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The 5 Georgia football players who could benefit the most from a strong start to fall camp
The Georgia football team begins fall practice on Friday. For a handful of players — Jake Fromm, J.R. Reed and Andrew Thomas — their roles are largely secure. But for a majority of position groups, a pecking order is far from set. And when there is as much talent as there is on this Georgia team, there are a number of players who can vie for serious playing time.
So below, we’ve selected five Georgia players who could really benefit from getting off to a strong start to fall practice:
Dominick Blaylock, freshman wide receiver: Blaylock isn’t the only freshman who will try and force his way into the lineup. He might not even be the only freshman wide receiver who could do so, as George Pickens is another candidate worth mentioning.
But the reason we’re going with Blaylock is due to the fact that he can also make an impact on special teams, as a possible return man. He’ll likely be competing with Demetris Robertson and Kearis Jackson for reps as the slot receiver in James Coley’s offense.
But earlier this spring Kirby Smart made it clear that Blaylock won’t be limited to the slot position.
“We think Dom can play all three spots, slot and both outside,” Smart said. “He’s very bright and intelligent. He picks up things well. We think he’s going to help in the return game, too. But it’s not like we’re sitting there going, ‘He’s a slot receiver.’ We think he can play all of them.”
With Georgia losing its top five pass catchers from 2018 team, the Bulldogs are going to need some new faces to produce. And if Blaylock can live up to his lofty recruiting ranking, he’s got a chance to do just that.
Ben Cleveland, junior guard: Much like wide receiver, there were a number of options you could’ve gone with at guard. Cade Mays and Jamaree Salyer will both be pushing for playing time this year. Mays had a strong freshman campaign before it was derailed by a late-season injury. Salyer made serious strides in spring practice while talking reps at the right guard and right tackle spots.
2018 was pretty much a lost season for Cleveland after he went down with a left fibula injury in the Missouri game. While he was able to come back later in the season, the leg injury kept him from returning to his starting spot he occupied to open the season.
Cleveland was able to start with the first-team offensive line in the G-Day scrimmage. If he can practice like he played to end Georgia’s 2017 season, there’s a real chance he can cement his spot in the starting lineup.
Zamir White, redshirt freshman running back: There probably won’t be a more asked about player this fall than White. We’ve already written at length about where things stand with White and his recovery.
“He’s on schedule, (and) we’re excited about where he is,” Smart said at SEC Media Days. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I’m thrilled about how hard he works and the things he’s able to do. Our expectation is that he competes every day and earns some playing time.”
When Smart meets with the media on Friday, one of the first questions he will likely be asked is what kind of plan the coaching staff has for the redshirt freshman running back.
If and when White gets cleared for full contact, it will be very interesting to see what kind of workload he’ll take on. Georgia has a number of other options it can turn to in D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook. White is going to have to earn his reps while Georgia is also careful with how much they push White after having two different knee injuries.
— Zamir White (@zeus1_34) July 11, 2019
If White shows that he’s ready for contact and isn’t hesitant this fall, it should be a very good sign for what he’s capable of during the 2019 season.
Brenton Cox, sophomore outside linebacker: Like the wide receiver room, there’s a lot of unproven options in the outside linebacker room. Sure there’s talent, with the likes Nolan Smith, Adam Anderson and Cox all coming into Georgia with a 5-star rating in the past two signing classes. But none of the players in the room have approached the kind of production that D’Andre Walker gave Georgia a season ago.
The reason we picked Cox is because based on spring practice, it looked like he had been jumped on the depth chart by the likes of Smith, Jermaine Johnson and Azeez Ojulari. Factor in his off-field arrest, and it was not a standout spring for the sophomore from Stockbridge, Ga.
When Walker left the Alabama game a season ago, Cox was the player who stepped into the game and replaced him. While he wasn’t able to help Georgia get the win that day, it was still a sign the coaching staff trusted Cox to be on the field in a pivotal role. If the sophomore can put this past spring behind him and practice well this fall, he’s going to have a great shot a getting back into that role.
Richard LeCounte, junior safety: LeCounte figures to be one of the more vocal leaders on the defense this fall, so his inclusion on this list might seem strange. But given his tackling struggles a season ago, some might want to see sophomore Otis Reese — a more-sure tackler — step in opposite Reed.
Smart has never hesitated when speaking about LeCounte, and to the junior’s credit, he’s spoken at length about what he needs to get better at.
“I just wanted to keep on a little bulk and be a little more physical at the point of attack in tackling,” LeCounte said this spring. “I’m going back to my fundamentals on basic tackling. I’m just trying to be able to help the team and that’s the main reason I did. And I definitely feel better and more confident in my strength. That was the problem I had last year.”
Coverage skills aren’t an issue for the junior safety. If he’s able to show he’s improved as a tackler this August, then it should put to rest any concerns about him possibly losing his starting spot from the 2018 season.
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- Georgia football podcast: Former UGA RB using ‘chip’ on shoulder to impress new NFL team
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- Georgia football podcast: Recruits celebrate 5-star RB Kendall Milton’s UGA commitment
- WATCH: Kendall Milton releases his commitment video, with a cameo from Todd Gurley
- College football is becoming a Superteam sport and Georgia is trying to keep up
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