Georgia football preseason overview: THE football is back in Athens
ATHENS — Football is officially back at Georgia.
THE football, that is.
The Bulldogs can begin supervised workouts involving an actual football starting Sunday, as per the NCAA-approved six-week preparation schedule
It has been a unique offseason to be sure. But now Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his staff can take a step in the direction of “normal” these next two 20-hour practice weeks.
There’s still no hitting or live scrimmaging. But 6 of the 20 hours allowed can involve elements of the game actually be played.
There is obviously plenty that needs to be worked on at Georgia with the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out spring football drills.
The heavy lifting is on offense, where “development” will be the key word across the board.
The best news for the offense is that Georgia has an elite defense for it to work against.
This, to the extent that defense will need to stay vanilla for the offense to have any sort of success early on.
As much as new offensive coordinator Todd Monken and associate head coach Matt Luke need to find workable schemes, they’ll also need to stay busy with player development.
It starts up front, and Luke will have his work cut out replacing three NFL draft picks and 5-star transfer Cade Mays.
Continuity is a big part of offensive line success. So while Georgia has five players returning who have started at least one game on the offensive line, this hardly figures to be a well-oiled unit.
The quarterback room figures to get plenty of attention, as well it should.
Monken needs to learn what each quarterback can and cannot do while building his playbook.
Jamie Newman is the favorite to win the job, but it’s important to note Newman is not as polished as departing Jake Fromm, in terms of managing an offense.
Newman has compared himself to Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton and Steve McNair.
But Newman’s physical attributes last season were not on the same level of any of those all-time great quarterbacks.
There’s upside there for the Wake Forest graduate transfer, no doubt.
But it’s going to take plenty of work within the offense and in the weight room if Newman is to play up to the Heisman Trophy candidate level some have projected.
USC transfer JT Daniels is coming off a knee injury and doesn’t possess the same sort of play-making ability as Newman, in terms of extending plays and making yards with his feet.
But Daniels is a well-groomed quarterback with enough skills to be considered an option at some point this season.
D’Wan Mathis and Carson Beck are both future starting FBS quarterback talents. But there’s some mystery as to how their collegiate football futures play out in the suddenly crowded UGA quarterback room.
Assistant Dell McGee has work in the running backs room, too. Who can be counted on to do what with consistency?
Running back is such a physical position, it will be interesting to see who had the best offseason and is most game ready. UGA will platoon at the position, but the touch hierarchy is up for grabs.
There’s still only one ball.
Receivers are another position of development. Assistant Cortez Hankton will need to show he can develop and manage players.
Yes, George Pickens was a handful at times last season — for his coaches as well as opposing defenses.
Pickens must take it upon himself to grow in some areas, as his personal development will go a long way toward the team’s championship hopes.
The overall performance in the receivers group last season was not up to par from week to week.
To be fair, there were a lot of injuries and plenty of newness in 2019. But the level of talent in the room dictates results this season.
The better side
Defensively, coordinator Dan Lanning has shown he can develop and utilize talent.
This unit appears poised to have success at a historic level. This is especially true when one takes into account how the disjointed offseason figures to affect offenses.
Much has been made about Georgia not getting enough sacks last season.
But the pressure and disruption level was more than adequate, particularly when one considers the Bulldogs No 1-ranked run defense.
UGA finally has championship talent and depth on the defensive line. The defensive line was the weak point in 2017 and 2018, but no more.
Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis, Malik Herring, Azeez Ojulari, Jermaine Johnson and Nolan Smith are NFL talents.
The linebacking unit needs to prove capable of making more plays — more forced fumbles, more interceptions.
Could Nakobe Dean be the answer? Monty Rice brings toughness and leadership to the group.
The secondary is gold, arguably the best in the country. Still,
there’s work to be done with defensive quarterback J.R. Reed moving on.
Special teams — Scott Cochran. Need anything else be said?
There may not be a more-scrutinized special teams unit than Georgia’s after Kirby Smart hired the former Alabama strength coach away from Nick Saban.
Saban didn’t feel Cochran a capable position coach. Smart is giving him a chance to prove otherwise.
The other big special teams question: Who and how will UGA replace fan-favorite Rodrigo Blankenship at kicker?
Time will tell.
The players have already invested time in self-organized 7-on-7 drills away from their voluntary supervised 8-hour workouts.
Some things have started to get sorted through.
But now that the coaches are present and watching, the players are on the clock and the film crew’s “eye in the sky” misses nothing.
The football is back in Athens.
Georgia football preseason