Georgia football: Good news, bad news offseason outlook in position groups
ATHENS — Georgia football is a work in progress, but some areas require more construction than others.
Kirby Smart and his staff planned ahead well, in terms of procuring key graduate transfers and utilizing the recruiting process to find impact players and restock need position groups with top prospects.
The final rank for the 2020 Class was No. 1. But Smart was more concerned with checking all the boxes.
More underclassmen are leaving Georgia, leaving gaps that need filling. Five of the departing underclassmen landed NFL combine invites.
Here’s a pre-spring good news/bad news look at each position group for Georgia, as Smart readies for what should be another run at the College Football Playoff:
Good news: Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman (6 foot 4, 230 pounds) brings a new dual-threat option to the offense. Incoming freshman Carson Beck is a capable competitor and D’Wan Mathis is optimistic he’ll be completely cleared in May.
Bad news: It’s essentially an overhaul at the position. There figures to be a lot of newness with coordinator Todd Monken and offensive line coach/associate head coach Matt Luke added to the staff.
Good news: Georgia scored well in recruiting with California blue-chip Kendall Milton (6-1, 227) and South Georgia back Daijun Edwards (5-10, 201). The Bulldogs have just about every type of back to choose from.
Bad news: D’Andre Swift was essentially “every type of back” rolled up into one and will be difficult to replace. None in the stable currently project to fill Swift’s shoes, it will take a committee effort.
Good news: Smart went deep addressing this position. Georgia landed five receivers and two incoming tight ends to ensure talent and depth at the position.
Bad news: The “newness” factor once again. The only one of the seven new pass catchers to early enroll is Justin Robinson, meaning a lot of the work and timing can’t get done until voluntary summer drills and fall camp.
Good news: Matt Luke proved a capable recruiter, securing elite offensive tackles Broderick Jones and Tate Ratledge, along with the nation’s No. 1 center, Sedrick Van Pran.
Bad news: It’s hard to imagine anyone filling Andrew Thomas’ shoes at left tackle, commonly referred to as the most important line position on either side of the football.
Good news: Malik Herring’s decision to return for his senior season and former starter Julian Rochester getting a redshirt means strong experience returning. Freshman Jalen Carter is good enough to make the rotation.
Bad news: If Georgia could put more pass rushers on the field at one time, it would. Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith, Jermaine Johnson, Adam Anderson and newcomer MJ Sherman are forces.
Good news: Middle linebacker Monty Rice heads into the offseason healthy and ready to improve himself and lead the others around him. The linebackers took a step forward last season. With Nakobe Dean a quick learner, the group figures to be even better in 2020.
Bad news: Teams went after Georgia’s linebackers in pass coverage, and the tackling wasn’t always the best in the open field. There’s room for improvement in both areas along with a need for more playmaking in the form of forced turnovers.
Good news: Richard LeCounte’s decision to return seemed to set the trend on defense, and the talented rising senior should emerge as a permanent captain. Lewis Cine showed he could fill J.R. Reed’s shoes in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia has four NFL talents at corner with the addition of Kelee Ringo.
Bad news. None.
Good news: Jake Camarda is back for his junior season. Most probably don’t know his 46.8 average last season is third highest among the returning punters in the nation. UGA has several fleet-footed incoming freshmen who could spice up the return game, which took a hit last season when Mecole Hardman moved on to the NFL.
Bad news: Rodrigo Blankenship is headed to the NFL, so Smart will have a new kicker for the first time in his tenure. Dominick Blaylock had earned Smart’s trust on punt returns, but he underwent knee surgery in January and the timeline for his return is uncertain.