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.


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.


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.


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.