This week’s mailbag includes discussion of a pessimistic analysis of Georgia’s upcoming season, the wisdom of Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, the requisite Ben Cleveland update, some over-under on Georgia stats this season, the lightning round, and not just one basketball question, but two. Whoa!
But first, a reader was curious about Kirby Smart …
So a Kirby question as we start camp. It seems that we’re seeing a (slightly) looser Kirby as he enters year 2. Seems more comfortable with the team having a full year now under his belt. Are you sensing this as well during your media sessions and do you think he coached a bit tight last year at times (first-year learning curve aside)?
— Josh B., Marietta
I don’t think he coached tight last year. If anything he was overly engaged, managing every aspect of the team that he could during games, as well as practices. This year obviously we don’t have any games to compare, but he seems unchanged in practices, still very involved.
But your observation about media sessions is rather on point. Smart has seemed pretty loose, comfortable and confident so far, a bit like he was last year – but without the rough edges he had with reporters at some points. Some of that may just be being more comfortable in the job, and in his relationships with the press. Everybody was kind of feeling each other out last year.
The key for Smart, however, isn’t how he handles the press, but the football part of his job, and that includes game days. My colleague Chip Towers had some prescient points in his take on Wednesday, and it really is something that perhaps we dance around a bit much: How much was last year’s disappointment the result of a first-year head coach, and how will he change anything?
Ultimately, Smart has to be himself as a head coach, and not anyone’s idealized version of a head coach. And it’s good that he’s confident, and the more comfortable he is, the better. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a learning curve, as you say, and things he could learn and apply to Year 2.
S&P+ has UGA going 7-5 this season. How realistic do you think that is? Would a 7-5 season be the final nail for the AD? What do you think is the floor and the ceiling for for 2017?
— Tfk_fanboy, via DawgNation Forum
This is referring to Bill Connelly at SB Nation, whose analysis — not his prediction, but his analysis, mind you – is pretty fair. (I have to admit, I wish I had thought of Bill’s term of “voluntary rebuild.” That’s well said.)
But I was also taken aback at the pessimism when it came to Georgia’s final record. I guess, if things go badly – the offensive line, receivers and special teams don’t improve, the secondary really is average, Jacob Eason doesn’t take a big step forward – then sure, I can find five losses very easily: Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Those are all away from Athens.
But my overall read on this season, as I’ve said before, is basically the same as I’ve entered each of the recent seasons: This looks like a 10-2 or 9-3 team, which if things break right, can win a championship.
Seth, I’ve read the accolades about Isaiah Wynn, how hard he works, how he plays bigger than he is, how he has the trust of his fellow linemen and that he is the captain/leader of the offensive line. Despite all of this, I’m concerned that one day into fall camp he is supposedly locked in at the left tackle spot.
My question is this. Considering how poorly the unit performed in 2016, how the poor play seemed to carry over into the Spring and the number of 4/5 star recruits, including a highly rated JC transfer UGA has signed the past two years, why is the LT spot not open for competition at least early in camp?
Nothing against Wynn. If he is the best at the position then great. However one thing that led to last year’s debacle was playing linemen out of position. Does it not make sense at least early on to determine if one of the guys recruited at tackle, especially Hayes or Wilson, has the skill to start? Hayes a junior coming out of JC should at least be ready to compete for the position. If not, you have to question the reasoning behind signing a 2nd or 3rd string JC player. Give that scholarship to a HS recruit or to a walk on that has earned it.
— Bob Etheredge
You make some good points, and I should preface my response by saying I’m explaining the situation and the coach’s thinking, not defending it. (Though in some cases I am defending it.) For one thing, Wynn wasn’t the incumbent left tackle; he played left guard last year, only to move back to left tackle for the bowl game, and that went well. As I pointed out in my story about Wynn this week, Georgia is unbeaten (6-0) with Wynn as its starting left tackle.
And it is true that guys were playing out of position last year: Greg Pyke was better suited to guard, where he played in 2015-16. But Tyler Catalina also played left tackle because he fit the bill, size-wise. In retrospect, maybe the team would have been better with Wynn at left tackle, where his athleticism was a bigger advantage than Catalina’s size.
Look, the young guys are going to get a shot at both tackle positions. If one of those freshmen, or Hayes or Cleveland, really stars at left tackle, maybe it will make the coaches re-think things. But I don’t think they will. It’s understandable that people like the idea of seeing the shiny new objects, the guys who have never played before, get a shot. But Sam Pittman has a sterling reputation as an offensive line coach, and if he wants Wynn at left tackle, then that should hold some weight.
Hi, Seth. There’s been a lot of speculation about the O-Line, but I rarely hear much about Ben Cleveland, who was hyped on arrival almost as much as Eason. How’s he doing?
— Nate Roper
Ah, Big Ben. He redshirted last year, which was either because he was a gigantic bust, to hear some tell it, or because he just turned 18 and still had a lot to learn. So far in preseason he’s been working at second-team right tackle, which means he’ll get every shot to start or contribute.
Even if he doesn’t end up starting this season, hopefully Cleveland doesn’t become somebody who gets unfairly judged against expectations. He’s still young, and there’s still plenty of time. Many people are just trying to rush him into a big role because of Georgia’s O-line struggles, and Cleveland’s hype.
Faithful reader Parrish Walton dared me to do an over/under, and for some reason I complied:
- Isaac Nauta: 50-750-6: Under. Think he’ll have a big year but those numbers still seem a tad high.
- Nick Chubb: 1,300-8. Over. As long as he’s healthy I think 1,500 yards is the baseline.
- Sony Michel: 30 catches. Under. Not because I don’t think he’ll be active in the passing game, but because I think his catches this year will be for longer yardage, rather than just a bunch of dump-offs. I also think he’ll share a lot of catches with other guys.
- Reggie Carter: 8 sacks. Over. But not that far over.
- Jacob Eason: 12 INTs. Over. That doesn’t mean I anticipate a bad season, but I’ll say between 13 and 15 picks.
SHORT LIGHTNING ROUND
The past two seasons Georgia hasn’t had a named quarterback starter until just a few days before the first game. With the many overthrows and dropped passes that plagued the offense last season., how much of that had to do with the quarterback and wide receiver relationship?
— Josh R. Thomasville, Ga.
There could be some validity to that. While Eason was around awhile last year, after enrolling early, it wasn’t necessarily his team until a few games into the season. So there are fewer reps and fewer pass-and-catch drills than an unquestioned first-team starter gets. That said, the coaches still do a lot of drills, and if Jim Chaney and company thought cohesion was affected by a prolonged quarterback competition, you think they’d end it as soon as they could. I guess we’ll see this season.
Who would you say looks the best of the freshman wideouts? I’ve heard great things about Mark Webb, and obviously J.J. Holloman tore up the spring game. Also, do you see them having an early impact?
— Chattanooga Dawg
Trey Blount is the freshman receiver who seemed to be getting the most buzz early in camp. I like what I’ve briefly seen out of Matt Landers too. But ultimately if I had to pick somebody to have an early impact it would still be Holloman, if for no other reason than he enrolled early and has a head start on the offense.
From what I’ve read it seems to me that Justin Fields will come to Georgia if the number 2 slot at QB isn’t already locked down. How does Georgia offer that without holding Fromm (or Eason) back this season? That would be wrong and dumb.
— Glenn Goldsetin
Fields has also indicated he may commit this month, but of course there’s nothing stopping him from changing his mind again if he sees something he doesn’t like during the season. Either way, my guess is this won’t be much of an issue, unless something happens to Eason and Fromm becomes the starter and plays great. That’s really the only scenario where I could see that impacting Fields’ decision.
Can you please ask Jim Chaney if he has ever heard of the screen pass? A lot of powerful offenses use it but not us. It should would give our running backs more space to create big plays, and keep defenses honest which would/could also open up the long passing game.
— Joseph Seal
Well, our twice-a-year opportunity to ask Chaney questions is coming up, so I suppose I could ask him that. But I’m not sure I want to use my rare chance to tick him off.
Seriously, while I think a lack of screen passes was a problem last year, I’m not sure that all falls on Chaney, who probably had a few plays called in which a screen was the second or third read;. A freshman quarterback who wasn’t used to checking down much, and was still figuring it out, also was a culprit.
BASKETBALL IN AUGUST QUESTIONS
What has the coaching staff and Mark Fox specifically done (or will do) to avoid the annual slow start. Obviously the schedule is a bit softer at the start — but you mentioned in your season-end article it was a must for him to address. Any thoughts on what we see differently and has he even acknowledged it is a problem?
— George, Memphis, TN
The schedule, as you mentioned, may help. The better teams come later in nonconference, while Georgia opens with three home games against mid-majors. Then the Bulldogs have the Wooden Legacy tournament, where the opening opponent is Cal State Fullerton, and doesn’t follow with many better teams. So ideally that would give Fox some time to work in the newcomers, especially Rayshaun Hammonds, and experiment with lineup combinations.
Otherwise, Fox hasn’t come out and said anything lately about more urgency early in the season, though I suspect he knows that. Especially in a season where the SEC is that much tougher, and the wins may be even tougher to come by. Better rack up some quality wins early.
Ok, two questions: 1. Was UGA able to make their case and get relief of 9 p.m. weekday games? 2. Who is David Carter recruiting?
— Steve Shockley
1. The SEC basketball schedule isn’t out, so all we know right now is which teams Georgia will play twice. But you’re right that at places like Georgia, having good tip times, particularly during the week, is vital to getting a good crowd. When you’re in a relatively small town and don’t have a big base of pure basketball fans, it’s hard to draw a lot of people to late weekday tip times. 2. I have no idea yet, to be honest. Carter doesn’t really have any obvious connections to the South, but his most immediate help to the program, given his head coaching experience, may be Xs and Os. As for recruiting, Phillip Pearson and Jonas Hayes have been doing really well the past few years, though of course there’s no reason they can’t get more help.
A) What bourbon are you taking with you into the season?
B ) if you don’t drink, who are the 3 best HCs UGA will face in 2017?
— King of the South
a) Dewar’s, while technically a Scotch whisky, will get me through August, and then I may go get some Maker’s Mark. Also a big fan of Williams Pear Schnapps.
b) You qualified whether I had to answer this one, so, oh well!
The DawgNation Mailbag runs every Thursday. If you have questions or concerns or crazed screeds you’d like me to respond to, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.