National title or bust: 5 things to watch during Georgia spring football
ATHENS — The Georgia football motto for 2019 may not be “national title or bust,” but it probably should be.
The Bulldogs are loaded with talent and experience on offense, defense and special teams rolling into the start of spring drills next Tuesday.
Jake Fromm is a third-year starting quarterback, tailback D’Andre Swift is a returning 1,000-yard rusher coming off his first healthy offseason and UGA features one of the biggest and best offensive lines in college football.
Defensively, senior J.R. Reed and junior Richard LeCounte are arguably the top returning safety duo in the SEC, and Georgia features nine players with starting experience in the front seven of coach Kirby Smart’s preferred 3-4 alignment.
To boot, senior Rodrigo Blankenship has proven one of the most accurate and durable kickers in the nation throughout his career.
1. Team mindset
Georgia’s national championship hopes have been derailed in consecutive seasons by comebacks from SEC West rival Alabama.
Nick Saban and the Tide are, no doubt, a hurdle the Bulldogs must clear.
Smart has worked to change the mindset in the UGA program, creating a culture that’s not only comfortable with high expectations, but thrives under such conditions.
Smart quoted former tennis great Billie Jean King the last offseason, saying that “pressure is a privilege.”
And now, Smart will do well to follow the advice of another tennis great, the late Arthur Ashe, from the time spring practice begins on Tuesday: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
2. Changes under new offensive coordinator James Coley
Smart downplayed the significance of losing veteran play caller Jim Chaney to Tennessee, and he might be right.
Coley, who served at Chaney’s side as co-offensive coordinator last season, is expected to take advantage of Fromm’s experience and elevate the pass game.
.Swift’s versatility out of the backfield would fit well in an uptempo, high-percentage pass attack.
A short pass in the flats to Swift would serve as an extended handoff and get the Bulldogs most explosive playmaker in the open field.
UGA will continue to utilize the power game, especially with an offensive line that averages more than 320 pounds per starter.
3. Defensive chemistry with new coordinator Dan Lanning
Smart felt the defensive coordinator change so insignificant that he didn’t bother with a press conference or official statement when promoting the 32-year-old Lanning.
Smart is the boss on defense, spending most of his time on that side of the football, having once helped mastermind the rise of Alabama’s dynasty as Saban’s trusted DC.
Lanning and co-DC Glenn Schumann bring energy to the talented but unproven linebacking corps, but the real staff adjustment takes place in the secondary.
It will be up to new secondary coach Charlton Warren to become the yin to Smart’s yang in Georgia’s talented defensive backfield.
Smart is known as a very vocal, hands-on coach, so perhaps easier said than done.
4. Jake Fromm’s locker room
Fromm is the only returning permanent captain from the 2018 season. It’s truly Fromm’s team to lead with Justin Fields having transferred to Ohio State.
The 2018 UGA team kept a unified front and never let on there was any sort of division in the locker room. But at the very least, there were whispers.
Smart —perhaps to a fault — bent over backwards to ensure Fields was given every opportunity to compete with Fromm for the starting position on a weekly basis.
Indeed, Smart never named Fromm the starting QB, suggesting the competition was ongoing.
There are no questions about 2019. it’s Fromm’s team, and the offense will revolve around his abilities.
5. Receiver development
The receiving corps is under more pressure than any UGA position group to grow up and step up after losing four of the top five pass catchers from the 2018 season.
Junior Jeremiah Holloman is the returning leading receiver, and he and senior Tyler Simmons will be counted on to set the tone.
Smart emphasizes downfield blocking. It’s a responsibility Smart takes so seriously that former 5-star recruit and FWAA Freshman All-American transfer Demetris Robertson couldn’t crack the rotation to the point of being able to catch one pass last season.
Matt Landers and Tommy Bush are 6-foot-5 targets, but Smart has already challenged them, saying size doesn’t equal toughness.
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