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.