ATHENS — Georgia’s football team and Kirby Smart are about to experience a serious ratcheting up of expectations. When you return almost every starter on defense, have a talented quarterback entering his second year, and also bring back Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, you tend to get picked to win the SEC East.
But it’s not that the Bulldogs don’t also have plenty of things to iron out. That process continues in earnest on Tuesday, when spring practice begins.
Smart and a few players will address the media at noon ET, and then hit the fields later that afternoon, beginning five weeks of practices (three times a week) that culminate with G-Day on April 22.
Here are the biggest questions that Smart and his team hope to answer, or at least begin to answer, over the next five weeks:
- The makeup of the offensive line. With three starters gone from what was a weak point anyway, but highly-rated recruits on the way, it’s really anyone’s guess how the front five will look. If the left-to-right looks like this at Tuesday’s first practice — Isaiah Wynn, Dyshon Sims, Lamont Gaillard, Solomon Kindley, Pat Allen — then it could look very different by the end of spring practice. Or even by next week.
- Jake Fromm’s readiness to play. It’s not that the freshman quarterback will really push Jacob Eason for the starting job. It’s just that with Brice Ramsey officially transferring, Georgia is down to two scholarship quarterbacks, and Fromm has to be prepared to play if the call comes.
- Wide receivers. It wasn’t a deep group last year and the best one, Isaiah McKenzie, has taken his speed to the next level. Terry Godwin, Javon Wims and Riley Ridley are back, giving the team some potential breakout players. Who else can help? Keep an eye on another early enrollee, Jeremiah Holloman.
- Special teams. The spring isn’t usually a time for the special teams unit to practice much, but the key spots will be closely watched. Place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is back after a strong redshirt freshman season, but has all the drama about his scholarship had an impact? Punter Marshall Long will sit out the spring with his broken kneecap, so does that provide transfer Cameron Nizialek an opening? And both the punt and kickoff return spots have to be filled, with Mecole Hardman a favorite for the latter, but punt return seemingly wide open.
- Nickel back. This is the only starting spot right now on defense that’s been vacated, with Maurice Smith training for the NFL while taking gerontology and bio statistics graduate classes. Smart and defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mel Tucker have had several months to think this over, so who they put there to begin spring practice looms large. Two more early enrollees, Richard LeCounte and DeAngelo Gibbs, could be candidates, or the team could move Aaron Davis down from safety, or move a cornerback (Malkom Parrish, Tyrique McGhee, Hardman) over there.
Plenty of other questions remain, but those are the five biggest as of now. A good bet: Others will emerge.