Georgia football: Preseason confidence ranking for Bulldogs’ 10 position groups


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ATHENS, Ga. — It was early in the Georgia Bulldogs’ first preseason practice Thursday morning, and Kirby Smart was in midseason form on the mic. A sampling:

“Don’t tell me you’re in shape, show me!”

“Get the hell out of the way or get run over.”

“Some of you … all this s— you all were talking about the heat. It’s 60 degrees out here, and you’re (struggling). Hands on hips is a great sign you’re tired.”

“Keep your eyes on it, Oscar! That’s terrible, Oscar! That’s awful, Oscar!”

“Andrew, catch the ball, man. Catch the ball clean.”

“God, Gunner, you’re taking 15 minutes.”

“This ain’t the first time, you’re running out of chances.”

It wasn’t clear whom Smart was referring to on the final one, only that you probably didn’t want to be that player. Of course, it was the first day, and at one point, Smart didn’t appear to know whom he was talking to: “Feet are all over the place, 15! Feet are all over the place … (Smart checked his roster sheet) … Daniel!”

That would be Daniel Harris, a freshman cornerback. The names above, incidentally, were Oscar Delp, Andrew Paul and Gunner Stockton, and getting called out by Smart is probably a decent sign for them. Better to be on the coach’s mind than not.

Georgia, as everyone knows, looks loaded again as it begins the quest to three-peat as national champion. But within that loaded roster there are varying degrees of loaded. So here’s a confidence ranking of the position groups, along with a few observations on each:

1. Tight ends

Todd Hartley was doing the most yelling at Thursday’s practice — even more than Smart — which tells you all you need to know. Any group that has perhaps the best player in America — even if you might not recognize Brock Bowers on the street — probably will inspire the most confidence. The only reservation is not having Darnell Washington anymore. But Delp looked promising as a freshman, freshman Lawson Luckie had a very good spring, and freshman Pearce Spurlin is healthy after missing most of the spring.

This is a smaller, more athletic group minus Washington, and it will be interesting to see how Mike Bobo handles that: Do Bowers and others attach to the line more to help the running game, despite their size, or do they flex out and move around as part of a generally more spread-out offense?


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2. Inside linebackers

The fact Smael Mondon, a returning starter and preseason first-team All-SEC pick, is not certain to begin the season would be bigger news if not for a) Georgia’s opening schedule and b) whom else Georgia has at inside linebacker.

Jamon Dumas-Johnson is also a preseason first-team pick. Xavian Sorey is a former five-star who made a move in the spring. Jalon Walker is back inside after playing outside last year as a freshman. (And doing enough that he was preseason third-team All-SEC, even though he wasn’t going to be a starter, which shows how much deference the voters show Georgia’s defensive players.) Oh, and there is a trio of freshmen in camp: Raylen Wilson, C.J. Allen and Troy Bowles.

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Jamon Dumas-Johnson (left) and linebacker Smael Mondon Jr. lead a loaded Georgia linebackers group. (Jordan Prather / USA Today)

3. Defensive backs

There’s a temptation to look at Georgia’s secondary the past few years as a weakness — the LSU and Ohio State games spring to mind — but it has to be to put in perspective. Because nobody can run on Georgia, opponents resort to throwing, which is the way of the world in college football anyway. So no wonder the secondary gets victimized. It’s just a matter of limiting the damage, and this year’s unit looks capable of severely limiting it.

Javon Bullard is a game-changer whether he’s at safety or nickelback. Malaki Starks is a playmaker at safety, he just has to firm up some of the back-end mistakes he made as a freshman, meaning not take as many chances. Kamari Lassiter was quietly very solid at cornerback last year.

One question is who starts at one cornerback: Nyland Green (who literally stands out at practice because of his height) or Daylen Everette. The other question is whether the coaches go with Tykee Smith at nickel back or keep Bullard there and go with Dan Jackson or David Daniel-Sisavanh at safety. Those are a lot of very capable names, as is the depth behind them.



Kirby Smart’s updates as Georgia begins preseason practice

4. Offensive linemen

There are three starters back, along with an experienced substitute from last year, and the coaches feel good about their depth. At Thursday’s practice, sophomore Earnest Greene was getting snaps at first-team left tackle, the one open spot with junior Amarius Mims looking set at right tackle. Mims played a lot last year behind tackles Broderick Jones and Warren McClendon, both now in the NFL.

The interior looks set with Xavier Truss at left guard, Sedrick Van Pran at center and Tate Ratledge at right guard. But Austin Blaske remains in the mix at left tackle and other spots, perhaps as a super-sub. The coaches also feel Micah Morris and Dylan Fairchild can contribute right away if needed.

Is this a dominant unit this year, in both the run and pass? We’ll see. But it’s a good start that there aren’t many immediate concerns.

5. Receivers

Arian Smith was asked Thursday to assess the receivers and replied: “I ain’t gonna lie, it’s really deep. There’s a lot of competition.” That’s how players usually talk in the preseason, but Smith was also right. He’s a speedster who made the game-turning touchdown catch in last year’s win over Ohio State, and yet Smith isn’t even guaranteed a starting spot.

Dominic Lovett, a transfer from Missouri, offers a dynamic presence as a slot receiver. Ladd McConkey has shown he can do things as either an outside or inside receiver. Dillon Bell, coming off a good freshman season, looks primed for a good year. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint can be the tall, move-the-sticks type receiver. Freshmen Anthony Evans, Yazeed Haynes and Tyler Williams are intriguing. And there’s Rara Thomas, a Mississippi State transfer, who can help a lot on the outside once he’s caught up. (Thomas didn’t play in the spring game as the university continued its Title IX investigation into Thomas’ offseason arrest, which was resolved through a plea bargain.)

6. Defensive linemen

At defensive end, Mykel Williams inspires plenty of confidence by himself. On the interior, there’s no more Jalen Carter here, and Bear Alexander left before he could be the next great Georgia defensive lineman. What’s left is a combination of solid veterans and promising young players. Among the latter:

• Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Hall is shorter and stout but powerful and athletic.

• Defensive line coach Tray Scott worked with freshman Jamaal Jarrett, making him do a strike drill over and over. “One more time!” Scott said about five times. Jarrett nodded and kept going until Scott was satisfied.

By the latter half of this season, this could be a good group. It might not be as dominant as it was during the Jordan Davis-Jalen Carter era … but that also shouldn’t be ruled out.



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7. Quarterbacks

Let’s say Carson Beck, and the entire quarterbacks group, is put on almost any other team in the country. Or he’s put on some of the early Smart-era teams. You’d probably be more worried whether Georgia had the quarterback(s) to lift it to prominence.

But this Georgia team is more loaded. A defense that should take pressure off the offense. Good receivers and tight ends for the quarterback to throw to and the probability of good protection. Beck thus doesn’t have to be great, but he very well still could be. He has had three years to learn, has a strong arm, and an underrated advantage he’ll have is Bobo: Some might have questions about his play calling, but very few have doubted his one-on-one quarterback coaching.

8. Outside linebackers

The edge rushers ranking’ this low says more about Georgia’s defense and team in general. It’s also a little bit about where the game has gone lately: Having more defensive backs on the field means fewer snaps for the outside linebackers. The position is a bit more specialized now, oriented around packages, hence why Walker was moved to inside linebacker this year but will continue to be used as a third-down pass rusher.

Still, it’s not hurting Georgia in the recruiting department: Gabe Harris, Sam M’Pemba and Damon Wilson were all heralded recruits and were preceded last year by Marvin Jones Jr., Darris Smith and C.J. Madden. That group is long on talent but short on experience, which is why Chaz Chambliss (two sacks, 16 tackles last year) will begin as the starter. Jones is the favorite to be the other starter when two outside linebackers are on the field.

9. Running backs

The biggest concern on the offense entering the season. Don’t be shocked if it’s the strength at the end of the season.

Kendall Milton just needs to stay healthy, which is a big “just.” Daijun Edwards has been a very solid ball carrier the past three years. The Robinsons — sophomore Branson and freshman Roderick — have big upsides. (Branson Robinson is uncertain to be ready at the start of the year because of a foot injury.) And Paul looks ready to contribute after his ACL tear the previous year.

But the most noticeable quote Smart issued about a tailback this week was about a walk-on, Cash Jones, whom Smart called “maybe our fastest back. Pound for pound, he may be the strongest guy on the team.” File that quote away in case it seems relevant later, for either good or bad reasons. Right now, it’s hard to say.

10. Specialists

Brett Thorson was booting balls toward Brisbane on Thursday. Jared Zirkel, after three years of waiting, is poised to be the kicker, but freshman Peyton Woodring is available if Zirkel falters. The return specialists will come from a deep pool of speedy candidates, as well as some experience, especially McConkey on punts.

And in the most important sentence you will read in this story, perhaps in your life, William Mote was just named to the preseason watch list for the award that goes to the nation’s top long snapper.

So why would this group be last? Refer once again to Georgia and being loaded. Or at least that’s the way it is as camp starts and before the season starts when injuries and production have a way of making things look differently.

(Top photo of Brock Bowers: Steve Limentani / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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