Georgia will hold its second G-Day Game under Kirby Smart on Saturday, pitting the Red Team against the Black Team between the hedges.
Smart’s first spring scrimmage was an overwhelming success. Over 93,000 fans answered his call to sell out Sanford Stadium, ushering in a new era with great enthusiasm.
It would be surprising if this year’s G-Day Game approached similar numbers, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. There are plenty of storylines that fans should pay close attention to, and we’ve compiled a list of the five most important.
The offensive line rotation
Quite possibly the most important position battles of the spring are along the offensive line. Three starters from last year’s unit have departed, and it was easily one of the biggest problems for the Bulldogs in 2016.
This is a situation that will likely continue long into the summer, but there are some early things to look out for. Isaiah Wynn, who mostly played left guard last fall, will slide over to the left tackle position. That position was a major weak link for Georgia, and Wynn will be under the microscope on Saturday.
Lamont Gaillard was the Bulldogs’ starting right guard last season, but he is expected to slide over and replace Brandon Kublanow at center. The other experienced lineman of the group is Dyshon Sims, who has the inside track at locking down the left guard position.
None of those spots are set in stone as of yet, however, and there are plenty of talented new faces in the mix. JUCO transfer D’Marcus Hayes and senior Aulden Bynum have been battling for the right tackle spot while redshirt freshmen Solomon Kindley and Ben Cleveland are contending for a spot at right guard.
Jacob Eason vs. Jake Fromm
Smart hasn’t been shy about building up Georgia’s current quarterback competition between Eason and Fromm. The Bulldogs haven’t had this level of competition in quite some time, but it still feels like Eason’s job to lose.
As a freshman, Eason displayed his tremendous natural talent but still made his fair share of rookie mistakes. His 2,430 passing yards and 16 touchdowns were among the best marks by a true freshman in school history, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Fans will expect Eason to show greater confidence and understanding of the offense during Saturday’s scrimmage. Other young quarterbacks around the SEC have fared well this spring; now, it’s Eason’s turn to impress.
Competing against him is Fromm, who has drawn rave reviews for his leadership ability and intelligence. Fromm was an exceptionally productive quarterback in high school, and he is likely further along at this point in his freshman season than Eason was a year ago. Fromm will provide a true measuring stick for Eason on Saturday.
Who mans the STAR position
Maurice Smith played a large role in Smart’s defense last season, but he is gone and leaves behind a big vacancy. There are three players who are primarily vying to man the STAR position, and they each bring something different to the table.
Sophomore Tyrique McGhee, who played cornerback as a freshman, has been the leader at the position this spring. At 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, he doesn’t have the preferred size to play STAR, but he does have the experience advantage.
The other two contenders are highly touted true freshmen.
Deangelo Gibbs, the No. 4 safety prospect in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking, has the ideal physical traits to man the position. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Gibbs can cover both tight ends and bigger receivers while still possessing the speed to stick with players in the slot. It remains to be seen if Gibbs (below in black) will play in the G-Day Game, however, as he is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
The other freshman in contention at STAR is Richard LeCounte, the No. 2 safety prospect in the Class of 2017. LeCounte is closer to McGhee in size, but he possesses freakish athleticism and carries a chip on his shoulder. This won’t be an easy choice for Smart to make, but he really can’t go wrong among the three of them.
A problem area for Georgia in Smart’s first season, special teams is drawing a lot of attention from the coaching staff this spring.
Rodrigo Blankenship still has a hold on the starting kicking job, and Smart has praised his improvement on kickoffs. The coaching staff brought in some competition for Blankenship, however, and he will need to remain sharp.
It’s highly unlikely that punter Marshall Long, who started the first nine games in 2016, will be ready for the spring game as he continues to recover from a dislocated kneecap that ended his freshman season early. In his place will be graduate transfer Cameron Nizialek, who will presumably continue to battle Long into the fall.
The final piece of the special teams puzzle is the return game. Reggie Davis and Isaiah McKenzie are gone, and the Bulldogs will need to figure out who can replace them. Players like Mecole Hardman and Sony Michel have been mentioned while freshmen D’Andre Swift and Jeremiah Holloman could also be factors.
Options on the perimeter
Although Georgia has arguably the deepest stable of running backs in the SEC, it is precariously thin at receiver.
Terry Godwin has the potential to become a very good No. 1 receiver, but he was expected to take that step last season and never produced to that level. Javon Wims, Michael Chigbu and Riley Ridley will be back from last season, and Ridley seems like a player who could make noise in his second season.
A major newcomer to keep an eye on is Jeremiah Holloman. The 4-star prospect enrolled early this spring and has been praised for his work ethic and natural talent. He’s got the ability to contribute right away, and fans should get their first glimpse of that on Saturday.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.