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Phillip Williams/UGA
Jim Chaney and Sam Pittman have worked together a long time, and brought their philosophy on blocking to UGA.

Mailbag: Georgia’s offensive line philosophy, season predictions and more

Seth Emerson

Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, where each week we invite readers to pick our brain (ha!) about Georgia football, UGA athletics or whatever springs to mind. This week we make some true-false predictions on Georgia statistics and win totals this season, as well as answer questions about Jacob Eason, redshirts, leadership and scheduling. But the overhanging concern of many fans, justifiably, remains the offensive line, so we tackle that first.

Amid all the speculation about the overall improvements that might come in the second year under a new coaching staff, what’s your take on the specific importance of last year’s shift in blocking philosophy from zone to man?  Was that fundamental change an underestimated aspect of last year’s blocking issues? If so, might it be a big source of improvement for this year?
— Paul in Atlanta

This is a very good point, and one that hasn’t gotten quite enough attention, and I’ll blame myself for that. A quick explainer: Man blocking is just what it sounds like, where O-linemen are put in one-on-one battles with defenders. That’s what Georgia went to when Sam Pittman arrived. Zone blocking is also largely what it sounds like, but it’s more complicated – it gives you chances to cut block legally, for instance – but in a simplified sense, you’re zoning up your blocking scheme.

Here’s the rub. Man blocking only works when you’re big enough to sustain blocks and win one-on-one blocks. Last year Georgia had a smaller line, so it lost a few of those one-on-one battles. So yes, it might have been more beneficial to be a zone-blocking team.

But Pittman and Jim Chaney wanted to install their system, which is a man-blocking system. So essentially they took a short-term hit for what they hope is a long-term gain. This year, with what is shaping up to be a bigger line, we’ll see if there’s improvement.

Our OL struggled last year and many had hopes of the newcomers breaking into the starting lineup. Are they struggling or have the returning players gotten better or does the staff just not trust the young players yet?
— DCorbett70

Nobody should be worried about the freshmen yet. Not even close. It seems some fans had unrealistic expectations about these guys starting right away. The last freshman to start the opener on Georgia’s offensive line was John Theus in 2012, and the last time two freshmen started more than half the year on the line was 2008, when Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones did it.

Now, the season hasn’t started yet, so who knows; we may go out there, and a couple of them start. But if it’s “only” Andrew Thomas, with Isaiah Wilson, Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer all on the two-deep, that’s a pretty good start. And by the way, a second freshman also will start: Solomon Kindley, who’s a redshirt freshman. So is Ben Cleveland, who is in the mix at right tackle.

Let the season play out and see how things shake out.

TRUE-FALSE TIME

Allan Harvey of Phoenix: You did a great job with your over/under predictions prior to last season. Let’s see how you do with the following true/false predictions for this season.

  • Jacob Eason will complete more than 60 percent of his passes.  False. But had to think about it.
  • Terry Godwin will be the leading receiver and obtain over 750 receiving yards. True. But not 1,000 receiving yards.
  • Georgia’s offense will pass for over 3,500 yards. False. Georgia’s passing offense will improve, but 3,500 would be an improvement of nearly 1,000 yards. I don’t see that yet.
  • Georgia’s offense will rush for over 3,000 yards. False. That’s also asking a bit too much for an offense that had 2,486 last year. But I could see this happening more than I could the 3,500 passing yards.
  • Georgia will finish in the top three in SEC scoring defense. True. Alabama and LSU should be in their usual perches, but after that, it’s wide open. Georgia’s front seven is so good, I’ll say it happens.
  • Georgia will win at least 11 games (including the postseason). False. Not that I would be shocked, but if I had to pick today, I’d say this is a 9-3 team.
  • Georgia will win the SEC East. True. Am I very confident in that? No. But I give the Bulldogs the edge over Florida and a Missouri-like team that comes out of nowhere. (But not Missouri.)

NOT-QUITE LIGHTNING ROUND

Why is everyone so critical of Jacob Eason, who just had the best freshman year of any QB in UGA history, and by the way suffered from 30 drops by WRs while behind an awful-O line?  I think his completion percentage would have been about 60 percent without just 20 of those drops.  Some of the worst OL and WR play I’ve ever seen. Where do you see his numbers this year?  I’d say 62 percent, with more TDs and also more interceptions.
— Dave Guhde

Whoa there. Aaron Murray and David Greene had better freshman seasons – though if you’re saying Eason had the best season of any true freshman, then I’d probably have to do more research. Thirty drops may be overstating it a bit too, though perhaps not by much.

Either way, Eason, by his own admission, wasn’t as accurate as he needed to be, particularly downfield. He locked in on receivers a few times and rushed some throws. Those are all things that could be termed freshman mistakes, and if he corrects those, I could see a big season. My expectation this year is for moderate improvement, and considering his freshman year was solid, that could mean a pretty good sophomore year.

Jacob-Eason-Solomon-Kindley-UGA-line
Solomon Kindley (66) will start at right guard against Appalachian State in the season opener. (Cory Cole/UGA)

Solomon Kindley got in on one play last year (even though he was still able to get a redshirt). Mecole Hardman was a 5-star and lost his redshirt but didn’t really contribute much last year and is now playing on the other side of the ball. With so many highly touted freshman this year contributing mostly as depth and Kirby’s inexperience as a head coach, is there any concern that we’ll burn redshirts this year that will look like bad managing a couple years from now? 
— Andrew

Those are two situations that I think even the coaching staff will grant weren’t handled perfectly. Luckily they were able to petition the NCAA for relief on Kindley. And in Hardman’s case it may have been a lost year, but who knows. If you get three good years out of him at receiver, it may turn out he wouldn’t have been around for that fourth one anyway.

As for going forward, Georgia being at the full 85 scholarship limit might create some tough decisions to make. Some players might not be on the two-deep at their position but will be too good not to use somewhere, like on special teams. Nate McBride at inside linebacker springs to mind. Imagine someone with his size and track speed hurdling downfield on punt and kick coverage.

Upperclassman leadership is often an underrated preseason factor. What are your observations about the leadership of Roquan, Michel, et al?
— Allan Harvey

Between my own observations, and what I’ve heard, those players you listed are definitely front and center, and in Roquan Smith’s case, that’s particularly impressive when you consider he rehabbed for most of the spring. Smith is a vocal guy who tends to be the focal point among the defensive guys. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are those leaders on the offensive side, with Michel playing the vocal role, and Chubb the guy who doesn’t say much, but when he does, the room gets quiet and everybody listens.

How do you think the carries will be split between Sony and Chubb this season?  Having one or both fresh in the fourth quarter will be a great advantage. 
— David

Rather than carries, the word touches might be the way to describe it, as Michel could get more passes go his way, and in creative fashion. (Out of the Wildcat, a reverse, etc.) But in terms of pure run plays, if I had to guess on the distribution of carries this year, my guess would be 60 percent Chubb, 30 percent Michel, 10 percent Brian Herrien/Elijah Holyfield/D’Andre Swift.

This is barring injury. And there will be injuries, unfortunately. That’s just a fact of life at tailback.

Will my guy D’Andre Walker actually get a real amount of defensive snaps this season or is he going to waste away on special teams again?
— KingoftheSouth, via DawgNation Forum

That probably depends on the definition of “real amount.” The move of Chauncey Manac to defensive line helps that. Walker is easily the third outside linebacker, but the first two are going to be hard to take off the field. If either Lorenzo Carter or Davin Bellamy is hurt, I don’t think the coaches will hesitate to put Walker in there – though they could also move Natrez Patrick outside.

You mention eye test a lot in evaluating players. In summer camp, who has most impressed your “eye test”? New or returning.
— Jon Crenshaw

I’ll spare you the obvious ones: Nick Chubb, Jacob Eason, Isaac Nauta, etc. There’s also been a lot already written about players such as Andrew Thomas and D’Andre Swift. But here are some under-the-radar players who, in the limited time we have had, look promising: freshman outside linebacker Walter Grant, wide receivers Mark Webb and Matt Landers, and junior right guard Kendall Baker. Not saying these guys are all going to play much this year — just saying keep an eye on them.

WHEN YOU WRITE FROM SWEDEN, CHANCES ARE I’LL USE THE QUESTION

Warning, non-Georgia question! I saw that Miami and our good ‘ol former CMR are traveling to Arkansas State for a game this year! They played at App State last year. Why in the world would a program like Miami do that? 

On a semi-related note. Has Greg McGarity ever addressed the idea of getting the Auburn game back home on odd years to balance our schedule attractiveness in the future?
— Med vänliga hälsningar, Nathan, Sweden

First, Miami also has scheduled a home-and-home with Toledo. Matt Porter, who does a great job of covering the Hurricanes for the Palm Beach Post, recently did a four-(!)-part series on their scheduling. You can read it here. Or a shorter story here. The short answer is that Miami’s budget isn’t that large, so these trade-off games make more financial sense than paying the huge guarantees these mid-majors are getting now (upward of $2 million).

As to your second question, no, McGarity has not addressed that recently.

ANOTHER MIAMI QUESTION

Here’s a question about something other than Xs and Os or recruiting on the eve of the season. Mark Richt is well thought of by most of the Bulldogs faithful, even those like myself, who believed he had done what he was going to do and a coaching change was in order. UGA seems to hold a special place with him.  His recent “good luck” tweet is the most recent example. So I wonder, given the esteem most hold for him, once his coaching days are over, do you see a scenario in which he might return to UGA in some off-field role? Something in football operations, the Athletic Dept., some kind of “ambassador” role (whatever that might mean)?
— John Wilson, Columbia, SC

Interesting thought. My reflex is to say no, mainly because he went home (sort of) to Miami, and he’s not a Georgia graduate. Steve Spurrier was a natural choice to do that for Florida considering all his ties there, even though he hadn’t been there a decade. Richt, on the other hand, is coaching now at the place he played.

That said, I’m sure Richt will remain active, time permitting, in the lives of his former players. The last time I spoke to him about the Paul Oliver Network, he said he would offer financial help and anything else to keep the network going. (Kirby Smart is doing his part to continue the network, from what I understand.) Richt also has many friends and even some family here. His father still lives in Athens. So I think whenever he’s done coaching, and that might be a long time from now, he could still come around often and make appearances. But I don’t see any formal role.

AND FINALLY, AT LONG LAST …

 Is Joe Flacco elite?
— Dawg19, via DawgNation Forum

It’s a shame it took this long for someone to ask this. No. He is not. Joe Flacco is absolutely not an elite quarterback. In my mind, elite means top 5, maybe top 6 if the first five are really good. My list: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, with a good next tier of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Eli Manning, and the quarterbacks approaching are Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Zak Prescott and Jameis Winston.

After that … maybe Flacco.

Not elite.

Thank you. See you next week.