What we learned about Georgia football before start of college football season
Saturday is the final day of practice before the Bulldogs first game week of the season against Vanderbilt. We’ve compiled our notes from interviews and discussions we’ve had about the Georgia football program this past week
What we learned about Georgia football during its final week of fall camp
Quarterback: The name to know this week is Nathan Priestly. He’s a walk-on quarterback who comes to Georgia all the way from Los Angeles. You might not know too much about him, given his walk-on status, but Kirby Smart raved about him following the second Georgia scrimmage.
“I’m telling you guys, he’s a good player,” Smart said. “When you watch him take his reps with the (third team), the way he functions and manages the offense, we’re lucky to have him.”
The reason he is working with the third team is that freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis has still not been cleared for contact following his brain surgery in May. That means that Priestly will likely make the 70-man travel roster for the Vanderbilt game. In the past, Georgia has carried three quarterbacks on the travel roster.
Running back: James Cook might be the most over-qualified fourth-string running back in the country.
Cook was ranked as the No. 41 overall prospect in the 2018 class. But it seems like he’s stuck behind the likes of D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and Zamir White.
But Smart assured reporters this week that Cook — who is noticeably bigger than he was a season ago — has had a very strong preseason camp and made significant strides from his freshman season.
“Much more consistent with his pass pro,” Smart said of Cook. “Much more consistent with his ability to break tackles and make runs. Last year he was just kind of feeling his way through. He didn’t understand motions and shifts and all the different things.
“Now, he’s much more consistent and he’s had an opportunity to show that. I feel like James has had a really good camp.”
Even with all the talent in front of him, Cook will still have a role to play within the Georgia offense this year, as well as a possible punt and/or kick returner. Given that it seems like Georgia will be managing the workload of Swift, Cook could get some extra work as a third-down back as well.
Wide receiver: We learned this week of one starter in the wide receiver corps. And it isn’t one of the former 5-star prospects in the room. Smart declared that senior Tyler Simmons will be a starter when the Bulldogs take on Vanderbilt.
“Tyler Simmons is a starter for us, assuming he’s healthy and ready to go, but outside of him there’s battles at every one of those positions: the slot, the receiver opposite him, the two-deep at receiver. It’s everyday,” Smart said. “Guys rotate positions and play all kinds of positions.
“Tyler’s probably a little bit ahead of the other guys just in terms of experience, but outside of that, it’s wide open.”
Simmons is Georgia’s leading returning receiver, though he had just 9 receptions a season ago. The senior wide receiver has long been praised for his blocking ability as well as straight-line speed.
Tight ends: Not much talk about the tight ends this week. Expect the Bulldogs to bring four tight ends with them to Vanderbilt. Charlie Woerner, John Fitzpatrick and Eli Wolf are locks to make the trip. Look for Brett Seither to be the fourth tight end, given that fellow freshman Ryland Goede is playing with a club on his hand.
Offensive line: One of the big takeaways from practice this week was that offensive lineman Cade Mays repped with the first team at right guard in every practice the media was allowed to watch.
It could mean something, it might also indicate nothing, as Ben Cleveland could just as easily start in the opener against Vanderbilt. Mays will function as the sixth offensive lineman, meaning if another member of the line gets hurt, Mays would slide into their spot and Cleveland would move to right guard if Mays wins the starting job.
Mays spoke to reporters this week and added he is perfectly comfortable moving around the offensive line.
“I like being that useful, if anything happens, I’m the guy that can be plugged in,” Mays said. “It has helped knowing the center spot and learning the offense and what everyone is doing.
“I think it’s helped me pick my game up and elevated it to a new level.”
Defensive line: David Marshall met with reporters on Friday night and gave some pretty telling details about his injury last season as well as his status for the opener against Vanderbilt.
Marshall had Lisfranc surgery on his foot following the Vanderbilt game in 2018. The surgery ended up keeping him out for the remainder of the season.
As for this upcoming Vanderbilt game, Marshall still seemed unsure if he was going to be able to play for the Bulldogs.
“Hey, we’ll see. I’m working on it now. Practice makes perfect so we’ll see next Saturday,” Marshall said.
Outside linebackers: We wrote an in-depth story on junior outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson on Thursday.
When speaking with Smart, he explained that Johnson had made some improvement from the team’s first scrimmage to its second. But also detailed that Johnson has been hobbled by an ankle injury. This comes after he arrived at Georgia with a foot injury and had an ankle injury in the spring.
Smart also gave an update on where Johnson stands on the crowded Georgia outside linebacker depth chart.
“He’s fighting for opportunities to get reps,” Smart said of Johnson. “He’s fighting with Azeez, Walter, Nolan, Robert. I mean there’s some dudes competing over there. And Adam.”
Inside linebackers: With all the talk about Nakobe Dean this fall, it might seem like 2018 signees Quay Walker and Channing Tindall have been lost in the shuffle.
The reality is that they haven’t. Smart said Tindall will be one of Georgia’s top special teams players this year as well as a third-down linebacker.
Smart was much more effusive of Walker this week as well, praising the progress the sophomore has made.
“Quay has improved immensely. He’s in competition to play or start,” Smart said. “He’s very instinctive. He’s a good blitzer. Quay has improved a lot from last year.”
Defensive backs: For a majority of the time this year, Georgia will play with five defensive backs on the field. They’ll have two corners, two safeties and a STAR, which is essentially a hybrid between a corner and a safety.
The main guys in competition for this fifth defensive back are junior Mark Webb, redshirt freshman Divaad Wilson and junior William Poole.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go with the hot hand and sometimes you’ve got to go with the guy who had the best week of practice, but the good thing is, you can’t relax because the guy behind you is just as good as you and he’s trying to get a winning job too,” Smart said. Poole’s been in that mix too, but Mark and Divaad are a little bit bigger and a little bit more physical.
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