ATHENS — Georgia football is filled with players who have been the center of focus throughout much of their careers, and all of them will have hometowns and family members zeroed in on their numbers Saturday night.
Most fans, however, follow the ball. Thus, the quarterback and the skill position players — running backs, receivers and tight ends — get most of the focus.
Defensive players who sack the quarterback or intercept passes also get rave reviews, again, because of their proximity to the football
But there’s an element of “assignment football” that coaches like Kirby Smart are geared toward.
It could be the receiver blocking downfield, the defender who sealed a gap forcing a run play to bounce outside, or the defensive back providing blanket coverage so the ball didn’t come his way.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs play Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in an intriguing season-opener, if only because it’s an SEC game rather than your typical non-conference “buy” game.
Smart said it makes for much less of a margin for error, which puts more pressure on third-year starting quarterback Jake Fromm.
It’s not Fromm that Smart is concerned about, rather, the receivers the UGA quarterback is throwing to, some of whom will be playing in their first game for the Bulldogs.
Or, in the case of the first of seven players to watch in Saturday’s game, a receiver looking for his first catch with Georgia.
7 Georgia players to watch
WR Demetris Robertson
Robertson was at the top of the list last year, too, but the former FWAA Freshman All-American who began his career at Cal never came to fruition in 2018.
By all accounts, Robertson had a strong spring football session, but an illness forced him to miss the G-Day Game. Fans are ready to see what all the 5-star fuss was all about, along with the value of one year of development.
“Last year he had a plethora of guys; he had three draft picks in front of him,” Smart said. “And he was coming in not knowing an offense. Now, he’s got three draft picks removed, and he’s the guy that’s out there playing the slot, catching the balls … “
WR George Pickens
Sticking with the receiver theme, Pickens appears to have the highest upside of all of the receivers on the roster, and maybe the SEC.
That’s a bold statement, but Pickens is a bold talent. It would seem only a matter of time before Pickens — compared to all-time UGA Great A.J. Green by Fromm and safety Richard LeCounte — rises to the top of the pack.
RB Zamir White
Smart said it best, “when you see a guy going through what he has been through, who isn’t pulling for Zamir White?”
White looked good in the hitting drill videos the Georgia released, and Smart confirmed No. 3 will at least be on special teams. But the real interest will come when he’s in the backfield and gets his first handoff. The play could go for 3 yards, or 30 yards, and the decimal level from the Bulldogs’ fans will be the same.
Everyone is ready to cheer White for his hard-earned, long-awaited return to game action.
RB James Cook
The “other” 5-star running back in the 2018 signing class, Cook has had a strong offseason physically and mentally, and is ready to make a dynamic impact.
Safety J.R. Reed said Cook has been “hard to touch” in scrimmages and drill work, something Vanderbilt already knows after Cook had what would have been a 78-yard TD reduced to 22 yards because he barely stepped out of bounds.
“We’ve had a lot of packages with him involved last year and some games we didn’t need it, and some games, we did, and he wasn’t able to execute it, but that’s not where he’s at now,” Smart said. “James has bulked up a little bit, he’s gotten a little bigger, he’s very intelligent he’s a guy we’ve got to find ways to get him the ball.
“He’s got to become a more dominant special teams player. He’s electric.”
OLB Nolan Smith
Yes, he may not even start, and there are four or five other players who will be rotating at Smith’s outside linebacker position.
But there has been so much talk about Smith’s pass-rushing skills and incredible bursts in pursuit that it figures to be worth noting when No. 4 is in the game on defense.
Oh, and Smith was the No. 1 overall ranked recruit in the 2019 signing class.
MLB Monty Rice
Sticking with the linebacker theme, there’s a reason Smart has invested so much time and trust into No. 32 on defense, and the guess here is fans will see that in Nashville.
Rice was playing A-plus football last November before suffering a foot injury during warm-ups before the UMass game.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that if Rice was healthy, the Bulldogs would have beaten Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Rice’s impact on the defense is that great.
QB Jake Fromm
C’mon, did you really think we could do a list of players to watch and not mention the third-year starting quarterback?
Fromm says he has worked to improve his release and move quicker in the pocket and on the run. No doubt, Fromm’s ability to extend plays and pick up yardage with his feet has room for improvement.
But the Fromm watch will go beyond his pinpoint throws and improved mobility. It will also be worth watching how he interacts and works with the new receiving corps.
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