Georgia football: 10 things I want to see this spring
For two seasons in a row, Alabama has stood in the way of Georgia’s national championship aspirations. The Bulldogs are ready for that to stop, and to do so, having a big spring is really going to be important.
Thanks to three consecutive great recruiting classes, there is plenty of talent already on campus in Athens, with more to come from this second-ranked 2019 class. There are 14 newcomers already in town from that recruiting class, with 10 more showing up this summer
As spring practice gets ready to start Tuesday and culminates in the April 20 spring game, here are 10 things I want to see from the Bulldogs this spring:
1. All eyes on Jake Fromm at quarterback …
Now that Justin Fields has transferred to Ohio State, there is no doubt who is going to get every meaningful snap for the Bulldogs. Jake Fromm is the man, and his junior season — his third as a starter — should be huge. He did a great job of handling the circus last year, and he put up good numbers despite the threat to playing time from Fields, a 5-star recruit who demanded more playing time and didn’t get it. Fromm already has great leadership skills, and we’ll see a lot of that this spring.
2. … and how the guys line up behind him
There’s no doubt that the biggest fear in Athens is what happens if Fromm gets hurt. That’s always a possibility, and now with Fields gone, someone needs to emerge as a solid No. 2. That’s the storyline of the spring for sure, just seeing how these guys play. Freshman-to-be Dwan Mathis was a big get, flipping him from Ohio State after the Fields departure rumors became public. He’s the projected No. 2 for now, but Stetson Bennett is back in the mix, too. Fromm has to stay healthy, though, for sure.
3. Impact of new offensive coordinator James Coley
Former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney bailed for Tennessee, and there are plenty of people who really aren’t all that unhappy about it. In steps James Coley, who was the quarterbacks coach last year and knows what Fromm likes better than anyone. He could be a sensational coordinator, but it’s also his first time calling plays in Athens, and that’s going to take some adjusting. This spring is a critical time to put his stamp on this group, and be a leader.
4. Impact of new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning
This might have been the most interesting hire in the SEC this winter, because the young Dan Lanning replaces veteran coordinator Mel Tucker, who left to become the head coach at Colorado. Georgia coach Kirby Smart chose to hire from within, and that’s a big deal. Smart is basically putting all his chips into the middle to the table by filling both coordinator spots with young guys. Lanning turns 33 on April 10, just 10 days before the spring game. There’s a lot to do this spring on defense, so Lanning’s managerial skills are going to be tested early.
5. How do things play out at wide receiver?
Terry Godwin graduated and Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman left early for the NFL, taking away most of Fromm’s favorite targets. So it’s going to be critical in the spring for some new faces to step up. Jeremiah Holloman made a nice impact in limited duty last year, making 24 catches for 418 yards and 5 touchdowns. Since the two top wide receiver recruits — George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock — aren’t on campus yet, a lot of the battles for playing time might have to wait until the fall.
6. Can Eli Wolf challenge Charlie Woerner as No. 1 tight end?
This whole graduate transfer thing isn’t new to college football, but Eli Wolf transferring from Tennessee to Georgia is huge. The standout tight end really wants to win, and that was his first attraction to Georgia after graduation. With Isaac Nauta leaving early for the pros, Georgia needed to fill a huge gap at tight end, so Wolf’s decision is a big one. Charlie Woerner came on nicely last year as Nauta’s backup, but look for Wolf to fight him for the most playing time. It should be a healthy competition.
7. Is Zamir White ready to stay healthy at running back?
Georgia’s 5-star running back recruit from a year ago, running back Zamir White, is coming off his second ACL tear and it’s going to be interesting how healthy he is now. He’s hinted that his rehab has gone well, so at the very least it might be nice to see him running around again. There’s no need to rush him, of course, because it’s all about having him 100 percent in September. Georgia is still very deep at running back with D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook, but White is something special too, The spring will be be a nice barometer for how his rehab is coming.
8. Who goes where, and for how long, on the offensive line?
Georgia probably has the best bookend pair of tackles in the country in Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, and there’s plenty of returning talent elsewhere as well. The question now is who is going to play where? Ben Cleveland missed a lot of last year with an injury, but he’s certainly a starter. So is Cade Mays, who played well in a variety of spots last year as a true freshman, as well as Trey Hill. There are at least a half-dozen other guys who are ready to step up too, so this might be the most competitive position group this spring.
9. Does No. 1 recruit Nolan Smith start right away?
Just about every position in the front seven is going to be up for grabs with so many good players gone from the 2018 team, and defensive end Nolan Smith might be the big benefactor. He certainly has all the skills — that’s why he was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings — but it’s always interesting to see how quickly the new kids take control along the line of scrimmage. It helps that he’s already on campus and gets a full spring of workouts. Going up against Georgia’s great tackles in practice every day is a good thing. It will be interesting to see if he’s better suited at defensive end or outside linebacker.
10. Growth in secondary led by CB Tyson Campbell
Georgia’s biggest concern a year ago might be its strength this year. The secondary will surely miss All-American cornerback Deandre Baker, but both starting safeties — J.R. Reed and Richard Leconte — are back and coming off solid seasons. It’s incumbent on Tyson Campbell to become that No. 1 shutdown corner this spring. The 5-star recruit started the opener, but he lost that job late in the season to redshirt freshman Eric Stokes. Both are back, which makes this group pretty strong, but Campbell is the guy who really needs to take that next step to the elite level.