ATHENS – For two straight seasons, Georgia has had a disappointing offense. In the months since the end of last season, there has been endless dissecting of what went wrong, analysis on what will be done to improve it, and speculation on whether it will work. Many a story has been written.
But now, with the season just days away, the hay is in the barn: The offensive system for 2017 is in place, the players have practiced it, and the gameplan for the opener is set.
After Wednesday’s practice, three key members of that offense came up to meet the media: QB Jacob Eason, RB Nick Chubb and OT Isaiah Wynn. From those three interviews, some final preseason thoughts on the big question: Why will Georgia’s offense improve in 2017, and how?
EASON, ONE YEAR OLDER
A five-star recruit a year ago, Eason relied on his pure talent for much of last year. This year, he’s hoping he’ll be better at the other stuff that goes into becoming an elite and winning quarterback.
EASON: “The real game we’ll be able to see. But I feel a lot more comfortable than I did last year. Last year was more about understanding the offense versus reading the defense, making a check and getting into a better play. That was a big, big focus this offseason, was getting my mind right, and being able to see something and check into something. That’s one of the big things we’ve been working on, and feeling more comfortable doing it.”
CHUBB: “It puts us in better position. I think last year we kind of stuck with what we had no matter what, and I think we didn’t have the right numbers to run the play. That kind of hurt us sometimes. I think this year, like you said, more freedom, allows us to get a better look for us, and to execute it. So I think that’ll work out better for us.”
EASON, AGAIN: “It’s cool. Being a quarterback you should be able to do those things, and coach (Jim) Chaney has allowed me to do those things. I appreciate that, and take it and do what I can with it. Hopefully try to make some better plays, and get us out of some tough situations. That all goes with being a quarterback. Everybody at the next level does that, so why not start now?”
Eason also spent much of this offseason working at taking snaps under center, after struggling with that aspect of it as a freshman. He was used to a shot-gun offense in high school.
EASON: “Oh yeah, that was a big area I needed to improve on. I think through spring and through this fall camp, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable now. It’s second nature, going under there, spotting the Mike (linebacker) and all that deal. … It was pretty difficult, because you’re trying to read a defense, but your biggest concern is getting a snap from center. So that was a big transition, and it took me awhile to get me fully comfortable with it. And having (Brandon) Kublanow last year, he was a real low guy, and I was a real tall guy, so that was another thing that went into it. But now with Lamont (Gaillard) and whoever else we’ve got under center, I feel comfortable with it.”
CHUBB: “He’s more confident, he’s more mature. Because he’s been here, he came in last spring, and the whole season and another spring, another camp. So I have full confidence in him.”
WYNN: “He’s gotten out of his comfort zone to address other players, and not just the wideouts. He may see something that the offensive line is doing wrong, and may encourage wrong, or something the running backs are doing and encourage them. So he got out of his comfort zone.”
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
After being the weak link of the team last year, three senior starters had to be replaced. Chubb was asked, having seen them try to mesh the past eight months, why they could improve.
CHUBB: “They’re all on the same page. They’re communicating way better. When I’m in the backfield I hear them communicating and making their calls, and everyone on the same page. I think they’re way more mature and have a better understanding of the game.”
Even though they’re a younger group?
CHUBB: “Yeah, even though it’s a younger group, because a senior like Isaiah, and Lamont, those guys kind of get the in the right directions.”
Georgia brought its man-blocking scheme last year, but it wasn’t as successful with a smaller group of linemen. This year they’re going to be bigger up the middle, which should help the inside running game, while getting more athletic lineman at tackle.
WYNN: “Definitely. As far as me, my weight was pretty small last year at guard, but now we have a lot more anchor at that guard position, and the tackles, I’m good on the outside, Andrew Thomas he’s been very good, Dyshon Sims has been good. Not to say that the inside guys aren’t athletic, but we’ve put outside the guys who are better able to kick out there in space.”
THE MECOLE HARDMAN FACTOR
Hardman spent last year at cornerback, then moved to receiver this spring and has … well, let the veterans tell you.
CHUBB: “Speed. A lot of speed.”
WYNN: “He’s a weapon. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. He’s a weapon. (Laughing). We’ll see. (Laughing again.) Y’all will see.”
EASON: He’s brought a little energy. He’s fast. He’s a loud guy. He’s a playmaker. Not that there wasn’t energy already before. But Mecole brings a little spice to it.”
AHKIL CRUMPTON TOO
The junior college transfer steps into Isaiah McKenzie’s old number, and perhaps his role too.
EASON: “What I’ve seen in Ahkil is a lot of what Isaiah was. Isaiah was a great receiver to throw to, and I think Ahkil is going to be the same. They’re both fast, they’re both small, and they even wear No. 16. It’s kind of crazy. It’s like we never lost Isaiah.”
CHUBB: “He’s kind of like Isaiah, but I don’t know how he would handle that, he probably wants to be himself. But he wears No. 16 and he’s probably shorter (as McKenzie is.) He makes big plays, every time he’s on the field he makes big plays.”
The veterans were asked if this team had more playmakers than last year.
CHUBB (thinking a second): “We definitely could use Isaiah McKenzie. But other than that, it’s probably about the same. Mecole does a great job. Crumpton is pretty nice.”
WYNN (also hesitating before he thinks): “I don’t know how to answer that. But we do have a better play system, play-calling, to get guys the ball.”
A HEALTHIER NICK CHUBB
Chubb has said his straight-line speed was always good last year, returning from the knee injury, but that his quickness – ability to move laterally and avoid defenders – may not have been all there. But it’s back now, he and others say.
CHUBB: “Yeah, a lot of loads are off me. Just not worrying about that anymore. It’s in the past. I’m just looking forward, and trying to make big plays.”
WYNN: “I just expect him to have a big year. Not only him but our whole running back corps. … As an offensive line unit, I’m looking forward to moving guys this year.”
EASON: “Nick’s never going to change. He’s a hard worker, one of the hardest workers on the team, if not the hardest worker. He’s a steady, head-down, work-hard guy, and that’s what everybody notices with him, and that’s how he leads. It’s fun to watch him play.”
Schematically, how different will Georgia’s look in 2017?
WYNN: “I will say we just fine-tuend stuff. Coaches went in this offseason, and they got a chance to fine-tune stuff, and find a way to get the ball in playmaker’s hands.”
CHUBB: “I won’t know till we get started either. But I know we’ve worked hard to make it fast, and be a more explosive team, with all the great players, and all the playmakers. I think Saturday we can put everything together and hopefully be something great.”