10 biggest questions I have as Georgia prepares for preseason camp
The 2021 regular season is fast approaching, and with it comes the typical expectations for Georgia football. And, at least for now, it appears that things will be back to some semblance of normal after a bizarre, COVID-19 filled 2020 campaign that saw the Dawgs go 8-2 en route to a dramatic Peach Bowl win.
This is about the time when championship dreams start to circulate in the heads of Dawgs fans. Sadly, they’ve not come to pass, but surely they will in 2021. Maybe? Either way, optimism abounds, especially in the case of JT Daniels as the 7-letter “H” word has been thrown about among the media.
But there are plenty of other areas to inspect regarding this team. Here are the 10 questions I have as fall camp is just around the corner:
1. Will JT Daniels establish himself as one of the country’s elite quarterbacks?
It’s put up or shut up time for the California native. Will he be good enough to join Frank Sinkwich and Herschel Walker in Georgia’s Heisman club? Despite the hype, I’ve never been a fan of making those proclamations before the season because so many unforeseen circumstances could develop.
But it’s not hard to imagine Daniels building on a solid foundation laid toward the end of last season (1,231 yards, 10 TDs in 4 games).
2. Who wins the backup job behind Daniels?
Ideally, we won’t see a backup play too many critical snaps in 2021, but the question needs to be asked.
Stetson Bennett has what Brock Vandagriff and Carson Beck lack — experience — but will Smart go down that road again? This is probably one of the key battles to watch during fall camp.
3. How will Georgia’s highly-touted transfer portal acquisitions pan out?
If you’re able to land an SEC all-freshman pick, a first-team All-ACC selection with a national championship, and an All-American defensive back, you’ve won the transfer portal.
They don’t give out trophies for that, but Arik Gilbert, Derion Kendrick and Tykee Smith are the very definition of impact transfers. Gilbert will hopefully be able to make the seamless transition from tight end to wide receiver, while Kendrick and Smith look to pick up where they left off at their previous spots.
4. Can the wide receivers deliver?
It will be good to have Dominick Blaylock back in the fold in the Dawgs’ WR room after missing last year with an ACL. But the injury bug bit George Pickens (ACL, expected to miss most of the season), and Arian Smith had knee issues last year and is fighting back from a wrist injury a few months back. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint had an awful injury against Florida.
If healthy, this unit can do big things. Gilbert should be able to take the Pickens role, while eyes will be on Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton as the team’s top returning receivers along with Blaylock, Rosemy-Jacksaint and Arian Smith. True freshman Adonai Mitchell was impressive during G-Day and appears to be a terrific complement to a loaded corps of pass-catchers.
Needless to say, Daniels won’t have a shortage of targets.
5. Does Darnell Washington take the leap at tight end as a sophomore?
The Las Vegas native is set to be a big (no pun intended) part of the offense as he gradually saw his involvement grow in 2020. His terrific G-Day showing didn’t do much to temper the optimism surrounding him headed into his 2nd season in Athens.
Is he Kyle Pitts 2.0? It’s too early to tell, but Washington has the opportunity to be one of the best in the country at his position.
6. Who will stand out in a crowded running back room?
There’s a long list of players who can get reps. Zamir White is the starter, but the conversation likely surrounds who will take the reins in 2022 with him (almost certainly), James Cook (certainly), and Kenny McIntosh (possibly) in their final seasons. So 2021 is essentially an extended audition for Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton.
All 5 players bring different skill sets to the huddle, so it will be fun to watch the role they play, especially in the case of Edwards and Milton.
7. Who will join Derion Kendrick in the CB pairing?
Smart has one CB spot locked down as Kendrick is the easy choice. But what about the other one? You’d like to think it’s down to Kelee Ringo and Ameer Speed, but as we know, anything can happen in camp.
Either way, the hope is that while the Dawgs aren’t projected to face a DeVonta Smith or Kyle Pitts this season, things are a little better as a whole for the secondary than they were last year.
8. Can the offensive line shake off a rough spring?
Smart has been concerned about the o-line. His main concern is the lack of experience, especially with the departure of Ben Cleveland and Trey Hill. It caused him to use the word “rebuild” in a radio interview in March.
The Dawgs have been blessed with terrific talent here over the years, and the hope is that Matt Luke’s unit can develop into one of the best in the SEC and dispel Smart’s concerns.
9. How will the linebacking corps do in the post-Azeez Ojulari-Jermaine Johnson-Monty Rice era?
Rice will be suiting up for the Titans and Ojulari is in New York with the Giants, while Johnson has headed to Florida State. So that’s a great deal of talent from last year that isn’t here in 2021.
It appears Nolan Smith, Adam Anderson and Nakobe Dean are the next men up, but I’m interested in seeing how freshmen like Smael Mondon and Xavian Sorey figure into the rotation.
10. Will the Dawgs run the table in the 2021 regular season?
Well, it depends. That game against Clemson could go either way, but outside of that, it should be smooth sailing the rest of the way, at least until the SEC Championship Game.
Of course, a loss to Clemson puts the Dawgs on a tightrope the rest of the way to avoid a dreaded 2nd loss that likely would knock them out of the College Football Playoff discussion. But they’re talented enough to get to Atlanta with a 12-0 record, which, even with a loss in the SEC Championship, should be enough to get them into the Playoff.
But as we know in college football, though, there’s no such thing as a sure bet.