Georgia football: 5 biggest holes to fill in 2021 starting lineup
Sept. 4 is a long way off, but Georgia fans already are dreaming of JT Daniels and a Bulldogs offense lighting up the scoreboard in 2021 behind its talented group of receivers and a deep running back corps.
While Georgia loses just 2 starting offensive linemen and its tight end, I’m not saying to book travel to Indianapolis for Jan. 10 just yet, but scoring won’t be a problem. It’s the defense that will be under the microscope in 2021: The Dawgs lost both starting cornerbacks, a safety, their starting defensive end and 2 linebackers. Two other key rotational players — Jermaine Johnson (Florida State) and Tyrique Stevenson (Miami) — transferred.
Heading into the offseason, here are the 5 biggest holes the Dawgs need to fill in its 2021 starting lineup:
C: Sedrick Van Pran replacing Trey Hill
What you need to know: With Hill headed for the NFL Draft, we’ll see who gets the nod in the middle of the line. We saw Warren Ericson start at center in the Peach Bowl against Cincinnati, while Van Pran appeared in 4 games in what was essentially a redshirt year (although 2020 wouldn’t have counted toward his eligibility either way).
Van Pran is the future at center sooner or later, and while in the past I’d have said Ericson could start there next year, the former 5-star recruit from New Orleans should take his place in the front 5, with Ericson shifting to his natural position of right guard.
CB: Kelee Ringo and Jalen Kimber or Ameer Speed replacing Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell
What you need to know: The secondary, specifically cornerback, is the biggest point of uncertainty in 2021. Ringo would have been in the rotation last year if he were healthy, and the hope is that the freshman will be ready right out of the gate to start the year against a tough Clemson team that should be in the Playoff discussion once more.
That shifts the discussion to the No. 2 cornerback slot, which will likely see Kimber and Speed go at it in camp. Speed’s benefit is that he has been around the system longer, but that’s far from a guarantee that he’ll get the nod over Kimber, who played in 3 games as a freshman in 2020.
Star: Latavious Brini replacing Tyrique Stephenson
What you need to know: Brini had a bit of a shaky start to the Peach Bowl — one that featured a you-know-what chewing from Kirby Smart — but settled in and finished with 5 tackles (2 for lost yardage) and a pass defended.
The transfer of Stephenson to Miami left a gaping hole in the secondary at the important Star position for the Dawgs, and time will tell if the confidence Brini gained during a strong Peach Bowl performance can carry over as the senior will be a wire-to-wire starter in 2021.
S: Chris Smith replacing Richard LeCounte Jr.
What you need to know: LeCounte was already headed to the NFL Draft following this season, but after an injury during the Auburn game and later following his motorbike accident after the win at Kentucky, Smith received an extended audition in his place at safety. He responded with 17 tackles in the 5 games he started, including a personal high of 5 against South Carolina.
The biggest thing for Smith in 2021 is that he’ll be charged with not just filling the vacancy left by LeCounte but also being a leader for a young, yet promising secondary and the defense at large. LeCounte was one of those key voices last year, and Smart will likely expect the same from Smith.
LB: Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith replacing Jermaine Johnson and Azeez Ojulari
What you need to know: The good news is Anderson and Smith are known quantities. Anderson notched 6.5 sacks across 10 games, including 2.0 against Auburn and Cincinnati. Smith was good for 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Still, both players have enormous shoes to fill in the outside linebacker corps, and as they make the step up to full-time starting roles in 2021, they’ll need to prove they can live up to high expectations. Anderson, for one, has a legitimate chance of becoming the first Bulldog since Jarvis Jones (13.5 in 2012) to reach double-digit sacks in a season.