Georgia's 5 biggest roster decisions heading into offseason
Georgia’s inconsistent first year under Kirby Smart was expected by some and a surprise to others. The Bulldogs made key strides in some aspects of the game, but failed to string together complete games in other areas.
There is reason for optimism heading into Smart’s second season, however. Georgia had several true freshmen and sophomores playing key roles last season, and those players should only get better.
The Bulldogs also currently have the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, which is lining up to be one of the program’s best classes in a long while.
All of this bodes well for Georgia’s future, but the coaching staff will have to sort through the talent and make some big decisions in the coming months.
Here are Georgia’s 5 biggest roster decisions heading into the offseason.
1. How to improve the offensive line: Anyone who watched a Georgia game last season saw the Bulldogs’ inefficiencies along the offensive line. Smart came into Athens preaching about the need to get bigger on both sides of the trenches and this should be his top priority.
Georgia will lose starting center Brandon Kublanow and starting tackles Greg Pyke and Tyler Catalina. The Bulldogs could decide to make more changes along the offensive line as well. They should have flexibility due to the incoming talent.
D’Marcus Hayes, the nation’s No. 2 JUCO offensive tackle prospect, figures to slide in on either side of the line and is exactly the type of body Smart and Jim Chaney want up front. Five-star tackle Isaiah Wilson could also provide immediate help when he arrives on campus. Netori Johnson is the No. 5 offensive guard in this class and could pair with former 5-star tackle prospect Ben Cleveland to give some added size to the interior of the line.
There is a lot of talent headed to Athens along the offensive line, which is something Georgia hasn’t been able to say for a while. Inexperience could prove to be the biggest issue up front next season, but Sam Pittman will have a chance to improve on his sterling reputation as one of the top line coaches in the game.
2. Pecking order at wide receiver: The loss of explosive wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie was unexpected and disappointing from an entertainment perspective, but it won’t be impossible to overcome. McKenzie became Jacob Eason’s favorite target early in the season and enjoyed a career year, but the Bulldogs will have an interesting mix of receivers on the roster in 2017.
Terry Godwin was expected to enjoy a breakout season as the team’s No. 1 receiver, but he didn’t appear to mesh with the new regime and wasn’t featured prominently. Riley Ridley has similar playmaking ability to Godwin and came on near the end of the year.
A lack of size was apparent on the perimeter for Georgia, and the coaches have made an effort to fix that on the recruiting trail. The Bulldogs currently have four receivers who are 6-foot-2 or taller committed for their 2017 class, headlined by 4-stars Jeremiah Holloman and Mark Webb.
It will be important for the coaches to get that position sorted out quickly, so Eason can develop good chemistry with his complementary pieces.
3. Find the right mix in the secondary: The Bulldogs’ secondary struggled mightily during the first half of the season but began to settle in later in the year. The front seven appears to be a strength for Georgia heading into the new year, so a strong secondary would push this defense over the top.
Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis will be back to lock down the safety position for the Bulldogs, and their experience could prove vital for a talented class of incoming defensive backs. Of course, Deandre Baker was one of the most improved players by season’s end and should return at one of the corner positions.
Georgia could look to add some size at the other corner position, however, and let Malkom Parrish come off the bench. It will also need to fill the “Star” position left open by Maurice Smith. Incoming freshmen Richard LeCounte and Deangelo Gibbs are already on campus and have shut-down potential. Mecole Hardman, the nation’s No. 1 athlete in 2016, could also be a factor.
Richard LeCounte just bullied Devonta Smith into the bench, wow. pic.twitter.com/Be5oYfpIo5
— John Garcia, Jr. (@JohnGarcia_Jr) January 3, 2017
4. What to do with a crowded backfield: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel’s decisions to return for their senior seasons is some of the biggest news that Georgia could have gotten. Their presence brings proven playmaking ability to this offense and should give it some stability.
It’s also muddied the Bulldogs’ line-of-succession plan, somewhat. Georgia didn’t foresee its two juniors coming back, and it will have five highly-touted players at the position next season. Brian Herrien was the freshmen who saw the most action in 2016, which came at the expense of Elijah Holyfield.
Next year, the Bulldogs add D’Andre Swift, the nation’s No. 4 running back, to the mix. There simply won’t be enough carries to go around, and the coaching staff will have to figure out whether or not redshirts should come into play.
5. Special teams: This isn’t a particularly fun subject to talk about when discussing football, but its importance became obvious for Georgia in 2016.
McKenzie and Reggie Davis will no longer be around to return kicks, which is a job they’ve handled for much of the past three years. Hardman is a good candidate to get some looks in this role, and he will provide the same type of electricity that McKenzie brought to the table.
The ongoing issue regarding Rodrigo Blankenship is another thing to consider. Regardless of your stance on the subject, if Blankenship does leave the program, Georgia will once again have a major hole in the kicking game.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.