ATHENS — Georgia football has entered the offseason transition zone with players and coaches coming and going, and Kirby Smart reassessing his plan of attack.
The current bowl structure is such that the College Football Playoff games offer the only true extension of the season.
Most everyone else is looking to use bowl practices — and to an extent, the bowl games — to get a jump on personnel development and the 2020 season.
In some cases, with more and more players opting to skip finishing out their careers in bowl games, there’s no choice but to move on.
Georgia will have at least one projected first-round NFL pick sit out for the second straight year, and quite possibly two if D’Andre Swift decides his shoulder is still too soft to play.
The idea of seeing some of Georgia’s young talent emerge on the national stage at 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl is compelling for many.
But for some fans, there’s still the disappointment of UGA falling short of its national championship aspirations.
Georgia was officially eliminated from the College Football Playoff race when it lost in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7.
But the Bulldogs, in truth, did well just to get to that point.
Especially when one considers the inordinately high amount of attrition at receiver, most notably go-to target Lawrence Cager.
There’s “next man up,” and then there’s the realization that UGA has now gone seven-deep into its pass-catcher depth chart.
Three underclassmen went pro after last season, a fourth was dismissed from the program last spring, and the two most reliable pass catchers of this season are out with season-ending injuries.
Four of the receivers still standing missed time with injuries this season, and another has been suspended at least once.
One very important key for teams making championship runs is the ability to keep key players healthy.
It’s something that’s difficult to do when a program is in a four quarter dogfight week after week, as Georgia seemingly was in the rough and tumble SEC this season.
Thus, some of next season’s continuity starts now for Smart and his program.
Here are three questions Georgia will face during bowl practices:
1. How much does the offense change?
It all depends, how much will D’Andre Swift be able to play, and to what extent is he cleared for contact on his shoulder? If Swift isn’t 100 percent or has any fear of injury, he should just sit out.
Georgia adjusted its game plan against LSU with a more pass-aggressive plan of attack with Swift limited.
But each game has its own game plan based on opponent and personnel matchups, as much as Georgia’s offensive identity.
Smart likely has been mum on the running backs who will miss this game because that will give Baylor a read on how to defend the Bulldogs.
Georgia is a much easier team to defend without Swift, and things get even tougher on Fromm and the pass game.
2. Who is protecting Fromm?
New offensive line coach Matt Luke is on the spot to try to save the day and protect the Bulldogs’ franchise quarterback, now that tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson moved on to their NFL preparations.
Cade Mays would seem to be a good guess to play left tackle in place of Thomas, while the right guard and right tackle positions are up for grabs with Jamaree Salyer somewhere in the mix.
The big question for the offensive line moving forward: Will Solomon Kindley be back next season?
Kindley was a preseason Outland Trophy candidate and was playing well before an ankle sprain derailed his season. Kindley gained weight and wasn’t the same player the second half of 2019.
3. Who will emerge?
Smart told media that a kid named Azeez Ojulari was looking pretty good in bowl practices around this time last year. One year later, Ojulari was named one of seven semifinalists for Freshman of the Year.
Who could it be this season? Will Kenny McIntosh get some meaningful running back reps against a quality opponent?
Maybe John Fitzpatrick will get a second career catch at tight end, one for each year on campus? Same for receiver Tommy Bush, who has one catch for 1 yard.
Georgia is down three starting offensive linemen — could that mean significant playing time for linemen Clay Webb, Xavier Truss, Warren Ericson, Owen Condon or Warren McClendon?
The defense, it seems, has played several players at all positions already this season. Could there be another hidden gem?
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