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Will more freshman get playing time this year than last?
— John Adams
Yes, I’m fairly confident that will be the case.
Now, part of that depends on your definition of playing time. It also may depend on your definition of freshman.
Last season only two true freshmen were basically full-time starters: Andrew Thomas started every game at right tackle and Jake Fromm all but one game at quarterback. Four other true freshmen started at least one game: Tailback D’Andre Swift, wide receiver Trey Blount, safety Richard LeCounte and inside linebacker Monty Rice.
If you expand the definition to redshirt freshmen, Ben Cleveland and Solomon Kindley were basically co-starters at right guard (Kindley for seven games and Cleveland for the final five).
Other freshmen who received significant playing time off the bench (and not just in blowouts) included outside linebacker Walter Grant and … well, that was basically it. But a bunch of other guys got experience near the end of many blowouts.
This year, in case you hadn’t heard, there are plenty of open positions. And Georgia has a loaded recruiting class. Let’s say you asked this question: Will more freshmen start in 2018 than in 2017? My guess would be yes, but I wouldn’t guarantee it:
- Cade Mays will compete for the open spot at right tackle, and his main competition may be redshirt freshman Isaiah Wilson.
- Jamaree Salyer doesn’t arrive until the summer, and there isn’t an obvious open spot at left guard. But let’s just say Kendall Baker would be well-advised to have a good spring.
- Tyson Campbell, who arrives this summer, will compete for cornerback or nickel back, and early enrollee Divaad Wilson could be in the mix there, as well.
- Justin Fields … well, we know the deal there.
I feel less confident at this point about other spots. Georgia has a very good crop of incoming outside linebackers (Brenton Cox enrolled early, Azeez Ojulari and Adam Anderson are on the way). Same for inside linebackers (Channing Tindall and Quay Walker arrive in the summer). But they’ll have to beat out established players ahead of them.
The same goes for the offensive skill positions. And the safeties. And the defensive linemen. Otis Reese, for instance, may be ready to play right away at safety, but I can already sense that LeCounte will be hard to beat out for that second safety spot next to J.R. Reed.
There is another way that I could see the 2018 class seeing a lot of early action. One hates to be macabre, but injuries have a way of opening up playing time. Georgia has largely avoided that in Kirby Smart’s first two years, and perhaps that’s due to the great talents of Scott Sinclair and the strength and conditioning staff. And perhaps the relative lack of injuries will continue. Or perhaps it’s been a run of good luck that will end this season. If the latter is the case, a lot of playing time suddenly opens up.
Here’s the final thing I’ll say about this question: I know it’s exciting for fans when freshmen get to play right away. The future becomes now, and the shiny new object is more invigorating than the known quantity. But when they don’t play much, that’s often a good thing. Georgia does have a great recruiting class, but that means that if they can’t beat out the veterans, then the veterans must be pretty good, too.
After all, Georgia also had a very good recruiting class last year, and only two became full-time starters. That team, you may recall, did pretty well.
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