6 offseason priorities for Georgia in 2021
If you’re a Georgia fan, you’re certainly happy with how the season ended. How couldn’t you be?
Still, while watching the College Football Playoff (particularly with Alabama and Justin Fields advancing), there’s a sense of disappointment that the Dawgs weren’t in it. There’s no use dwelling on why they didn’t get there: That’s been covered.
Instead, we look toward 2021. UGA has a quarterback who ignited the offense and is poised to take it to a much higher level. The receiving corps is deep, as is the running back position. The offensive line has lost some pieces but has several players poised to fill the gaps. But what about the defense, who will be missing a number of its stars?
Here are 6 priorities the Dawgs need to focus on as they look toward a promising 2021:
1. Prioritize getting JT Daniels healthy
Daniels looked good, yes, down the stretch. But some observers noted that his surgically-repaired leg was still causing him to be a little tentative at times. Frankly, from my vantage point, it was tough to tell.
And if what we saw was Daniels at around 80%, I’m excited to see the 100% version. If he shows out against Clemson in the 2021 season-opener, the Dawgs become a heavy favorite to make the Playoff right out of the gate with a win against the toughest opponent they’ll face all year outside of the SEC Championship Game.
But that’s contingent on him getting to that “100%,” or as much as possible given the fact that he’s coming off that ACL tear. Remember, we haven’t seen a full season of him in a Georgia uniform, so the onus is on the medical staff to ensure he can endure one.
2. Redshirt Brock Vandagriff in the wake of his leg injury
Vandagriff was able to gut out a torn PCL and lead his Prince Avenue Christian School program to a state championship in December. He was projected to have surgery but will instead count on good, old-fashioned Father Time to get right.
I don’t think there’s any question the Dawgs need to plan to redshirt him unless they really need him. They already have a capable backup in Stetson Bennett IV (albeit with a limited ceiling, but it’s better than nothing) if something goes wrong with Daniels, along with Carson Beck (who we don’t know much about, still) waiting in the wings.
Plus, it gets him ready to take the reins from Daniels in 2022, if the program is fully committed to him being the quarterback of the future. Having him get healthy while learning under some experienced QBs is the right call.
3. Work with Daniels on continuing to get comfortable in this offense
I love the skills Dom Blaylock brings to the table, and together with Darnell Washington, George Pickens and Kearis Jackson, plus a group of rising sophomores including Arian Smith, Jermaine Burton and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, this is a very deep and talented pass-catching corps that will provide Daniels plenty of targets in 2021. Injuries obviously have been a problem for Blaylock, though, and it might take a little time to ease him in.
At times, though, Daniels made it look like he has played with these guys for years. His connections to Pickens, in particular, jump out as a special combo in the making. But he tends to be a bit too aggressive at times, too, with his deep ball, an asset when it works and a liability when it doesn’t.
Again, he’s played just 4 games in a Georgia uniform. Some time in camp continuing to work out the bugs in the offseason can only help him develop that comfort level even more.
4. Find better balance in the backfield
What will Zamir White do? Will he return to Georgia or declare early for the NFL Draft? It appears he will be returning. If so, that’s great news for the Georgia running back room, but even if he were to leave, this is a deep group.
That said, the staff needs to continue to keep Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton more involved. It was disappointing to see Milton injured for the latter portions of the season because he was impressive when given the opportunity. Edwards was terrific against South Carolina and Missouri.
With Milton and Edwards, plus White, the versatile James Cook and Kenny McIntosh, the Dawgs’ RB room is loaded, versatile and potentially explosive. Leveraging that adds yet another dimension to an offense that should be among the best in the conference — and nation.
5. Fill the holes in the defense, likely with a JUCO or grad transfer or 2
Undoubtedly, the biggest losses (by volume) come on defense, at all 3 levels.
Adam Anderson is good, but it’s going to be hard to replace what Azeez Ojulari did in 2 seasons. The same can be said for Quay Walker, who will have a tough act to follow in place of Monty Rice. That’s not to mention the losses in the secondary and up front, with plenty of production needing to be replaced.
While Kirby Smart and Dan Lanning always have the defense playing at a high level, perhaps a JUCO or grad transfer to provide an added layer of experience, specifically in the secondary (especially since Tyson Campbell decided to declare for the draft, too) and on the defensive line, could be an option.
6. Maintain its dominance on the recruiting trail within the state
The Dawgs are off to a good start in building toward the 2022 class: DB/ATH Deyon Bouie (from Kirby Smart’s alma mater of Bainbridge) is ranked No. 2 in Georgia and No 25 overall nationally, and the Peach State’s No. 6 player, defensive tackle Tyre West (Jefferson) is in the fold as well. Thus far, Georgia has 4 of the state’s top 13 players locked in for now.
Atlanta-area cornerback Travis Hunter is one of the big prizes, and his ties to Florida were part of the reason he committed to Florida State. But don’t count out the Dawgs’ chances of flipping the state’s No. 1 player (No. 4 nationally). Defensive tackle Mykel Williams (No. 5 in Georgia) is undecided still very much in play.
Smart cashed in with the top 3 recruits inside the borders, along with Nos. 7, 9 and 10, in the last cycle. While it’s an easy sell right now, he’s certainly done his part in building a fence around the state.