Where things stand with Malaki Starks, Darris Smith and other Georgia football freshmen as fall camp rolls on
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Georgia football freshman update
There’s always an extra bit of fascination with freshmen this time of year. They’re practicing at the college level for the first time and people want to know how they’re adapting to the higher level of competition. Are the 5-star prospects living up to the hype? Which players are impressing early and how might they figure into Georgia’s plans for the upcoming season?
The Bulldogs have had 10 practices to this point of the fall, giving us some idea of how players are adapting. Add in that Georgia had 18 members of the 2022 signing class going through practice during the spring, this isn’t exactly the greenest group when it comes to freshman classes.
To this point, Dillon Bell has established himself as the top dawg. Part of that is because of the position he plays, as Smart has mentioned that skill players often have an easier time seeing the field as freshmen. He’s also impressed consistently in practice, made all the more impressive by the fact he wasn’t with the team in the spring.
“Dilllon (Bell) made some plays today,” Smart said. “If you count, 40 to 35 percent of our team are freshmen. I thought Dillon Bell stepped up and made some plays. I thought Oscar (Delp) made some plays at tight end. We have him as a receiving weapon. Those guys continue to do a good job.”
Related: Kirby Smart challenges Dillon Bell to emerge as next productive Georgia football freshman receiver
Bell isn’t the only freshman worth touching on to this point. Below are several other updates on the many talented members in the 2022 signing class for the Bulldogs.
The latest on Malaki Starks
Perhaps no one arrived with bigger immediate expectations than Starks. Georgia has a pretty big hole at the safety spot and Starks arrives as the second-highest rated prospect in the class.
He went through spring drills, pairing with fellow freshman JaCorey Thomas on the second team defense.
The important thing to remember with Starks is that while it would be a benefit if he were ready to start by the Oregon game, that might be an unrealistic expectation. The development path he is more likely to follow is that of Lewis Cine.
When he was a freshman, Cine started the final two games of the season, as he improved every week for the Bulldogs over the course of the 2019 season.
“Malaki is doing a good job. As are our freshmen DBs. I think our freshmen DBs are going to be good football players,” Smart said. “That does not mean that I am saying they are going to go out there and start. It is just one of those things that those guys are going to grow into those positions. Now I think your freshmen are your backups because you don’t have the depth. It really shouldn’t be where they are your 2s, but most of our guys are 2s and in most cases 1s. Malaki having the spring has helped him. He and JaCorey (Thomas) have both come along really well.”
Starks played a number of positions on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball while playing for Jefferson High School in Jefferson, Ga. The Bulldogs are asking a lot of him as he pushes Dan Jackson to start alongside Chris Smith. Starks is going to make some mistakes in practice.
The hope is that those freshman mistakes help him grow into a contributor for the Bulldogs. At a recent practice, Starks made the incorrect read that allowed Arik Gilbert to create separation. After the rep, Smart took Starks aside to walk him through what happened and how to improve from said mistake. Smart wouldn’t have done that if it weren’t important for the development of Starks.
Smart will be the first to tell you that those type of plays are exactly what the camp setting is for. Making mistakes and growing so those type of things don’t happen on Saturdays.
The freshman running backs
With the hamstring injury to Kendall Milton, a bigger spotlight has been put on Branson Robinson and Andrew Paul. The two running backs have earned solid praise so far to start camp, with both having the necessary physical skills to be running backs in the SEC.
Related: Even Dell McGee sees the Branson Robinson-Nick Chubb similarities for Georgia football running back
But it isn’t just about running between the tackles for these two running backs. Smart wants to see them excel in all the areas beyond just carrying the football.
“These two young guys are different,” Smart said on Saturday. “They’re a little heavier, thicker, run behind their pads and they probably don’t show up best until days like today, because they’re a little harder to tackle. You don’t see that in practice every day. I thought both those guys [Andrew Jones and Branson Robinson] had good scrimmages. Not great, they’re not where they need to be, not where they need to be in pass-pro, but they are hard to tackle and they’re thick. I’m very pleased with where they are.”
It wasn’t all positive from Smart though. Both Robinson and Paul didn’t arrive until the summer, missing valuable reps during spring practice. That means the duo is playing catch up when it comes to playing special teams and working on their pass protection abilities.