ATHENS — The biggest holes in the Georgia lineup in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl look to be at cornerback and middle linebacker.
Smart also confirmed reports that offensive line team captain Ben Cleveland, along with tight end Tre’ McKitty, will also not take part in the game for the No. 9-ranked Bulldogs against No. 8 Cincinnati next Friday at noon in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
When asked how Georgia hoped to replace the production of those three-year starters with back-up players, Smart replied, “Well, I mean they’ve got scholarships, right?”
The Bulldogs do have a great deal of talent and depth after Smart’s stellar recruiting efforts the past few years.
Besides, Smart pointed out, Rice has seen limited snaps since the Alabama game in October, anyway.
“Like, Monty has not been in every play of the year, he’s had to rotate quite a bit this year,” Smart said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Quay (Walker) and Nakobe (Dean) have played a large amount.
“Probably, there’s two or three games Monty just went in to spell them because he was doing all he could to help the team and wasn’t able to go full speed.”
Smart said reserve linebackers Channing Tindall, Rian Davis and Nate McBride have also gotten more opportunities and will continue to get more snaps.
The cornerback position appears more pressing, particularly since Smart didn’t mention former starter DJ Daniel as an option to backup Stokes.
There have been several reports Daniel will not play, but Smart did not address that on his call on Saturday.
“We’ve had other guys have to go in and play corner,” Smart said. “Ameer Speed has played some corner. Jalen Kimber, (and) Daran Branch has grown up and started to play more, (and) those guys have got to step up and be able to play in Stokes’ shoes.”
The Georgia offensive line will shuffle without Cleveland, the Bulldogs’ top run blocker, opting out to allow a previously undisclosed shoulder injury time to heal.
Smart did not share how the line might change with Cleveland out, but Warren Ericson’s ability to play guard or center helps tremendously as UGA looks to get its five best on the field.
Freshman Sedrick Van Pran would be one option at center, and redshirt freshman Clay Webb saw action at offensive guard in wins over South Carolina and Missouri should Ericson continue to handle the snaps.
Smart confirmed reports that tight end Tre’ McKitty was opting out of the bowl game, too, sharing that the Florida State graduate transfer has been plagued by the knee injury he suffered in the preseason.
Georgia has freshman Darnell Washington and redshirt sophomore John FitzPatrick experienced in the tight end rotation.
Smart shared his concerns about the team’s pending Covid-19 tests after many of the Bulldogs’ players returned to their homes for a three-day break over the holiday.
Positive tests or players sidelined by contact tracing could indeed play a vital role in the contest.
“If it’s the wrong position from a depth standpoint,” Smart said, “it could really attack your team.”