huge. The question there is, can they take the next step to being more consistent both during the course of a game, and from one game to the next. Roquan Smith is as good an ILB as there is in the SEC, and there will be some good competition from some youngsters as well. I'm saying this unit will be better, because I'm thinking that Bellamy and Carter view this as their contract years, so to speak. They enter as 3rd or 4th round picks, but big years could bump them both up to a 1st or 2nd round pick, which would mean big things for their careers and bank accounts.

DB: Same. I see this as a bit of a wash in terms of what Georgia lost to go along with what they've gained. Mo Smith was absolutely key at the star position, and Qunicy Mauger was unremarkable but very reliable. Their experience and leadership must be replaced by guys like Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis. The upside is that, like WR, there is an abundance of high-level talent coming in. Richard LeCounte III and DeAngelo Gibbs figure to push for significant playing time, if not a starting job at star or a safety spot, and I've got my eye on Ameer Speed among all the freshman DBs coming in.

Special Teams

Improved, 2. This might surprise some, as Georgia loses one of the best return men in its history in Isaiah McKenzie. I do think Godwin and/or Hardman can do some good things from that perspective, but I also see the vast upgrade in talent and athleticism with the incoming freshmen, many of whom will be counted on in the ST game. At kicker, Georgia brings in a highly regarded transfer from Wofford, David Marvin. So, Rodrigo Blankenship will have to show a lot more than he did during G-Day if he's to hold off Marvin or anyone else that might walk on.

Coaching

Improved, 5. This is where I think I disagree with a lot of Georgia fans. Many have already closed the book on OC Jim Chaney. While I agree there was little to be specifically excited about from last year's performance, I don't see the point of writing him off. There was just so much newness last year for everyone involved that I don't think an objective assessment can be made. I expect the overall familiarity to help, along with talent and experience. And, of course, Kirby Smart has got that first year out of the way. I have no doubt he'll still make some head-scratching calls in the heat of the moment, but look for him to be a bit more at ease, having seen and done it for a full SEC season already.

On the whole, I expect the defense to be a little better, which is OK, as the D certainly played at a level good enough to challenge for the SEC East (the Ole Miss game notwithstanding). For me, the offense is in a position to take a giant leap forward. If the O-line can get to the point of making sure Eason can feel comfortable in the pocket, and open up enough holes to let what is probably the best backfield in the country do its thing, then I can't imagine not seeing a vastly improved team and far better results in 2017.

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.