ATHENS – David Pollack is a long-retired football player, an ESPN analyst with a growing career, and a father. When I caught up with one of the greatest players in Georgia history this week, he was picking up his daughter from camp.
These days, Pollack’s scope as an analyst is more national. But he still watches his alma mater closely and knows the team well.
He also calls it as he sees it, occasionally to the chagrin of Bulldogs fans. So his informed and objective analysis on the Bulldogs as they prepare for preseason camp, which begins July 31, is worth a listen. Enough so that I’m just turning the column over to him today.
DEFENSE: GOOD TO GREAT?
First, we talked about the defense, and the chances it could go from good to great this year. The kind of great defense that Pollack played on at Georgia. Here’s what he thinks:
- It starts with Trenton Thompson and Roquan Smith, who “are as talented, as good as anybody in the country,” according to Pollack. Thompson is a defensive lineman who tied for the team lead in sacks last year, and Smith is an inside linebacker who led the team in tackles. They can be difference-makers, in Pollack’s mind, and make those “splash plays,” like tackles-for-loss, sacks and interceptions. For Smith, it also means open-field tackles.
- Julian Rochester, the sophomore defensive lineman, is another player Pollack thinks will have an impact this year: “I think he’s an absolute stud. I’ve seen enough from him that if he’s in better shape, and now he’s got better experience, I think he’s a guy who now could be a difference-maker. Now who else are going to be those difference-makers who can [take] you from a good defense to a really great defense that can hit you from all angles, and make you very uncomfortable?”
- But when it comes to the pass rush, Pollack has concerns. Georgia’s pass rush needs to be better, as evidenced by the two best quarterbacks Georgia faced last year – Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly – having big days. “They’re going to have to find ways to pressure the quarterback and make him feel uncomfortable,” Pollack said. “Because that’s not something that we’ve done on a consistent basis.”
- Does that automatically fall on senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy? In Pollack’s mind, yes, it mainly does: “Those are the ones who have the most opportunities. When you’re a tackle inside, there’s a lot of muck. There’s a lot of players, there’s a lot of traffic. It’s not easy to be a double-digit sack guy on the side. The guys on the outside get a ton of one-on-one opportunities.”
- But don’t concentrate on sacks: That’s an “over-inflated big time” statistic, as Pollack put it. (That’s despite him being Georgia’s official career sack leader, with 36.) The edge rushers have to do other things to affect the quarterback: “Does the quarterback have to move his feet? Are you pressuring him? Are you making him feel uncomfortable? Are you making his eyes come down for a second? Are you not allowing him to go from first to second to third reads? … I think we’ve got a lot of really, really good players with really good experience, which makes it good. But you’re going to have to some guys step up in Bellamy and Carter. They’re going to be difference-makers, and they’re going to have to be seen a lot, and heard from a lot, if this defense is going to be great.”
- Another concern: The secondary, especially cornerback. Florida has had lock-down corners, Pollack pointed out. So did Alabama. But does Georgia? Malkom Parrish and Deandre Baker are experienced, but are they lock-down corners? “Who’s their guy? Who’s the guy that you say, ‘You go take away him’?” Pollack said. “Because football becomes really easy when you take away half your field.”
THE BIG OFFENSIVE QUESTIONS
- The offensive line will obviously be a big focus for Georgia. It was one of the worst in major college football last year, according to Pollack. So he figures it has to get better in 2017: “I don’t know that you can put any combination better and say that it’s any worse than a year ago,” he said. “I felt bad for [Nick] Chubb and [Sony] Michel at times, watching them have to make their own holes.”
- Jacob Eason enters his sophomore season, his second as the starter. Kirby Smart has focused on Eason’s accuracy. And that’s where Pollack is too, especially on those short and easy throws that move the sticks. “He’ll make two or three or four throws a game that make your head spin, that you just say, ‘Holy cow, how did he do that?’ But he’ll also make two or three or four overthrows that stop drives, that put your defense back on the field to wear them out,” Pollack said. “That’s where he has to get better — processing information quickly and making a decision, and then ripping the football.”
- And of course, the questions about offensive coordinator Jim Chaney: “What do we expect from him this year? How does it morph, how does it change? Was it all the offensive line, or is the system [does] not fit what the pieces are.”
THE SEC EAST RACE
The media has the SEC as a two-team competition: Florida and Georgia. And Pollack is in that camp too. He said he could make a case for either the Gators or Bulldogs.
Florida has an experienced offensive line and is good at wide receiver. The Gators can’t be any worse at quarterback. Their defense could take a step back, but they’ve reloaded back there in the past.
As for Georgia, Pollack’s concerns are listed above. He also said he thinks his former team and former program are on sound footing.
“I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about if you’re a Georgia fan, and I think great, great days are coming,” Pollack said, before adding: “It’ll be interesting to see how fast they come.”