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Kirby Smart concerned about inexperience for Georgia football this spring
Much will, and has already been made of the fact that this is JT Daniels’ first spring with the Georgia Bulldogs. This time a year ago, Daniels hadn’t even entered the transfer portal, as he was still a USC student and quarterback.
Now he’s being tabbed as a breakout star after a promising finish to the 2020 campaign. Daniels will get a full offseason to work with offensive coordinator Todd Monken and the rest of Georgia’s skill players.
Something Daniels and the Georgia team didn’t have a season ago, due to spring drills being wiped out thanks to the beginning of the pandemic.
“With the quarterback position, the continuity of the offense, that’s critical,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “You want to be able to get some relationships built there. Continuity towards the end of the year began to improve, obviously offensively, we have a lot of a guys that are coming back.”
Related: Georgia offense has potential to ‘only get better’ in year 2 under Todd Monken
Daniels though isn’t the only Georgia player who is set to go through spring drills for the first time when the Bulldogs take the practice field on March 16. In fact, the number of first-time spring practice players for Georgia is much higher than is traditionally the case.
Smart estimated that about 65 to 70 percent of his roster is going through spring practice for the first time, though that number includes walk-ons. Based on the 82 scholarship players on Georgia’s roster at the moment, a whopping 52 players will be going through spring drills at Georgia for the first time in their careers.
There are a handful of reasons why that number is as large as it is. First was the fact that Georgia lost its spring practices last year due to the pandemic. That meant George Pickens, Travon Walker and Kenny McIntosh and the seven other summer enrollees in the 2019 cycle joined the six early enrollees in the 2020 class who did not get their first spring as planned.
Add in that Georgia has an unusually high number of early enrollees this year, 16, on top of the rest of the 2020 signees and you get to 63 percent of Georgia’s scholarship players never having experienced a spring practice or a G-Day.
“That’s a scary thing,” Smart said. “It just shows you the youth you have, the lack of practices and experiences your team has. So when you look at all of those things it kind of combines and you say, ‘Wow, we have a really young group from that perspective.’”
Related: Kirby Smart previews Georgia football DNA, faster-paced pass drills, defensive challenges
To add to the concern, not all of those 52 players will be fully-participating in spring drills, as outside linebacker MJ Sherman, offensive lineman Micah Morris and wide receivers Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint are all recovering from injuries.
The Bulldogs also benefit slightly from having four seniors returning for their extra season as granted by the NCAA, as Julian Rochester, Devonte Wyatt, Justin Shaffer and Demetris Robertson all return. Those four though don’t help Georgia overcome the 52 other players who will be wearing a Georgia practice jersey in March for the first time.
The Bulldogs saw firsthand the kind of impact spring practice can have for a team after losing it last offseason. Georgia didn’t get to work with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken on the practice fields. Throw in a new quarterback, turnover at running back and wide receiver as well as having to replace three starting offensive linemen and there were few units in the country who needed spring practice more than Georgia last season.
That lack of experience reared its head come the fall, with Georgia’s offense largely struggling over the first six games of the season. The Bulldogs averaged just 25.3 points per game offensively and only 5.46 yards per play in those games when D’Wan Mathis and Stetson Bennett were at quarterback.
Those numbers improved to 36.7 and 7.45 once Daniels stepped into the starting role. The Bulldogs went 4-0 last season with Daniels under center, ending the season with a 24-21 win over a previously unbeaten Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. .
But if Georgia is to reach the championship level the Bulldogs aspire to, those numbers still need to get a good bit better. Alabama was at 48.5 and 7.81 in the points per game and yards play category. The year before, LSU hit marks of 48.1 and 7.89 in those respective categories.
It should be noted Alabama and LSU had quarterbacks returning with starting experience in Mac Jones and Joe Burrow. Throw in the wealth of skill players those programs and those programs were ready-made for a big jump.
The Bulldogs are hoping to do the same, starting this spring.
“What you do and what you earn is what you get in the offseason,” Smart said. “Nothing is given to you, there’s no entitlement. I think JT understands that.