ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs turn their attention to the football field after a busy offseason of getting bigger, faster, stronger and team building.
The infrastructure of what the 2021 Georgia football team will look like is in place, with leaders emerging and a distinct tone settling into the locker room.
There are new voices and new phrases, but the same goals are in place since Smart led the program to the SEC Championship in only his second season as head coach — as former DC Mel Tucker once said, “way ahead of schedule.”
Smart enters his sixth season having built a championship-level culture, the Bulldogs riding a wave of four straight Top 10 finishes, seemingly on the verge each season.
The next season will feature a different dynamic in the sense that the Georgia offense is expected to be ahead of the UGA defense, though one can be sure the defensive players are feeding off that notion every day.
It’s a matter of experience, and it’s also a matter of offensive coordinator Todd Monken entering his second season, where his concepts, terminology and plays will be that much more familiar to the players.
Monken, too, will have a much better understanding of what he has to work with. Not having a spring football session last season hurt the teams with new coordinators more than others, because of the importance of continuity and understanding in an effective scheme.
Here are three questions Georgia must answer in spring drills, which conclude on April 17 with the annual G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium.
1. Secondary depth
The Bulldogs have a great deal of talent in the secondary, but not necessarily a great deal of experience.
Safety Lewis Cine brings a veteran presence and will be counted on for more leadership, while the cornerbacks must grow quickly to be ready for the test that awaits them Sept. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., against Clemson.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has developed a great deal of talent in the secondary, with departing juniors Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell serving as two great examples, as well as Richard LeCounte, Mark Webb and DJ Daniel.
But Smart and new second coach Jahmile Addae will need to press down on the accelerator to keep up with Monken’s offense this spring.
2. Who leads at Mike?
Middle linebacker Monty Rice leaves big shoes to fill. He served as a team leader, as well as establishing himself as one of the premier run defenders in the nation. Rice’s pass coverage skills were also under-appreciated.
Quay Walker and Channing Tindall would appear to be next up, but has either show enough to this point for Georgia fans to have great confidence? That’s not to say they can’t develop — they likely will.
But Rice was a reliable presence who could be counted on to make the right calls, adjustments and make the plays. Middle linebacker is one of the biggest question marks some aren’t talking enough about.
3. Offensive personality
There are different levels of offensive complexity, and having a quarterback like JT Daniels makes for a high ceiling.
Now, more than ever, it will be up to skill position coaches Cortez Hankton and Dell McGee to have their players assignment sound and manage the talent and the rotations effectively with the right players in the game to make the right plays at the right time.
Georgia has several backs and receivers with special talents, some better equipped to run certain plays than others, as McGee expertly showed by inserting Kenny McIntosh in the game for the 2-minute drive against Cincinnati.
This Bulldogs offense will be explosive and will put enough talent on the field for Monken and Daniels to identify and exploit the opposing defense’s weaknesses. One of the great concepts within the Air Raid is how receivers and backs attack open space.