What we learned this week about Georgia football heading into Vanderbilt game
The Georgia football team begins its season on Saturday against Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
The Bulldogs held practices on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Below we’ve gathered some of the news and notes we learned during the course of the week as the Bulldogs prepare for Vanderbilt.
Quarterbacks: For the first time in his Georgia career, Jake Fromm won’t be looking over his shoulder as the starting quarterback. The same can also be said for Jacob Eason and Justin Fields, who will both be making their first starts at Washington and Ohio State respectively.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Fromm didn’t have much to say about either former quarterback this week. But Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner did take note of how much Fromm’s game has improved this offseason.
“Man, I’ve just seen him reach another level of understanding the offense,” Woerner said of Fromm. “I feel like he could go out there and call his own plays. Jake’s really prepared himself well for this season.”
Last season against Vanderbilt Fromm completed 17 of his 23 pass attempts for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns. He looks to top tose numbers on Saturday.
Running backs: After patiently waiting behind the likes of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Elijah Holyfield, it is finally Brian Herrien’s time to step into a featured role on the Georgia offense.
The senior running back has shown he’s capable of more in the past, and after a strong offseason, Smart is excited to see what Herrien will do with a bigger workload.
“As a running back he’s picked up pressures better than he ever has, he runs really hard, gets tough yards, has caught the ball well out of the backfield,” Smart said. “He’s kind of always done that but he’s never really been in the limelight and I think this is a great opportunity for him.”
Given Georgia is likely to manage the carries for D’Andre Swift and Zamir White, look for Brian Herrien to lead the team in rushing against Vanderbilt.
Wide receivers: Georgia likely isn’t going to start either Dominick Blaylock or George Pickens at wide receiver on Saturday night. The likely starters will be Matt Landers, Tyler Simmons and Demetris Robertson.
But that doesn’t mean neither player will contribute. Both are expected to make the travel roster and be a part of Georgia’s wide receiver rotation this weekend.
And based on the comments made by Smart, look for the Georgia offense to get its wide receivers plenty of reps in the opening game of the season.
“They need to get catches, catch and run with the ball, make people miss,” Smart said. “They need to use the skillsets that so many of them used to get them here. Getting the opportunity to do that and the next step for these guys is to go do that in a game.”
Tight ends: Georgia doesn’t have much in terms of depth at the tight end position this year. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Woerner has played a lot of important football for Georgia in his time in Athens.
Woerner has a very close bond with Fromm and that connection should be well established early on this season. Georgia’s receiving core as a whole doesn’t have a lot of game experience with Fromm, but both he and Woerner have worked to mitigate some of those concerns.
“I’ve really tried to be there for the young players as much as possible throughout this whole training process,” Woerner said. “So, I’m super excited for this game, to bring some older experience, and to show some of these younger guys the emotions of what it’s like to play a DI football game.”
Offensive line: There’s two big storylines to watch with this group during the Vanderbilt game. And we’ll know the answer to both of them after Georgia’s first play of the game.
The more pressing concern will be who starts at righ guard. Ben Cleveland and Cade Mays have spent plenty of time at the position, and Georgia can’t go wrong with either player. — Jameree (Salyer) is still fighting his way back. He’s probably behind where Nakobe is but still expecting to get him back.”
Both of them are doing a great job,” Smart said earlier this week. “Cade has been playing multiple positions besides there. Ben’s been playing primarily there and a little left guard.”
The second story to watch is if Jamaree Salyer ends up making the trip. He was not spotted at practice on Monday or Tuesday, but Smart indicated that the plan was for him to be healthy enough to make the trip.
Defensive line — Much like with Salyer, it will be worth watching to see if David Marshall and Julian Rochester end up making the trip to Vanderbilt. Both have been battling injuries, as Rochester is coming back from a knee injury while Marshall isn’t still dealing with a foot injury he suffered against Vanderbilt last year.
Smart was asked about what factors go into deciding who makes the travel roster. If neither Marshall or Rochester travel, that likely opens the door for two more defensive linemen to tag along.
“Who helps us win,” Smart said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We will take the guys who give us an opportunity to win and who can affect the game.
Outside linebacker: We’ve written alot about the likes of Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson. But a guy who is going to play a lot for the Bulldogs at the position is junior Walter Grant. He’ll likely get the start at the SAM position as well as play some STAR in run heavy formations.
Grant isn’t as flashy as some of his fellow outside linebackers, but the reason he’s going to see a lot of the field is because he does all the little things well.
“He’s very intelligent. He plays well in space,” Smart said of Grant. “He understands our system probably better than anybody in that room, so it’s a very valuable role in depth and experience that makes you feel comfortable that he can adjust to formations people get in.”
Inside linebacker: Freshman Nakobe Dean has gotten plenty of praise this offseason, and rightfully so.
But all the talk and hype about the 5-star freshman, he’s not likely to start on Saturday. That’s because Smart and the Bulldogs very much like what they have in junior Monty Rice.
A season ago, Rice was on his way to being Georgia’s leading tackler before suffering a foot injury against UMass.
And now that Rice is able to participate in game action once again, look for him to make a lot of plays for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
“He probably plays better in the games than he does in practices because he plays hard and with such good effort,” Smart said of Rice.
Defensive backs: J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte will be the starting safeties for Georgia on Saturday. But the starters at cornerback at not as crystal clear.
Smart has said that Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, D.J. Daniel and Tyrqiue Stevenson have all worked with the first and second-team this August. Campbell and Stokes have the playing experience edge, but Daniel and Stevenson have impressed this fall and spring after arriving in January.
Smart has reiterated Georgia will rotate all four, as some players match-up better with different receivers.
“We’re not really settled on who the starters are going to be in terms of that, because those guys will rotate and play,” Smart said. “We haven’t decided who’s going to be out there.”
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