georgia football-georgia podcast-uga-kirby smart-travon walker
Travon Walker could help Georgia find more of a pass rush from his defensive end position (Curtis Compton/AJC)

4 biggest Georgia football question marks entering fall practices

ATHENS — Georgia football practice starts this week with players likely ready to put what has been a grueling offseason of conditioning behind them.

There are two predominant approaches to evaluating a team entering a season: Finding reasons a team will win, or finding a reason a team will lose.

Fact is, every team enters fall camp with questions, some more pressing than others.

The Bulldogs, as deep and talented as they seem to be on paper, are no different.

Sheer metrics and returning starters can provide insight, but they are by no means the best gauge, as evidenced by a recent metrics’ analyst’s curious take on Georgia’s “biggest question mark.”

The PFF story suggested JT Daniels —based on metrics from the 2018 USC season and a UGA Peach Bowl team with three offensive linemen out of place — is Georgia’s biggest question mark entering the season.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has said the exact opposite more than once and compared Daniels to Joe Burrow and Mac Jones at the SEC Media Days.

“The two guys that were the last two years’ national champions, they were really good quarterbacks,” Smart said. “They were great decision-makers. They were actually better athletes than people give them credit for.

“The decision-making process, touchdown-to-interception ratio, protecting the ball, using your playmakers, which both had really good playmakers around them, JT has those skill sets.”

Smart has also said, “the rest of the guys around (Daniels), that’s the limitation on your offense.”

So if not Daniels, who and what are the biggest question marks on the team?

Kirby’s Answer: Pass rush

Smart is never content and certainly not complacent by his very nature, so there will always be an area of the team he’s looking to improve and it can and has shifted from one day to the next.

RELATED: Kirby Smart elaborates on most pressing Georgia football concern

But it was telling when Smart recently said the loss of pass rush extraordinaire Azeez Ojulari “is probably more impactful” than the team losing its top three cornerbacks from last season.

Outside linebacker Nolan Smith was rated the No. 1 overall recruit in the country in 2019, and defensive end Travon Walker was another 5-star rated in the Top 25 in that same class. For Georgia to be at its best, Walker and Smith will need to live up to their ratings.

Overanalyzed answer: Left tackle

Jamaree Salyer is a future NFL offensive lineman, but at guard, not left tackle where he played last season. The question is, has Matt Luke developed a better solution to the left tackle position than Salyer?

It’s Year Three for Xavier Truss, who started at left tackle in the Peach Bowl but was less than perfect. It’s Year Two for Broderick Jones who arrived with 5-star hype and Andrew Thomas comparisons but has yet to come to fruition. It’s Year One for Amarius Mims, who probably has more talent and upside than any of them.

The answer will play out in fall camp, and in Luke the Bulldogs will trust.

Obvious answer: Cornerback

A team loses six defensive backs and its top three cornerbacks, there are going to be questions. But the fact the head coach — who essentially oversees the secondary — is pointing to pass rush and not coverage is telling.

That’s a credit to the development of Jalen Kimber, Ameer Speed and Kelee Ringo, and the addition of Tykee Smith and Derion Kendrick.

But it’s also a reminder of how important the pass rush is to any secondary: The better the pass rush, the less time the defensive backs have to stay in coverage.

The shrewd answer: RB Rotation

Georgia dropped off on the offensive line, at running back and, for the first six games, at quarterback last season. That came as no surprise with two first-round linemen, a three-year starter at QB and D’Andre Swift exiting last season.

The Bulldogs have plenty of talent in the backfield this season, but it’s going to be tricky to manage after none of the running backs left for the pros or transferred out.

A five-man rotation is not realistic. That puts RB coach Dell McGee on the spot to have the right back in the game for the right situation — as well as being able to identify the “hot hand” when applicable.

Injuries played a large role in the rotation last season, but with everyone healthy entering fall camp, there’s going to be a dogfight. The pressure will be on to make sure the best player is in the game unless or until one is able to separate as the lead Bulldog back.