Spring report card: Georgia looks like a contender, but there are still questions
Spring has sprung, but in college football parlance, all that really means is that now we have to wait an eternity for real football to get here in the fall. Georgia’s spring game came and went Saturday at Sanford Stadium, so now the countdown is on to the Aug. 31 opener at Vanderbilt.
That’s just 19 Saturdays away, folks. Let the count begin.
There’s still plenty to digest from Saturday’s game, so let’s take a position-by-position look at where we stand through the spring, with a look ahead to what might need to get better before the trip to Nashville. Here are our grades through Saturday:
Quarterback situation: A-
I bumped this grade up a notch after Saturday, and it had nothing to do with third-year starter and Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Fromm. He’s good —really good — and we know that, and a few errant throws Saturday doesn’t change that perspective.
What does change that is that our fears have been erased a bit about the backup situation if Fromm goes down. With absolutely zero meaningful in-game experience behind Fromm, it had to be a legitimate concern. But Stetson Bennett and freshman D’Wan Mathis both looked pretty good Saturday, which at least allows us to catch our breath.
You can never predict injuries, and if Fromm goes down at the wrong time, that’s a problem. But, thankfully, these two guys showed some flashes, which should set up a great battle in the fall for that backup role. Bennett has a great arm and Mathis is a great athlete.
Running game: A
There’s no question this is the strength of this team and there was nothing that happened Saturday to change that. D’Andre Swift looked great, rushing for 39 yards on 3 carries and showing his usual burst. Brian Herrien had a touchdown and there’s plenty of depth behind them that’s only going to get better by the fall.
Because so many of these backs are versatile, the playbook will be wide open when the season rolls around. New offensive coordinator James Coley can have plenty of faith in this group.
Passing game (including WRs/TEs): B-
Sure, it’s just the spring and, sure, it’s just practice, but there were too many drops Saturday and not enough separation on routes to feel real good about this group right now. It was hit hard by attrition, and there are people who need to step up now.
One of those guys might be Demetris Robertson, but he had to miss the game with an illness. His presence is the fall is going to be interesting. Same with Matt Landers, the tall, rangy wideout who could be great — someday. He had a couple of drops Saturday that were disappointing, but he also made a nice catch on a bomb from Bennett and even threw a touchdown pass to Mathis. He needs to be catching 500 balls a day between now and the fall, especially on those jump-ball throws where he has the size and athleticism to out-jump anyone. He just needs to catch it.
Offensive line: A-
There’s a lot to love about this group. They’re big, talented and have a mean streak, certainly developed by grumpy offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who’s one of the best in the business. Winning a national title this year will be based on this group dominating, and there’s nothing that came out of the spring game that makes me doubt that.
The best thing about this group is its versatility. Guys can move around, guys can play different ways. Let’s hope health isn’t an issue come the fall, but at least there’s plenty of depth there.
Run defense: B+
Much like its counterparts across the line of scrimmage, Georgia’s front seven is deep and versatile. The next wave of top recruits are ready to start making some noise, so this is going to be a fun group to watch.
Linebackers Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith, both 5-star recruits who were early enrollees, have certainly benefited from an extra semester on campus. They looked great in the spring game and will battle for playing time in the fall. It’s hard to gauge any pass rush improvements in a spring game since the quarterbacks can’t be hit, but after finishing last in the regular season in the SEC in sacks a year ago, there’s nowhere to go but up. The early guess is those numbers are going to shoot up this year.
Passing defense: A-
There’s no doubt that Georgia’s secondary is going to make a lot of big plays this season. You always hate to lose a first-team All-American like Deandre Baker, but the Bulldogs have all the pieces in place to be even better this season.
Eric Stokes is certainly a stud. He earned a starting spot at cornerback at midseason a year ago and he’s never looked back. He had an interception for a touchdown Saturday, wrestling the ball away from Jeremiah Holloman and taking it to the house. Latavious Brini also had a second-half interception, showing off some of that depth. Safeties J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte are great, so this is going to be a great group.
Special teams: A-
Rodrigo Blankenship is still around, so that means the Georgia kicking game is in good hands. He made a nice kick Saturday. And we already know how dynamic Georgia’s return game can be, both on kickoffs and punts. Returns all got whistled dead Saturday, so there’s no new things to know, but we’ll be able to look forward to the fall and see who emerges as the leading return men, because there are plenty of available options.
The Bulldogs are loaded with talent, so there’s absolutely no reason to think they can’t compete for conference and national titles in the fall. My biggest — well, only — concern is with the wide receivers. There is potential here, but the Bulldogs are going to need to have two or three guys step up and be stars. Right now, we don’t know who those guys are going to be.
Same with the pass rush. We won’t know it will be better until we see it in live action come Aug. 31, but there are signs that a lot of these young kids are ready to break out and become stars. It’s less of a concern, but it’s certainly something to watch once fall practice starts.