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Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (13) is a player to watch during spring practice.

Georgia football: 5 players to watch during spring practice

Cy Brown

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Spring practice: 5 Bulldogs to watch

The first phase of the long offseason slog is officially behind us, and spring practice begins Tuesday in Athens. After three months living in a college football-less wasteland, we get three weeks of actual, honest-to-God football — actual, honest-to-God football that we don’t get to watch, but beggars can’t be choosers — then G-Day to tide us over through the summer and Phase 2 of the dreaded offseason.

The Bulldogs lost stars and role players after last season and have plenty of work to do replacing both. So to get you ready for the next few weeks, I’m listing five players to keep any eye on during spring practice.

With the all the young talent Kirby Smart has accrued in his first three seasons as coach, this list could be 30 players long. There are just so many young players on this roster who could be potential stars that if I listed them all, we would be here until G-Day. But these are five players I believe can undoubtedly change the course of the 2018 season, one way or another, if they work hard enough and prove themselves in the spring.

  • Mark Webb, CB — It surprised most who follow the program when it was announced last season that Webb, a 4-star wide receiver out of high school, switched to cornerback midway through his freshman season. But reviews of Webb’s transition to defense have been nothing but positive. There’s an opening for another starting corner opposite Deandre Baker, and Webb is right in the mix. He already has the length, speed and ball skills you dream of from a defensive back. All Webb needs is some seasoning and he could be the total package.
  • Jonathan Ledbetter, DE — Ledbetter has been a fixture along Georgia’s defensive line during all three of his seasons in Athens, and that won’t change his senior year. He’ll start at defensive end just like he did a year ago. I included him because I figure he’s the best bet to step up as a leader on the defense. The departures of Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis and others has left the defense without any established leaders. As one of the few veterans of a young defense, and as a player who has done plenty of growing up over the last three years, it’s time for Ledbetter to step up and fill that void.
  • Marshall Long, P  — One of the most underrated additions of last offseason was the transfer of Cameron Nizialek from Columbia. During his one season at Georgia, Nizialek was about as good as you can ask a punter to be, finishing his lone season as one of the best punters in the SEC. Now the Bulldogs are back to square one and again looking for a punter. Long started some games as a freshman in 2016, splitting time with Brice Ramsey. In the fall, Jake Camarda, one of the top punter recruits in the country, will arrive on campus. If Long is going to prevent being beaten for the starting job for a second — and likely final — time, he’ll need to perform well and create some separation this spring.
  • Riley Ridley, WR— Ridley is one of the most enigmatic players on the roster. He showed plenty of flashes of brilliance during his freshman season, and many, me included, had him tabbed to step forward as one of the top receivers on the team in 2017. Instead, he regressed, with only 8 catches and 156 yards through the first 14 games of the season. But in the National Championship Game, against Alabama and his brother, Tide receiver Calvin Ridley, Riley once again flashed that star quality, with 6 receptions for 82 yards. Now comes a crossroads: Will Ridley become one of Jake Fromm’s top targets, as he was against Alabama, or get lost in the shuffle once again?
  • Justin Fields, QB — You knew we couldn’t get out of here without talking about Fields. Just as Fromm vs. Jacob Eason was the story of last spring, Fromm vs. Fields will be the story of this one. There is an added wrinkle, though. Both Fromm and Eason are drop-back passers who don’t run outside some improvisation or the odd read-option. Fields was born to run. He’s a truly gifted athlete who brings something different to the team than Fromm. There’s a reasonable chance we could see some form of a two-QB system next season, with Fields used the same way Tim Tebow was used in his freshman year at Florida. But we won’t know how reasonable that chance is until we find out whether or not Fields is a ready-made SEC quarterback.

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UGA women’s hoops season ends in Round 2 of NCAA Tournament

Spring practice could not have come at a better time because Georgia’s basketball season is over.

The Lady Dogs fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 66-40 loss to fifth-seeded Duke Monday night in Athens. It was an inexplicably off night for the Lady Dogs. A disastrous second quarter put Georgia in a hole it couldn’t climb out of, and Duke was basically able to run the clock out in the second half to advance to the Sweet 16.

Although the end was inglorious, it was a fantastic season for Georgia. Joni Taylor had some growing pains in her first two seasons as coach, but she seems to have the Bulldogs moving in the right direction, back toward national prominence. Next season, the Lady Dogs should be just as good. They’ll lose senior Mackenzie Engram, the leading scorer this season, but that’s about it. They’ll come into next season a year wiser and with NCAA Tournament experience under their belts. Expect them to be hosting first- and second-round games again next March.

Spring practice storylines

Seth Emerson of DawgNation ran down some of the biggest questions facing Georgia football as spring practice begins. Make sure you read what Emerson has to say about each, but these are the questions you should keep in mind throughout the spring.

  • Is the Fromm vs. Fields QB competition for real or just hype?
  • Where does Georgia turn to replace Nick Chubb and Sony Michel?
  • Who will start along the offensive line?
  • How does Georgia replace all the talent lost on defense?
  • What role do the new assistant coaches take on?

Odds and ends

With spring practice, there’s plenty to read about regarding UGA football. Here are some posts from DawgNation you may have missed on Monday.

Dawgs on Twitter

Good dog

You will never be as chill as these two.

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