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We’re rolling along in our “Way-Too-Early Look at 2018” series, and this is a list of five potential breakout Bulldogs in 2018. Before we get into it, I should specify what I mean by breakout. I’m not talking about players who are already major contributors on the verge of making a name for themselves on a national stage, such as D’Andre Swift or Deandre Baker. I’m talking about players who saw limited playing time — or even sat out 2017 —who could turn into major contributors in 2018.
So let’s get into it.
- Riley Ridley, WR — Riley Ridley tallied 6 catches and 82 yards in the National Championship Game, but that accounted for more than a third of his production in both categories last season. If he can continue connecting with Jake Fromm next season the same way he did against Alabama, Ridley could become the top receiver on the team.
- Monty Rice, ILB — Monty Rice wasn’t expected to play much last season as a freshman, but after Natrez Patrick’s suspension at midseason, Rice was thrown into the mix and given a trial by fire. That experience will come in handy this season, when Rice will be one of the players charged with replacing Roquan Smith. If Patrick doesn’t return, Rice will be the top inside linebacker on the roster.
- Mark Webb, CB — Mark Webb was projected as a wide receiver coming out of high school, but coach Kirby Smart’s love of long corners and a lack of depth in the secondary led Webb to switch to cornerback midseason. Although he didn’t see much time as a defender in 2017, Webb did hit the field on special teams. Smart said he would revisit Webb’s position when the time was right and that the move to defense might not be permanent. If fellow DB Richard LeCounte is to be believed, Webb is a natural defender and could earn one of the many spots up for grabs in the secondary.
- Walter Grant, OLB — As a long, speedy outside linebacker wearing No. 84, it would be easy to think it’s Leonard Floyd out there flying around the Georgia defense, not Walter Grant. Grant still has a way to go before he gets to Floyd’s level, but he has all the physical gifts to do it. Grant will have the opportunity to prove himself this season in the open competition for the starting jobs left vacant by Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.
- Elijah Holyfield, RB — Between the top tailback spot likely going to Swift and all the hype surrounding incoming 5-stars Zamir White and James Cook, it’s easy to forget about the other talented RBs already on the roster. Elijah Holyfield would be the top running back for a lot of teams in college football. Ditto for Brian Herrien, whom I could have put in this slot as well. Holyfield snagged it by virtue of gaining more yards with a greater average yards per carry than Herrien in 2017.
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Shane Beamer heading to Oklahoma
There’s another opening on Georgia’s coaching staff. Tight ends and special teams coach Shane Beamer is leaving Georgia to join Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma staff as an assistant head coach. Here’s Seth Emerson of DawgNation with a few names who potentially could replace Beamer.
The timing is a little less than beneficial for Georgia coach Kirby Smart, at least when it comes to filling the special teams coordinator opening. Scott Fountain, who spent the 2017 season in an advisory role on special teams, already has left to become the special teams coordinator at Mississippi State. (Of course, if Smart really wants to bring Fountain back, that wouldn’t preclude him from offering him more money.)
As for the tight ends coaching title, there is another potential candidate on staff: Jay Johnson, the former Minnesota offensive coordinator who spent 2017 in an advisory role on Georgia’s staff. While Johnson’s background is as a quarterbacks coach, he could move over to coaching tight ends, if Smart wants to go that way.
John Lilly, who was Georgia’s tight ends coach under Mark Richt, also could be an option. He’s currently a coaching free agent, after spending 2016 with the Los Angeles Rams.
Another possibility is D.J. Looney, a Georgia graduate assistant in 2016 who worked with the offensive line. Looney was the tight ends coach at Mississippi State last season, then after a coaching change there, he left for Louisiana-Lafayette to become assistant offensive line coach.
Georgia women’s hoops is back
Don’t look now, but the Georgia women’s basketball team is tearing through the SEC. The Lady Dogs are 17-2 and 5-1 in the SEC, their only losses coming to a 15-3 Texas team and a 20-0 Mississippi State squad. Barring anything crazy happening, come March they’ll be competing for an SEC Tournament title and entering the NCAA Tournament with a high seed.
The Lady Dogs have all the parts to put together a nice run this year and over the next few seasons. They have fantastic senior leadership from Mackenzie Engram, and junior Caliya Robinson will take up that role next season.
The core of this team is young and talented. Engram and Robinson lead the team in scoring, but the next five leading scorers — Gabby Connally, Que Morrison, Taja Cole, Stephanie Paul and Maya Caldwell — are underclassmen. It took a few seasons of rebuilding, but it seems coach Joni Taylor finally has Georgia back on track to being one of the preeminent women’s basketball programs in the SEC, a position the Lady Dogs held for decades before taking a downturn in the final years of Andy Landers’ career and the beginning of Taylor’s. Landers retired in 2015.
Next up for the Lady Dogs is an important home SEC matchup with Missouri (17-2). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET Thursday at Stegeman Coliseum. If you have taken the last few seasons off from paying attention to Lady Dogs’ hoops, now is the time to hop back on the bandwagon.
On Monday, Jeff Sentell of DawgNation provided updates on Georgia’s standing with three major prospects.
Dawgs on Twitter
— Kevin Butler (@Therealbutthead) January 21, 2018
— Joni Taylor (@CoachJoniTaylor) January 22, 2018
.@UGABasketball is back in action Tuesday night vs. Arkansas.
— Georgia Bulldogs (@UGAAthletics) January 23, 2018
— Georgia Track&Field (@UGATrack) January 23, 2018
The only good Eagles fan.
This very good @Eagles fan is an excellent wide retriever.
14/10 would bring to Minneapolis.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 22, 2018
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