Kirby Smart’s Dawgs open spring practice March 17, with 14 practices set before the Red and Black teams face off in the annual G-Day game April 18.
Georgia returns a veteran and highly rated defense, but the Bulldogs will be fielding a mostly new offense in 2020.
That has fans wondering, as reflected in the first letter in the latest Junkyard Mail …
Bill, the offense was the weak link last season, and that was before we lost quite a bit of talent. What do you think the outlook is for the coming season, offensively, and what are your biggest concerns?
— Jerry Mapp
The loss of Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, Lawrence Cager, Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson, Solomon Kindley and Cade Mays, plus the arrival of new coordinator Todd Monken, does mean Georgia will have a new-look offense this season.
Most of the preseason discussion seems to be centering on the quarterback position, with national college football observers wondering how long it will take the likely starter at QB, Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman, to get up to speed. He, at least, has game-starting experience, and appears to be a dual threat; behind him is a lot of inexperience.
Others wonder about whether Zamir White will have to carry the load as the main running back, or whether the Dawgs will use more of the tailback-by-committee model, with James Cook as a co-starter and Kenny McIntosh and freshman Kendall Milton also figuring in the mix.
But, my own main worry about the offense is the line, where veterans Trey Hill and Ben Cleveland will be joined by Sugar Bowl starter Jamaree Salyer and some relatively new faces. Broderick Jones is considered the freshman most likely to crack the starting lineup, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Last year’s OL was much ballyhooed in the preseason as one of the nation’s best, but, frankly, it never lived up to its billing. Pass protection was good most of the time, but was inconsistent, and they never did run-block well, which impacted the Dawgs’ overall offensive success.
Bottom line: If Georgia’s offense is going to be more explosive and productive this season, the OL will have to be more consistent.
The next couple of letters concern special teams, where Scott Cochran, Alabama’s former strength and conditioning coach, will be making his debut as an on-field position coach. …
Bill, I believe that the thing everybody is missing is that Scott Cochran is the 10th coach. That was a new position last year. We don’t need a special teams coach. Cochran will get all the help he needs from the other 9 coaches (see Mark Richt). Steve’s job is to energize the entire team, which was Kirby’s reason for hiring him.
— Ed Keibler
What about special teams will be different from Scott Fountain?
— Carlisle Stanley
Really, Ed? You’re going to cite Richt’s handling of special teams as something to emulate? Have you forgotten what a disaster special teams were during some of his later seasons, and how one of the No. 1 complaints from fans back then was that Georgia needed a dedicated special teams coach?
As for how special teams might differ under Cochran, it’s too early to say, aside from the fact that we’ll no longer have Lou Groza Award winner Rodrigo Blankenship as a weapon. He was so reliable that the Dawgs sometimes were too quick to try for a field goal, in many fans’ estimation. With Hot Rod gone, we don’t yet know what we’ll have with the incoming Jared Zirkel at placekicker. Beyond that, the punting game and kick return game certainly have room for improvement.
Also, I would like to see someone dedicated to the kickers, possibly a former UGA kicker as a graduate assistant (as Kevin Butler was in Blankenship’s early days with the team).
As for Cochran, as Ed noted, he’ll have a lot of support, since special teams take players from all areas, and, while he’s never been an on-field coach, he does have experience coaching the special teams of Bama’s scout team.
Bill, being from the West Georgia area, I have heard from many Bama fanatics and most have the same opinion of Cochran, and that is, “if Saban wanted him he would still be there.” They say Bama’s rash of injuries have kept them from more titles. Good riddance. Like Bama, UGA has a rigorous strength and conditioning program and has Its share of injuries. Do you think this is just bad luck, overworked players, hard physical practices or battle scars from the SEC?
— Tony Tyson
Sounds like a bunch of sour grapes from Tide fans. Cochran did a great job there. And, I don’t think all the conditioning in the world can prevent most injuries. And, as I’ve noted before, Bama tended to dominate fourth quarters, because its players were in such great shape.
What number will QB Jamie Newman and other incoming freshmen wear this season?
— Coolcell From Columbus
I put that question to Leland Barrow, associate sports communications director at UGA, and he said they haven’t yet been given a list of new roster numbers, and he believes that will be issued closer to the beginning of spring practice.
Having watched the spring game last year, I noticed it seemed like Stetson Bennett actually outplayed Jake Fromm. … Now, with Jamie Newman coming in, I am reading he is going to be the starting QB. So, what does this move tell or show Bennett? Really would like to get your thoughts on this.
— Ike Hopkins
Bennett did have a good G-Day game last year. He took snaps on both the Red team and the Black team, and was a combined 12-of-23 passing, for 210 yards and one touchdown. His longest pass of the day came while he was on the Black team, a 52-yard strike to Matt Landers. And, as I said at the time, Bennett throws a very catchable ball. He has decent arm strength, though he’s a bit short at 5-11.
Bennett also was acclaimed in his freshman year for his work as scout team QB, and he did do a decent job as Fromm’s backup last year, though he mainly saw mop-up duty in games that already were well in hand. Although he’ll be challenged this year by D’Wan Mathis (assuming he’s cleared for play) and freshman Carson Beck, I’d feel fine with Bennett again as the backup, if that’s how it shakes out.
However, I don’t think Bennett, a former walk-on who spent a year away from UGA playing junior college ball, is really SEC starting QB material. And the fact that Georgia was searching the transfer portal for a replacement for Jake Fromm probably means Smart feels the same way. If Bennett wants to be a starter, then I’d guess another transfer might lie in his future over the next couple of years.
How long without winning another SEC title before Kirby would start hearing hot seat talk?
— Bailey Bradshaw
That depends on whether Georgia continues making it to the conference championship game or not. As long as the Dawgs rule the East, it’d be hard to see anyone at UGA contemplating a change in head coach any time soon, even if Smart wasn’t taking home SEC championships and making the College Football Playoff. However, if Florida or Tennessee were to start edging Georgia out in the East, Smart’s seat probably would warm up fairly quickly.
Anyone who has watched UGA football during the last three years should know that Jake Fromm is not going to dazzle anyone with his physical attributes. He wins a lot of games because of his brainpower. GMs of pro football teams should know this. Will Jake be drafted? I’ve thought for a long time that he might be drafted by someone like Bill Belichick. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve thought Bill is more interested in winning than in statistics.
— Ken Parker
Fromm didn’t have a great week at the NFL Combine. His ball placement was considered good, but his physical limitations were a concern. His arm strength continues to be suspect, and he was the slowest of the 13 quarterbacks who participated in the 40-yard dash (with a time of 5.01 seconds). Arm strength is a big deal in the pros.
Still, I’ll be very surprised if Fromm isn’t drafted, just because of what you cite: He may not have all the physical attributes the pros like in a QB, but he’s smart.
Right now, most estimations have him going in the second or third day of the NFL draft
As an NBC Sports analysis noted, if Fromm is still on the board in the fourth round, he could be a nice pickup for a team like Chicago: “He may not be the kind of prospect who will challenge for a starting job in 2020, but by the time his second season rolls around, Fromm’s competitive nature will have him in the mix for starter’s reps.”
Bill, There are too many underclassmen believing their own press from Day 1 about their NFL status. Unfortunately, many so called “5-stars,” or others that have been very productive in 3 college years, assume they’re 1st or 2nd round NFL draft picks. Many become late-round draft picks or free agents.
— Jim Parry
Yeah, there’ve been several UGA players who left early to try for the NFL and didn’t get drafted. I think part of it may result from what Smart talked about after the bowl game when he was assessing Georgia’s rising stars. As he put it: “To be honest with you, the future is only bright if those guys continue to work because there’s a disease that creeps in at Georgia where kids believe they’re better than they are and they read their own press clippings.”
As for how that impacts the Dawgs, rather than those who leave early, Smart said players like George Pickens will “only be as good as they can be if they stay as hungry as they are. When they’re not hungry, you become average. Some of that, I think, has affected us in the past.
“We’ve got to find a way in this program to not let that creep in and [to] keep that same hunger you had as a young player. Because we’ve had it happen to several guys that were really hungry and then they become full.”
I’ve often wondered if they have, or would ever, consider wearing the silver helmets every now and then, i.e. the helmets pre-Dooley?
— Ron Thomason
Ah, the old silver lids. They’re one of my main memories of the first Georgia football game I can really remember attending (a win over Vandy in 1963, when Larry Rakestraw was the senior starter at quarterback and sophomore backup Preston Ridlehuber got to play some late in the game). This was before the stadium was double-decked and I remember we sat in the North stands and that the silver helmets that the Bulldogs wore glinted in the afternoon sun.
The next year, Vince Dooley introduced the now-iconic red helmets with the power-G adapted from Green Bay. But, for at least a dozen years before that, under Wally Butts and Johnny Griffith, the Dogs wore plain silver helmets to match their silver britches.
To answer your question, I don’t know whether there’s ever been any consideration to wearing all-silver helmets as part of a retro uniform, but I kind of doubt it, since one of the driving forces behind such things usually is whether they think they could sell replicas to the fans. And there was nothing about those silver helmets that said, “Georgia.”
The exceptions were in 1956-58, when a red stripe was added down the center, and in a handful of games in the 1962 season, when a square red G was affixed to the side of the silver helmets.
The only other silver helmet worn since 1963 was in 2011, when the Dawgs wore a special Nike Pro Combat uniform against Boise State in the season opener at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The all-red uniforms themselves were pretty horrible (fans referred to them as the “Power Rangers” look), but the helmets, which were silver, with a wide red band down the center and the power-G on the side, were kind of cool.
Because the Nike uniforms were so widely panned, I don’t know how welcome even a one-game return of those helmets would be, but I could see some fan interest in the 1950s silver helmet with the red stripe or, particularly, the 1962 one with the square G.
What do you think, readers? Would a retro uniform with silver helmets for one game be something you’d like to see on an occasional basis? Or, would you prefer the Dawgs wear nothing but those beautiful red helmets?