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The Georgia position groups most likely to freshmen contributions
Georgia signed the No. 2 overall recruiting class for the 2019 cycle. Of the 24 signees, 20 are classified as either 4 or 5-star commits. And the Bulldogs have quite a bit of holes for these first-year players to step into.
There are also quite a few redshirt freshmen as well who could contribute this coming season. After missing most of 2018 due to injury, Azeez Ojulari and Divaad Wilson seem poised to have big seasons. So below we’ve tagged the five position groups most likely to get contributions from the freshmen in Athens this season.
*We are also including JUCO players as well, as Georgia signed four JUCO members in the 2019 signing class.
5. Defensive line
The candidates: Travon Walker, Bill Norton, Zion Logue, Tymon Mitchell, Tramel Walthour**
The five newcomers to the defensive line give new Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning plenty of bodies to use. And Travon Walker was a 5-star prospect in the 2019 class and the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings.
But the reason this group is at No. 5 is because of the five newcomers, only Walthour enrolled early. And Georgia does have quite a few capable defensive linemen on the depth chart in Tyler Clark, Julian Rochester and Jordan Davis. But this time last year, no one expected Davis to play as well as he did for the Bulldogs.
So if someone like Walker is able to find his way into the rotation, he could help improve one of Georgia’s weaker positions.
4. Defensive back
The candidates: Tyrique Stevenson, Lewis Cine, Divaad Wilson*, D.J. Daniel**
Unlike the defensive line group, every player in this position group was with Georgia in the spring. Stevenson and Daniel are both already pushing to possibly replace former Georgia standout Deandre Baker. Wilson is vying with Mark Webb to start at the star position, after a promising performance in the 2019 Sugar Bowl.
And arguably no freshman had a better performance on G-Day than Cine, as the freshman from Texas finished with a team-high 8 tackles. Just a season ago, Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes both played key roles as freshmen. So while there is some competition — safties Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed both return from last season — this room has tons of talent.
3. Inside linebacker
The candidates: Nakobe Dean, Trezmen Marshall, Rian Davis
Georgia brings back contributors at the position in Monty Rice and Tae Crowder from a season ago. Sophomores Quay Walker and Channing Tindall both look to step into bigger roles. Yet we’ve put inside linebacker at No. 3 largely because of the expectations surrounding Dean.
Dean was the No. 1 ranked inside linebacker prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle and he’s already showed why that was the case. He impressed players and coaches alike this spring, even drawing a Roquan Smith comparison from teammate David Marshall.
Smart wasn’t quite as effusive in his praise of Dean, but he did see a role for Dean following the G-Day game.
“His role could be as much as a starting linebacker, or his role could be as much a special teams player this year, he could be a third-down guy,” Smart said.“It’s going to be determined by the other players and himself, and how much he grows and gets better.”
Georgia also brings in Marshall and Davis, but both players are recovering from injuries sustained at the end of their high school days. Even so, Dean has enough promise and talent to play right away for Georgia at a position where it does have some proven commodities.
2. Wide receiver:
The candidates: George Pickens, Dominick Blaylock, Makiya Tongue, Kearis Jackson*, Tommy Bush*
Georgia must replace its top four wide receivers from a season ago. The most receptions by a returning receiver is Tyler Simmons, who had 9. So there are plenty of opportunities for some of the fresh faces in the room to make an early impact.
The two that really stand out are Pickens and Blaylock. Pickens is the best wide receiver recruit Georgia has landed since 2009. Blaylock is the second-best, behind only Pickens.
The early indications from summer workouts are that Pickens and Blaylock are already living up to the hype. Even before either player arrived in Athens, Smart was already wishing they were a part of the team.
“We know George is going to fit what we did,” Smart said of the 6-foot-3 Pickens. “He really was intrigued by the fact that we had the guys come out early, and he knew that he fit in our style system. And we think he’s a talented player that we’re looking forward to working with.”
While Pickens projects more as an outside receiver, Blaylock figures to play a big role in the slot. But Smart made it known this spring he thinks Blaylock can do just about everything.
“We think Dom can play all three spots, slot and both outside,” Smart said. “He’s very bright and intelligent. He picks up things well. We think he’s going to help in the return game, too. But it’s not like we’re sitting there going, ‘He’s a slot receiver.’ We think he can play all of them.”
Along with Tongue, Jackson and Bush, Blaylock and Pickens will have a real chance to shine this fall. The biggest question will be if they can get up to speed fast enough given their summer arrivals.
1. Outside linebacker:
The candidates: Nolan Smith, Azeez Ojulari*, Jermaine Johnson**
The outside linebacker room slightly edges out the wide receiver room for the top spot. The No. 1 overall player in the 2019 class — Smith — has very high expectations entering this season, as does Johnson coming from the JUCO ranks.
Ojulari meanwhile had one of the more impressive spring practice performances. Much like Wilson, he spent most of 2018 recovering from a knee injury before emerging in the Sugar Bowl.
The hype surrounding this group — to go along with 2018 5-star prospects Adam Anderson and Brenton Cox — is high. But Smart wasn’t overly impressed with what he saw from the group this spring.
“It hasn’t been consistent,” Smart said. “We’re not dominant out there like people, quote-unquote think we’re the greatest outside linebackers to ever play. We’re not getting by our tackles.”
But unlike the wide receiver room, all three players were with the team this spring. That should help them get up to speed quicker, and thus make a bigger impact for the Bulldogs in 2019.
*Denotes redshirt freshman **Denotes JUCO transfer
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