Mailbag: The biggest surprises from Georgia’s preseason

Andrew Thomas - Georgia football
Andrew Thomas is on the verge of being the first true freshman to start Georgia's season opener since John Theus in 2012.

Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, where each week we invite readers to pick our brain (my word, not yours) about Georgia football, UGA athletics or whatever springs to mind. This week we discuss play-calling strategy, depth chart questions, the Auburn series, a few over-unders and true-false questions about the Appalachian State game, and yes, the token basketball question. But we start with …

What are your top two or three surprises from Fall Camp? – SavageDawg17 

I’ll do you better and give you a half-dozen:

  • Ahkil Crumpton: He’s looked good catching passes, and is actually a bit bigger than Isaiah McKenzie. I’m not predicting a huge role for Crumpton yet, but the fact James Coley and the staff were able to unearth a contributor that late in the recruiting process is quite impressive.
  • Andrew Thomas: Not quite a shock that a true freshman will start on the offensive line, but Thomas grabbed that spot really quickly.
  • Rodrigo Blankenship: From all reports, the competition was close, and Blankenship won it, rather than David Marvin lost it. For Blankenship to win out over someone brought in on scholarship says something.
  • Jake Fromm: No, he’s not going to be the starter, and I stick by my prediction that Jacob Eason starts every game this season. But when Brice Ramsey opted to stick around I thought that would likely mean Fromm would move to No. 3 and possibly redshirt. The fact Fromm remains a solid No. 2, holding off the fifth-year senior, is a good sign for his future.
  • Chauncey Manac: I’m genuinely surprised it didn’t work out for him here. I really thought he’d be on the two-deep at outside linebacker, poised to start in 2018. Instead …
  • Walter Grant: Remember his name, Georgia fans.  
  • J.R. Reed: The Tulsa transfer was considered by many a place-holder when he began the preseason as a first-team safety. Instead the sophomore, who a lot of people assumed was brought in just to get his cousin Deangelo Gibbs, is holding off a lot of these highly-touted freshmen.

Seth, with UF’s recent suspensions, is UGA more justified than ever as the favorite in the East? Undisputed even? – Reggie Pope

It depends. How long are these suspensions, and even if players return quickly, does it have a long-lasting effect? I would certainly be shocked now if Florida beats Michigan, but even if that’s a drubbing, it’s also a non-conference game. So is next week’s home game against Northern Colorado.

But then Tennessee visits the Swamp, followed by a tricky game at Kentucky, especially tricky if half the team is suspended. But again, we just don’t know at this point how long all these guys will be out.

We do know that Florida doesn’t play Georgia until the last Saturday in October. Who knows what either team will look like at that point, and what the status of the SEC East race will be.

Clemson / UGA Game – 2014: Todd Gurley only had 4 touches in the first half.  I was sitting in a UGA section and everyone was losing their minds.  What is Bobo thinking?!?! Run the ball Bobo! Fire Bobo! The usual… 

Then the second half comes and Gurley is well rested, Clemson’s defense is tired, and Gurley runs all over the place for 198 yards total. Do you see something similar happening with Chubb this year?  To protect him from injury partially, but then also to save his legs for late game situations where he can break off some big runs.  They have similar depth at RB this year. – Hayden

I’m not involved in the offensive gameplan meetings, and nobody has revealed them to me yet. So the only thing I can really say is that with that tailback depth, and with Chubb’s stamina, that’s a scenario that could happen any game. It was actually a staple of Mike Bobo’s gameplans to stick to the plan, and take the long view, when he thought he had the offense to wear down an opponent. And it usually worked.

The question is whether this year Georgia does. Your line needs to be dominant in order for that to work. We shall see.

LIGHTNING ROUND – DEPTH CHART EDITION 

Were you caught off guard by the Solomon Kindley-not-a-starter kerfluffle? I assumed he was somewhat entrenched at right guard. – Parrish Walton

I did too, which makes me think this may have something to do with a minor injury that cropped up for Kindley. Maybe he’s not taking his normal amount of reps at practice because he’s being eased back in, or out of precaution. Or maybe Kindley really is, at the last second, having to fight off Kendall Baker and Dyshon Sims for his starting spot. My guess is a small injury, but we’ll see for sure on Saturday.

Richard LeCounte and Jake Fromm have looked good this preseason. (JEFF SENTELL).

Will Richard LeCounte start at safety? Who is starting at star? – Cliffhanger, via DawgNation Forum

The first question probably depends on whether the second question is applicable. During Wednesday’s media viewing period of practice, I saw J.R. Reed at safety in what appeared to be a 3-4 defense, and LeCounte wasn’t on the field. But they were moving so fast and shuffling guys in and out so fast – in preparation for game conditions – that it also appeared that Lorenzo Carter was getting work at the star.

So look out for Reed at safety and Carter at the star in some set-ups. But also look for LeCounte at safety and Reed at the star in other set-ups. It depends on what they think the offense is giving them.

When will Malkom Parrish return? – Steve Davan

He hasn’t been practicing this week, and it may take a miracle of modern science for him to be ready to play at Notre Dame. I’d never rule it out, as Parrish is a tough kid. But I wouldn’t regard his return as imminent.

HEY, WHAT ABOUT …

Is Greg McGarity pressuring the SEC for a (home-and-home) in Athens with Auburn to get the schedule back in order?” – Ashton Griffin

I’ve gotten this a few times recently, so I sent your question to McGarity. He did not respond.

UGA spokesman Claude Felton did offer a reply: “Future scheduling is a consistent topic of discussion at regular meetings of Southeastern Conference athletics directors.”

SEC spokesman Herb Vincent, meanwhile, didn’t make it sound like it was a possibility at all: “SEC football scheduling calls for SEC permanent opponents to alternate home and away each year. I know of no discussions to alter the current system.”

TRUE-FALSE … AND OVER/UNDER

Jon Crenshaw offers up the questions about Saturday’s game. I offer up the guesses:

True-False: Jacob Eason plays 4 quarters Saturday. True. But I’ll say Jake Fromm plays most of the fourth quarter.

Over/under: Mecole Hardman 10 touches. Under, but not by much. My guess: Five offensive touches (three catches and three runs out of the Wildcat), and three kickoff returns.

Over/under: Trent Thompson 1.5 sacks: Under. He gets one.

Rodrigo Blankenship 1 touchback: Over. My guess is three.

LET’S TALK PROCESS …

Enjoying seeing you guys squeeze the most out of the lemon rind you are given by Kirby to make us the sweetest lemonade possible. As we progress in “the process,” whether through (lack of) media relations or other more truly football related issues, do you feel Kirby is pulling a Saban by saying so many roles are too close to call in order to make a late transfer less palatable to a lineman or linebacker? I feel this was Saban’s play with QBs last year. What say you? – Jeremy Gaines

That may have been Saban’s play last year, but it didn’t work, as quarterbacks still transferred out. Coaches ultimately want to be as close to the full 85 as possible, but they also know that players can read depth charts. Is there an instance when they do something, whether it’s practice reps or actual game reps, in order to keep a guy happy? Perhaps. But if they want to keep a guy around in the first place, then there’s always the chance for eventual playing time.

Chauncey Manac made a surprising move out, but he’s one of the few. (FILE PHOTO)

One thing that’s been apparent so far with the Smart era: There hasn’t been any mass exodus, as you normally get with a coaching change. Chauncey Manac is an exception this year, but not only have a lot of people not transferred, but Chubb and company passed on turning pro. That says something either about Smart and his staff’s persuasive powers, or how the team has reacted to the coaches.

It also helps that Smart came in running pretty much the identical system on both sides of the ball as the Richt era. If there had been systemic changes, you probably would have seen more attrition. Instead, here Georgia is at the 85 mark.

Will Depth Charts/Injury reports ever be required similar to the NFL? Coaches can’t complain if their opponent has to do it too. – NSluga1215 (not his real name)

The whole thing has gotten kind of silly. Jim Harbaugh refusing to release his roster until a few days before the game – as if reporters and Florida haven’t been following Michigan’s signing classes, offseason moves or watching game tape from last year. Many coaches have gone very secret squirrel about injuries, depth charts, and now even a basic thing such a roster. It’s just … silly.

Look, I know many of you out there roll your eyes at the media when we talk about these things. But we have a job to do, and many readers are genuinely interested in this. Depth chart and injury-related stories draw a lot of interest, and that’s understandable.

When it comes to this, college football is the wild west, because there are no real rules. The NFL, on the other hand, has rules that govern all 32 teams, and a big reason for that is gambling. They don’t want bettors in Las Vegas or elsewhere secretly finding out that Tom Brady has a sprained ankle and benefitting from that information. It’s not like people don’t gamble on college football. But the NCAA isn’t a governing body for college football, at least not in that way, and individual conferences don’t make teams abide by certain rules on information.

A few years ago I asked Todd Grantham, who also didn’t tend to divulge much but had worked in the NFL for years, what he thought about required injury reports in college football. He was all for it. Make everyone play by the same rules. And I suspect many other coaches feel that way. But in the absence of rules, coaches are going to tend to shield as much information as they reasonably (or unreasonably) can, in an effort to get what they perceive to get a competitive edge.

WEEKLY BASKETBALL QUESTION! 

The Dawgs seem to always start slow and play catch-up in SEC play. What is the expectation for wins coming out of the non conference schedule? Looking at a road game vs Marquette and a possible matchup in Fullerton vs St Mary’s, a 9-2 record doesn’t seem that far-fetched. With the conference competition improving, it’s paramount that we start strong and Fox finds his combinations early. – Steve Shockley

By the way, thanks for Steve for this weekly segment.

Your final sentence is 100 percent accurate. Georgia may actually be more talented this season, but may not do better in SEC play because the rest of the conference has gotten better. Missouri, for instance, has gone from punching bag to preseason top 25 consideration because of instant-impact recruits. So the Bulldogs can’t afford to, once again, arrive in SEC play needing to play catch-up again when it comes to their resume’.

The good news: The schedule on paper is easier at the start, with three straight home games against mid-majors, so that should be a chance for Fox to start fleshing out his rotation and getting Rayshaun Hammonds involved. Then comes the three games at the Wooden Legacy tournament in California, which is also manageable. The meat of the non-conference schedule arrives in December.

The bad news: Those December games seem high-risk, low-reward. Losing at Marquette would be acceptable, but at UMass, and home games against Georgia Tech and Temple, those probably need to be wins. Given all that, I think 9-2 may be the minimum that Georgia needs to be entering SEC play. Three losses wouldn’t be the end of the world, but there would be work to do. Fox again scheduled keenly when it came to good mid-majors who should help the schedule strength. But as last year showed, the committee wants Georgia to show it can beat good teams, not just have a snazzy computer rating.

AND FINALLY …

 Seth, can you get me a ticket to the Notre Dame game? Much appreciated. – Sam Irvin, Richmond, Va.

Great question, Sam. Appreciate you writing in. Hope all is well with you and your family.

No.

 

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