The mailbag returns, and with Georgia football preseason practice just days away, there is plenty to discuss: Proper expectations for Kirby Smart’s second year, Justin Fields, the pass rush this season, and the ever-popular lightning round.
But first, a question about a narrative that’s been floating around for awhile … and a faulty narrative, in the mind of one reader.
Ignoring talk about Kirby Smart and his coaching staff for a moment, let’s chat just about the roster. … This 2017 UGA team is more veteran-laden than youthful when looking at the starting 22 (with even the OL potentially relying on 4-5 upperclassmen). In 2018, UGA may lose the majority of its starters on defense to graduation and early draft entries (and obviously the amazing Sony Michel/Nick Chubb combo), yet many are still seeing 2018 as being a year where the Dawgs will be in better position to be a title contender. Do you personally feel that the 2018 situation will be better than the 2017 one on paper to make a run? No doubt the awesome 2017 recruiting class, a more settled offensive line, and an even more veteran Eason could spell success, but I personally am at a flip-the-coin moment as to whether I think this year or next is truly the better opportunity. If Smart finds a way to have a 2018 class similar to his 2017 one, I have no doubt UGA will be ferocious in 2019, however.
— Austen Bannan
Kirby Smart will love all the pressure we’re putting on him this year, between the Year 2 story earlier this week, and the following opinion, but … yes, I agree with you, Austen. When others point to 2018 as the targeted big year for Georgia, I have to quibble.
First off, Chubb and Michel will be gone, as you noted, though Zamir White will be arriving. Jacob Eason will be one more year older, yes, and the rest of the offense might be more settled. Isaiah Wynn will be gone — a loss that should have an impact — but otherwise the line should be in better shape.
But the defense is where it gets dicey, and where the 2018 expectations might depend heavily on what the underclassmen decide. Trent Thompson, Jonathan Ledbetter, Roquan Smith, Natrez Patrick, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle will be eligible for the NFL draft. Dominick Sanders, Malkom Parrish, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and John Atkins are seniors. Yes, Alabama has had years where it loses a bunch of defensive players and reloads, and Georgia’s defensive recruiting lately has rivaled Alabama’s. But that would be a lot of talent leaving Georgia’s defense, even if only a few of those juniors leave.
So I would say that 2018 being The Year depends largely on that … but also assumes that Eason and the offense see improvement without Chubb and Michel. There’s still too much uncertainty all around to point to 2018 as Georgia’s year.
Here’s one more reason I don’t think Georgia fans can discount this season and look toward next year: Recruiting. Kirby Smart and his staff have done a great job selling themselves and the future, overcoming the 8-5 first year. One disappointing season can be overcome on the recruiting trail. But can Georgia withstand two such down seasons?
Every year our Dawgs come in with very high expectations, and this year is no different. The culture around UGA fandom is that we desire, above all, championships. This has been repeated and documented many times. That being said, what makes this year’s team more likely to live up to those expectations than teams of recent past?
— Timothy Eber
And another version of essentially the same question …
Each summer as fans we hear the same buzz words, that we are on the right path and this is the year we put it all together. I typically drink the Kool-Aid and then ask for seconds, thirds and so on until the expectations are so high they are not realistic. From your vantage point, are we Kool-Aid worthy this year and are you holding a glass up?
— Scott Freeman
Many years ago, when I was a young and naive scribe, I was covering recruiting and wrote about a big-time basketball recruit. I wrote that there was a good chance the player would choose the school I was covering. It made some fans feel good. But very quickly my more experienced boss called me and said: “Don’t do that. Don’t say that just to make the fans feel good, because when the kid chooses another school, they’ll be sore at you for it.” Some of the best advice I ever received. And the kid went to another school.
That’s my long-winded way of saying, Timothy and other Georgia fans, that I see plenty of reason for optimism this season, but I’m not going to get your hopes up just to make you feel good. I do believe this team is very talented and more experienced than last year. I believe the schedule is very manageable. I do believe in the Year 2 effect, which should help Kirby Smart and this team. I believe that with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, many things are possible.
But I also see plenty of land mines on the schedule: at Auburn, vs. Florida, at Georgia Tech, at Notre Dame, in that order. And I see plenty of concerns: offensive line, wide receivers, coaching, whether there’s a true lock-down No. 1 cornerback, etc.
And frankly, that’s the normal amount of big strengths and big concerns as I’ve seen entering most every recent season at Georgia.
To what end should we go to secure Justin Fields? He’s obviously a package deal with several wide receivers and what appears to be a very special tight end prospect. So what things can we do to sway him in our direction, to make UGA seem like the place to be for him?
— Patrick Gross
How far should Georgia go to try to get him? I would recommend not breaking any NCAA rules, for what should hopefully be obvious reasons. Plus, NCAA investigations are really no fun to cover, as my Ole Miss and Missouri counterparts tell me.
But I do think it’s important for Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney to at least give it their best shot. If they believe Fields is that good – I’ve never seen him play, but I’ll take others’ word for it – then you need to do your best. Now, I’ve been in the category of people saying that Fields’ shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all, as Georgia has Jacob Eason for at least one more season after this one, and Jake Fromm after that. But Jeff Sentell, in his piece from Tuesday, is fairly persuasive that not only is Fields worthy of chasing hard, but he would bring in additional recruits.
Will Georgia survive as a program if Fields goes elsewhere? Sure. But if he does turn out to be great, you don’t want to look back years from now and say, “Well, we didn’t push as hard for this future Hall of Famer because we had … well I forget his name, but we thought he was good.” Maybe Jake Fromm still ends up being the QB of the future. But it’s like Bear Bryant said: Better to have them sitting on your bench than on the other team beating you.
Is there any update on Devonte Wyatt or Robert Beal? Would Akhil Crumpton be eligible to play right away? Is JJ Holloman’s brother, LJ Holloman, coming?
— Danny Snyder
I can only briefly discuss it because the situation is still fluid and there’s not much to say right now. Both Wyatt and Beal have until the day classes start to actually enroll and join the team, and both were unlikely to contribute this year, anyway, so if they arrive late, that may not change the long-term situation. But if one or both don’t arrive at all because they can’t qualify, then obviously that’s a bigger deal.
As for Crumpton, yes, he would be eligible immediately — at least that’s my understanding. Whether he would, I don’t know yet. And, yes, Holloman’s brother was still due to come as a walk-on.
Will Georgia have an effective pass rush this season? It seems like we always have the pieces, but then get picked apart throughout the season. UGA has not had an elite pass rusher (other than Jarvis Jones) the past several years, and I’d love to see our line get lots of sacks like they did when Charles Johnson, Quentin Moses and co. were playing. We’ve seen poor offenses like Florida’s manage to score multiple touchdowns on us the past few years, so it’s beyond time for our defense to consistently play well. I know the UGA offense has been to blame for many losses, but the defense has certainly contributed to some of the losses as well. Would love to hear your thoughts!
— Cohen Moore
This was a point that David Pollack made to me – and he has a point, and more than a little credibility on the subject. Georgia was sixth in the SEC last year with 29 sacks. But as Pollack pointed out, it’s about more than just sacks – and he says that as someone who is Georgia’s career leader in that category. And, as Pollack again pointed out, when Georgia faced the two best quarterbacks on its schedule last year, those players — Chad Kelly and Josh Dobbs — had big days. That has a lot to do with a consistent pass rush.
That’s something to watch this year. And it goes back to my answer to the previous question: I won’t commit to saying Georgia will absolutely have an effective pass rush … but all things considered, it should. The outside linebackers are good enough, the front seven is good enough. But Georgia’s outside linebackers haven’t been as productive as they could have been for about three years now. Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins didn’t rack up the sacks either, and while that’s not the ultimate barometer, it was reflective of Georgia not being a great pass-rushing team, merely a decent one.
What will the Dog Walk situation be like for the games in Athens this season with all of the construction going on? Or will Kirby simply cancel the Dog Walk this season?
—Eason4Heisman, via DawgNation Forum
It will not be canceled, and apparently it won’t be altered very much. This from a team spokesman: “The Dog Walk will be roughly the same in the same area. More details to come in early August.”
Is there a situation in which the Dawgs could play Auburn twice or even three times in the 2017 season? Could we play them in the regular season and then in the SEC championship game and maybe even in the College Football Playoff?
– Frank, Macon, Ga.
I’ll go ahead and say nyet to the idea of three Georgia-Auburn match-ups, but two … that’s not very far-fetched at all.
Georgia is the (slightly) favored team in the East, and Auburn was picked to finish second in the West. As division games are the tiebreaker, either team could easily absorb a loss in that game and still win its division.
Hey Seth, with such a loaded incoming freshman class, which blue-chip recruit are you most excited about seeing take the field? Personally, I can’t wait to see Nate McBride in action — the guy’s athleticism is off the charts and I’d be willing to bet he’s going to be one of the next all-time great playmakers on the defensive side of the ball!
— Brandon Doyle
In the immediate sense, as far as this year, I guess I’m most curious about the freshmen on the offensive line, especially Isaiah Wilson and Andrew Thomas, because one of them could see a lot of early playing time. After that, D’Andre Swift and J.J. Holloman are intriguing for their potential value this year. As for Nate McBride, he’ll likely be on special teams this year, assuming he doesn’t redshirt. McBride and Monty Rice are both in the same boat, very talented but have not only two entrenched starters ahead of them at inside linebacker, but a third player, Reggie Carter, who also will play a lot.
As of now, who is our best deep-threat receiver?
— John Vaughn, Newnan
Well, Javon Wims spring immediately to mind after his 51-yarder against Kentucky, and Riley Ridley for his 57-yard juggling catch against Auburn, as well as that almost game-winner against Tennessee. J.J. Holloman and Mecole Hardman have the deep-play ability as well, and don’t count out Terry Godwin because of his speed. There are different deep-ball plays, but if you told me that Georgia needs to pick one to get open downfield and catch a 50-yarder, I’m going with Wims, because of his blend of size and speed.
Do you see any of last year’s freshmen DL redshirting?
— @DawgsGATA, via Twitter
I wouldn’t rule it out, but I wouldn’t rule it in either. Yes, that’s a very deep unit, but only two defensive linemen were signed this year – and one of them, Devonte Wyatt, has yet to qualify. So it’s essentially the same unit as last year. Perhaps you do consider redshirting someone like Michail Carter, and then you essentially added someone to this year’s D-line class. But that’s the only name I see as a remote possibility, barring injury. Julian Rochester, Tyler Clark, David Marshall — those guys are going to play.
I have read some articles as to why these four seniors came back for one more year, but was it ever asked of them how much the fact that the Georgia Bulldogs were going to play Notre Dame in their “house”? Would that game be 50 percent or 75 percent of their reasoning to return!!!? Just a thought.
— Richard Krysalka
That percentage is probably way too high. I’m sure it occurred to Chubb and company, but I don’t think they’d make that important a career and life choice based on one game. Especially since the NFL has some pretty cool places to play too. (Lambeau Field, Soldier Field, Jerry World, etc.) But when they walk into Notre Dame Stadium in about six weeks, I think they’re going to be glad again that they came back.
Seth, what would you put the over/under at for number of UGA fans in the 84,000-seat Notre Dame Stadium on September 9?
— Aubrey Neely
For this answer, I turned to colleague Chip Towers, who visited Notre Dame this spring and is following the ticket story. Chip’s answer:
Georgia received only 8,000 tickets to distribute among its season-ticket holders and traveling party. But based on demand and ticket availability in the secondary market, I’d say there will easily be 20,000 or more in Notre Dame Stadium. Currently tickets range from $500 to $800 apiece on the upper levels to $7,000 near the sideline. Georgia fans have indicated it’s a trip of a lifetime for them and many are willing to spend whatever it takes.
Thanks to all who submitted, and apologies to those whose questions weren’t able to be answered this week. Please feel free to re-submit them next week, or in following weeks, as the Mailbag will (hopefully) run every Thursday. You can submit your question by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org