Junkyard Mail: QB battle aside, who’s going to be catching the ball?

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Can Terry Godwin make up for the loss of Isaiah McKenzie at wide receiver?

Two weeks and six practices into spring drills, Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is still pushing the idea that Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm really are competing at quarterback, and is warning returning defenders that they can’t count on automatically starting just because they did so last year.

But, some Blawg readers seem more concerned with who’ll be catching the ball for the Dawgs. They also wonder about which players will finally live up to expectations and move up the depth chart. And, of course, there’s grousing about the overall state of UGA athletics and Sanford Stadium. Welcome to the latest installment of Junkyard Mail. …

If you compare the team right now to the team at this same time last spring, is there any area where (Georgia) has regressed or has less talent or just isn’t as strong as they were last year?

— Logan David Duckworth

While the offensive line is still a big question mark, the influx of some highly regarded young talent probably means a net gain in that department over a year ago, so I think the answer to your question is wide receiver, where the unit has taken a definite step back with the loss of Isaiah McKenzie.

Early enrollee Jeremiah Holloman could become a prime target. (John Paul Van Wert/UGA)

Terry Godwin is the most experienced receiver, but he’s coming off a somewhat disappointing sophomore season and needs to step up. Riley Ridley had his moments last year, as did Javon Wims late in the season, but both need to be more consistent. Ridley is missing spring practice with a foot injury.

The rest of the receiver corps was mostly unimpressive last season, with dropped passes a continuing problem (when Eason’s throws were on target, which was another problem altogether). It’s entirely possible that early enrollee Jeremiah Holloman, who’s the kind of big, tall receiver Georgia hasn’t had enough of in recent years, could become a prime target, but he faces the usual true freshman learning curve.

And, of course, a lot of fans are encouraged by possible two-way player Mecole Hardman taking some reps with the receivers this spring.

How would you feel about Sony Michel making the full switch to receiver? He has shown he has the talent and that would allow us to utilize (D’Andre) Swift, (Brian) Herrien and (Elijah) Holyfield more (at tailback). I believe he is too talented to share snaps with Nick Chubb, and those above are too talented to always be on the bench.

— Jack Madden

As I said last week, I really hope Michel (and Chubb, too) are utilized more as receivers this year. However, I wouldn’t want to see Michel used exclusively there, because he’s too good a running back (as he’s shown when he’s been the lead back in Chubb’s absence), and alternating him and Chubb at the tailback positions allows Georgia to keep a fresh back in the game, which helps wear down opposing defenses. The latter point is also a good argument for getting the younger backs into the game more, as you would like to see. Bottom line: You need a bunch of tailbacks over the course of a season in the SEC, and this is one position where the Dawgs are more than fully loaded.

It would appear that anytime No. 18 (Isaac Nauta) is in the game it would probably be a pass play. It seems to me that, although (Jeb) Blazevich is the best blocking tight end on the squad, they should be using him more as a receiver, too. He is probably the most sure-handed receiver on the team and, if I remember, he was a leading receiver his freshman and sophomore years. Just a suggestion.

— Edd Parker

Will Jeb Blazevich be more involved in the passing game this season? (Sean Taylor/UGA)

Nauta quickly became one of Eason’s favorite receivers, and he mostly lived up to his advance billing in his freshman season, eclipsing Blazevich somewhat. But, I agree that getting the ball to Blazevich more is a good idea, just as, in general, I’d like to see offensive coordinator Jim Chaney using the tight ends more in the passing game, though I understand they were needed more for blocking last year thanks to Georgia’s poor offensive line. With the lack of an established go-to wide receiver this year, I expect to see both Nauta and Blazevich catching quite a few balls.

Hi, I was wondering what happened to Elijah Holyfield? Last year, there were daily updates; this year, not a peep. I feel like I was imagining UGA even having a player on the team with that name.

— Keith Saporsky

No real mystery here, Keith. Holyfield is playing on a team that features a pair of very talented senior tailbacks, Chubb and Michel. Plus, because of an injury-related slow start last year, he was passed on the depth chart for the third-string spot by classmate Brian Herrien. Come the fall, he’ll also have to be fending off highly touted freshman D’Andre Swift in the battle for playing time, though a year’s experience puts both Holyfield and Herrien in a good position. Still, it would help both players if they have a really strong spring.

Is there any chance Ben Cleveland just isn’t putting in the effort his coaches want from him?

— Matt from Brisbane, Australia

Good to know there are Dawgs Down Under! Matt, only the coaches can say for sure (and they haven’t), but the word on Cleveland is that, while he has the size Georgia needs on its offensive line (6-6, 340 pounds), he came in from high school last year as a highly rated but very raw prospect, needing to work a lot on his technique, especially his footwork. Thus, the redshirt year. Cleveland is another example of a player who needs a strong showing this spring in order to improve his chances of getting playing time this fall.

Little ol’ next-door neighbor South Carolina has a football national champion, two teams in the Final Four (men and women), and two perennial baseball championship contenders — all frequently fueled by Georgia athletes. I wonder if the UGA administration has noticed.

— Larry Pope

The state of South Carolina has indeed had a lot of athletic success lately, thanks to its flagship university and rival Clemson. But, hey, UGA’s athletic program has a bigger reserve fund, and that’s what it’s all about, right??!!

Bill, I had read that coach (Scott) Stricklin had signed a good class for this season, but in reading the box scores, the results don’t seem to be there. It would seem, with Athens being so close to super high school baseball around Atlanta, we would signing players that would make us a better team than what we have seen in the past few years. Any thoughts on how coach Stricklin is doing? Is he going to have a shorter leash than Mark Fox if things don’t turn around?  

— Scott Rollins

UGA baseball coach Scott Stricklin hasn’t had much success so far. (John Kelley / UGA)

With the Diamond Dogs having a losing record overall and in conference play, I’d say Stricklin’s seat is getting increasingly warm in his fourth season at the helm of UGA baseball. The one game I’ve attended so far this season at Foley Field, Georgia was embarrassingly bad at just about everything (few hits, poor pitching and 8 errors!), and they’ve continued to be inconsistent. So, yes, I’d say that, barring a pretty dramatic turnaround in the remainder of the season, baseball appears to be the sport most likely to see a coaching change at Georgia this year.

I am one frustrated Dawg, following yet another mediocre fall and winter sports season, and start to another terrible baseball season. How has Greg McGarity survived at UGA when he’s had the opposite of the Midas Touch? Is it simply because he’s a great fundraiser? He has a terrible track record hiring coaches. He has an equally bad track record firing underachieving coaches. He’s a reactionary leader, not a visionary leader. … Every decision he makes is to play catch-up to everyone else, which is why UGA will always be behind. …  UGA Athletics will never become as great as it should be, with all the resources at our disposal, until a visionary thinker and leader is hired.

— Matt Cafaro

Several teams are still competing, with the Gym Dogs moving on to the NCAA semifinals and the softball team nationally ranked, so it’s too early to write the complete story of this competition year for UGA sports. And, as McGarity noted in a recent fundraising email to Bulldog Club members, some UGA teams had notable national success this past month — with four NCAA top 10 finishes in men’s and women’s track and field and men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and an SEC championship won by the equestrian team.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the overall recent performance in the high-profile “marquee” sports has been disappointing. At this point, I think it’s fair to say that McGarity has a lot riding on the (anticipated) success of Kirby Smart over the next couple of football seasons.

If McGarity is citing renovating restrooms already on the south and southwest sides as an example of the AD’s success in improving conditions for fans, and if that refers to “improvements” made prior to the 2016 football season, then folks in the north stands should not get their hopes up. I’m in the southwest upper deck … and, other than splashing a little paint around, there were no noticeable, meaningful upgrades. 

— Ted, Class of ’92

Improvements to Sanford Stadium are still a hot-button issue with fans. (Al Eckford / UGA)

You’re not alone in your cynicism, as this next letter shows …

It’s pretty obvious Greg McGarity hasn’t actually visited the restrooms he says he’s upgrading. I read the email he sent out boasting of the touchless fixtures, LED lighting, new flooring, new exhaust fans and new paint. But that misses the point that there aren’t enough toilets and the fact that the lines of those using the facilities have to enter and exit through the same small doorway, making for gridlock. I recall back in March 2014 when Greg did a live web chat (whatever happened to those?) and someone asked about the possibility of adding entry and exit doors to the stadium’s worst restroom (near Section 103) and McGarity replied, “We will get on that right away! Thank you for bringing it to our attention! I just made a note of this.” Uh, we’re still waiting, Greg!

— Sandy Baxter

The improvements McGarity cited are indeed welcome, but, you’re right, Sandy, the cramped restrooms in the older concourses need to be completely redesigned.

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