The early word on changes to Georgia’s offense

Georgia-Georgia Bulldogs-Jacob Eason-Jim Chaney
Georgia QB Jacob Eason with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney

ATHENS — Nick Chubb and Sony Michel had another meeting with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, but this one was more cheery. The first one came in the heat of last season, when Georgia’s two star tailbacks wondered about how they were being used. This one came in the hopeful air of the offseason, when Chaney explained what he had in mind for a fresher offense.

“Basically he just told us that we’re going to use all the running backs, and use us in different ways,” Chubb said. “He went over running plays, and what we did last year, and what we could do different this year.”

This may have been one of several meetings Chaney had in the time leading up to spring practice, when he has begun installing “tweaks” — that’s the operative word right now — to an offense that statistically was Georgia’s worst in more than a decade.

Chaney told the offense as a whole about the changes the day before spring practice began last Tuesday. So after one week and three practices, what are the early returns? How much are things really going to change?

In talking to several players, the initial reaction to the question is at first to downplay it, but then sort of correct themselves.

“Little tweaks. It’s not that much different,” Chubb said, then thought a moment. “It’s kind of different. But (with) more repetition we’ll get it down.”

“Not too much change,” receiver Javon Wims said, but then added: “We did throw in some new wrinkles and some new things that will help the offense move faster and move efficiently. And I like the way it’s going, in the right direction.”

When you say play faster …

“We’re going to start playing faster,” Wims said. “We’re going to start using our strengths, our personnel to our advantage.”

Some of the speeding up may just be natural.

Quarterback Jacob Eason is now entering his second year, which will help. Last year not only was he a freshman, but he was learning a new offense, the pro-style scheme and drop-backs being different from the shotgun and spread-oriented offense he played in high school.

That led to the offense being slower than desired last year, partly out of Eason needing to get the call right, and partly the coaches wanting to manage him and those calls.

“The training wheels are off this year,” Wims said. “And they’re giving him the ability to make checks. They’re giving him the ability to be a veteran, second-year quarterback.”

Sony Michel hauled in 22 passes last year, but only for a total of 149 yards. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

There’s been a lot of talk of using Michel more in a receiving role, like out of the slot. But that’s actually something that was already happening way back in his freshman year, 2013, before a shoulder injury derailed his season. He did have 22 catches last year and 26 as a sophomore, but most of that was on screens; Michel only averaged 6.8 yards per catch last year. So the hints of a bigger receiving role could be about getting him in position for more explosive plays.

Interestingly, Chubb said he may also be in line for that type of role.

“Me and Sony will be more versatile and do different things, so I can move around to where Sony is sometimes, and kind of run routes,” Chubb said.

Then there’s the matter of the actual wide receivers. Isaiah McKenzie is off to the NFL, so how are his 44 catches and 633 receiving yards dispersed? Since the 5-foot-7 McKenzie was known as a slot and speed guy, it’s easy to say those touches will go to Michel (or Chubb) and second-leading receiver Terry Godwin, who’s only 5-11.

But Wims indicated that there will be enough overall recalibrating of the passing game that things could be dispersed very differently.

“When you’ve got a player like Isaiah you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to give him the ball. But this year it’s going to be an open offense, pretty much,” Wims said. “I could be the man one game, Terry could be the man one game, or we could all eat in the same game.”

It’s a different coaching staff, but it may be instructive to look back on some past offseasons when Georgia put in “tweaks” to the offense — some of which turned out to be rather large tweaks.

After the 2010 season — when Georgia finished 56th in total yards — the coaches very quietly installed a no-huddle offense, as well as other smaller tweaks. It didn’t click right away, but eventually that season Georgia finished 33rd in total yards and won the SEC East.

One similarity about the 2011 and 2017 seasons: A second-year starting quarterback.

Wims, in talking about the offense opening up, summed up the goal for 2017.

“We have very good players,” he said. “And in certain situations certain people need to get the ball.”

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