Georgia is expected to get an addition to its tight end room this week, as graduate transfer Tre’ McKitty is projected to make his season debut for the Bulldogs.
But the absence of McKitty through the first two games hasn’t been all that noticed. And that is in part due to another tight end who is in the midst of his first year in Athens, Ga., in freshman Darnell Washington.
The 5-star freshman has made a number of viral plays, stemming from his 26-yard receptions against Arkansas to a couple of devasting blocks that have made the rounds on social media.
“When you got out there, he’s definitely a matchup problem,” Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “Once he gets the hang of things, he’ll be 10-times better and he’ll definitely be able to help our offense.”
Washington will square off against a team that recruited him heavily in Tennessee this weekend. The Volunteers were a finalist for his services, to go along with Alabama and Miami.
But for all the impressive plays made so far, there are some things he could be doing better.
“Darnell has done a good job. He’s been kind of thrown in the fire,” Smart said. “I wish his conditioning was at a higher level. I wish he could sustain his high speed longer. He gets tired pretty quickly, but he is physical. He’s not afraid of contact, and he’s got great hands.”
Washington did have knee surgery upon his arrival to Georgia this summer. He’s also one of the biggest players on the team at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. It will once again be interesting to see how Washington gets used on Saturday, especially with McKitty in the mix.
Quarterback: Stetson Bennett IV pretty clearly took the reins of the starting quarterback job following his performance against Auburn.
So what does that mean for transfer quarterback JT Daniels? He was brought in from USC this summer and expected to be the starting quarterback following the departure of Jamie Newman. Daniels was cleared to play against Auburn but he did not take a snap in the game.
“I get to see him every day. I’ve seen him since he’s been here, he does a good job in practice and he’s practiced the whole time,” Smart said of Daniels. “He’s been no different than anyone else in terms of our quarterbacks because we haven’t gone live.”
With a huge contest looming against Alabama next week it will be worth watching to see if Daniels gets any reps or if Bennett continues to keep a stranglehold on the position.
Running back: Georgia was without running back James Cook for the second half against Auburn and will at best be a game-time decision for the game against Tennessee.
That means the Bulldogs will turn to some of their younger running backs to help Zamir White carry the load. The trio of Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards had no problem doing that against Auburn, as they carried the ball 19 times for 87 yards, nearly identical numbers to White’s 19 carry, 88-yard output against the Tigers.
McIntosh has turned heads on kickoff, as the shortest return he has to date so far was 38 yards. Milton meanwhile had a number of physical runs in the Auburn win and certainly looks capable of holding up against SEC competition.
Wide Receiver: We did get an update on perhaps Georgia’s fastest offensive skill player this week in Arian Smith. The freshman wide receiver had surgery on his meniscus which has slowed the start to his Georgia career.
Smart gave an update on where things stand with the freshman from Lakeland, Fla.
“He is working, training, he’s been rehabbing, running some on the alterG,” Smart said. “He’s still a little ways away, but that injury is not an easy one to come back from so I don’t know when Arian will be back officially. But, he is much closer now than he was originally, and he’s able to go out to practice and run some straight-line stuff right now.”
Related: Demetris Robertson discusses difficulties of transferring into Georgia football program
The Bulldogs though aren’t lacking at the wide receiver position, as they signed four other 2020 wide receivers. Of those four, two of them earned high praise from senior Demetris Robertson.
“Especially, Marcus (Rosemy-Jacksaint) and JermaineBurton, those guys have really stepped up,” Robertson said. “The ball skills that they have and the speed that they play with and the knowledge of the game that they have is tremendous.
“Georgia is going to have two great receivers for the next couple of years with those guys. They’re getting better every day in practice and you guys will see it eventually.”
Through the first two games, Burton has caught two passes for 27 yards while Rosemy-Jacksaint has two catches for 12 yards.
Offensive Line: The wide receivers weren’t the only position that loaded up on signees in the 2020 signing class. The Bulldogs brought in seven offensive linemen in the class, with the two highest-rated signees being Broderick Jones and Tate Ratledge.
Smart gave an update on those two and where things stand with them.
“Broderick [Jones] missed a lot of the minicamp time with a foot injury—really hurt him as far as getting caught up to speed and not getting to go during that learning phase,” Smart said. “Tate [Ratledge] has missed a little bit of time as well. I think if either one of them had not missed time they would be further along. I don’t know if they would be contributing right now. They’re going to be good players, and we are trying to catch them up as fast as we can.”
Smart added that the two are working heavily with the scout team, something former Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson did in his first year on campus. Wilson went on to become a two-year starter for the Bulldogs and then a first-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
As for the starters on Georgia’s offensive line, the Bulldogs went with Jamaree Salyer at left tackle, Justin Shaffer at left guard, Trey Hill at center, Ben Cleveland at right guard and Warren McClendon at right tackle.
Defensive line: We wrote a big feature on Georgia freshman Jalen Carter brings to this Georgia team, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Look for Carter to play a key part on Georgia’s defensive line on Saturday against Tennessee’s star-studded offensive line. This should be one of the top positional battles in college football this weekend.
Related: Why ‘freak’ Jalen Carter is ‘a threat for the next 3 or 4 years’ for UGA
Outside linebacker: Lost perhaps in the midst of Adam Anderson’s breakout game last week was fellow outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson.
The senior outside linebacker did not end up playing against the Tigers due to an injury. But Smart expects him to be back against Tennessee.
“He had a really good camp, put on some weight, has gotten better,” Smart said. “He was a little dinged up going into the last game and we were going to use him if we needed to, if we thought we really needed him. We feel good about him, and he’s working to get healthy.”
Johnson will play a role in matching up against Tennessee’s strong offensive line and limiting what the Volunteers offense can potentially do.
Inside linebacker: Much has been made of Tennessee’s offensive line this week. But Georgia’s defensive line might be able to play the Volunteers to a wash. That means it will be on the linebackers to make the plays and stop the likes of Eric Gray and Ty Chandler, Tennessee’s running backs.
The Volunteers rank second in rushing in the SEC through two games. Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean is looking forward to the challenge of slowing the strong rushing attack down.
“At Georgia, we pride ourselves on stopping the run,” Dean said. “There’s always excitement when we go against the team that runs the ball as much as they do.”
The Tennessee offense is drawn up by former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Given the history Georgia has with Chaney, there is a lot of respect for the Tennessee offensive coordinator.
“They have a good team. They’re really disciplined from what I’ve seen.” Dean said. They have a good team. I feel like if we just focus on just doing what we’ve been doing, practicing hard and everything and just focusing on them. ”
Related: Georgia football defensive line gets its ‘biggest test’ against talented Tennessee offensive line
Defensive back: For the second week in a row, a Georgia defensive back came up with his first career interception. Eric Stokes did it against Arkansas and Mark Webb came up with his against Auburn.
Webb intercepted a Bo Nix pass on the final play of the third quarter. It was the first interception Nix had thrown since Oct. 26 of 2019
“I was just doing my job,” Webb said of the interception. “During the week, coach Smart is always telling me to get to certain spots when I’m dropping into zone, and I got to my spot and I got rewarded.”
The Georgia defense has forced four turnovers through the first two games of the season and will be looking to force Jarrett Guarantano into some errant passes.
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