ATHENS, Ga. — Stars are colliding on the Georgia football team at each position, quite literally, and it will be up to Kirby Smart and his staff to sort things out appropriately.
The best will play, but only after Smart ensures players have been provided the opportunity to showcase their talents, and his assistant coaches have weighed in.
In just two seasons, Smart has proven he can put together a staff capable of recruiting the best players in the nation as well as producing scouring reports and game plans on a championship level.
Each season presents unique challenges to maintain team chemistry and maximize talent on the field and in the coaching room.
Here are three of the biggest challenges facing the No 4-ranked Georgia football entering fall camp:
1. Quarterback management
Jake Fromm has proven himself the team leader, earning FWAA Freshman All-American status by quarterbacking Georgia football to an SEC Championship and College Football Playoff title game appearance.
Incoming freshman Justin Fields, however, has the sort of talent that demands a plan for playing time. This is especially true with the new rule that allows for freshmen to play in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
Smart will ultimately make the call on how Fields is used after receiving heavy input from offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and quarterbacks coach James Coley.
There are several options, but the decision will come down to what puts the team in the best position to win from week to week.
It could be a red zone package, somewhat similar to how Florida once managed Tim Tebow when the Gators had veteran Chris Leak.
Or, perhaps Georgia will script which series Fields will play before each game, regardless of circumstance, so both quarterbacks will have the comfort of knowing what to expect.
But maybe Fromm is still that much better, and he’ll continue to get all of the main snaps with Fields getting experience where opportunities present themselves.
The coaches have the month of August to figure out the plan for the opener, and all options will likely remain on the table from week to week.
2. Replacing Roquan Smith
Georgia doesn’t appear to have one player that can fill Smith’s shoes at inside linebacker.
At the very least, it will take a collective effort for the defense to step up and replace last season’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bulldogs run defense was at times suspect against elite competition. Auburn rushed for 237 yards in its 40-17 win. Oklahoma gashed Georgia for 242 yards in the Rose Bowl.
One coach with direct knowledge of the Bulldogs’ personnel said Georgia sophomore Monty Rice — despite his cheerful and willing disposition — isn’t close to being in Smith’s league from a talent standpoint.
Senior Natrez Patrick has talent, but has yet to prove himself reliable from a compliance standpoint, as Smart has left his status with the team somewhat murky.
As much as Georgia football will be challenged to replace Smith’s on-field presence, his leadership in the locker room also leaves a huge void.
3. The offensive staff room
Smart promoted ace recruiter James Coley from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator to prevent Jimbo Fisher from hiring him at Texas A&M. A notable raise from $450,000 to $850,000 accompanied the move.
Smart pointed out at the time that Coley has coordinator experience and has worked with quarterbacks before at Miami (Fla.), and he did a good job coaching up the Bulldogs receivers last season.
The potential wrinkle is how or whether it will affect staff chemistry and the balance in the offensive meeting room.
Chaney is among the best play callers in the nation, but the fact he’s at his fourth school in seven years leaves room for speculation.
The hypersensitive nature of the quarterback position, and how it’s managed, also places a premium on how Chaney’s offensive system and play calling fits with Coley’s leadership in the quarterbacks room.
Chaney moves from coaching quarterbacks to tight ends, but it’s likely he could still be spending plenty of time around Fromm and Fields.
The tight end position involves a great deal of interaction and coordination in both run and pass game, and quarterbacks and tight ends have been known to share meeting rooms before because of that.
Further, Georgia’s tight end personnel dictates more involvement and production from the position than last season.