Georgia fans will finally have a chance to see football in Athens again. The annual UGA spring game, also known as the G-Day Game, is this Saturday and will be the official end of spring practice.
As always, there are a lot of question marks to this UGA team this spring and the spring game presents an avenue for many of those things to be answered. Here are the top things to watch in this year’s edition of the G-Day game.
Play of the Offensive Line
Everyone knew this had to be on the list. This is Georgia’s biggest question of the offseason. As has been well documented, the offensive line play was beyond terrible last season, and serious improvement is needed if Georgia seeks to have the type of success they yearn for this fall.
Head coach Kirby Smart signed the No. 3 recruiting class in the country in February. Offensive line was a top priority, and Georgia signed six lineman (one 5-star, four 4-stars and one 3-star prospect.) While these guys are all coming in the fall (except early-enrollee D’Marcus Hayes), the returning offensive lineman on campus have proven that they are not going down without a fight.
Smart has praised the offensive line this spring, and the overall improvement of the unit has to be attributed in large part to offensive line guru and position coach Sam Pittman. Many guys from this unit have stood out in spring practice.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) April 18, 2017
Apparently, Isaiah Wynn has played himself into being a sure starter at left tackle. Lamont Gaillard is making a strong statement to becoming the starting center. Pat Allen has really impressed this spring and is taking first-team snaps at left guard, and in turn, Dyshon Simms is shifting to right tackle. Solomon Kindley, after being redshirted in 2016, has also improved a lot and is drawing praise among others.
In fact, one of UGA’s top defenders in inside linebacker Natrez Patrick told reporters that Kindley is the toughest blocker he has gone against. That is some high praise indeed.
It has definitely seemed that the offensive lineman on campus are not going to give away their jobs easily. Their play means even more considering that they are going against a defensive line and a defense in general that is not too shabby. It will be interesting to see how the offensive line performs on Saturday, as this will be a great opportunity to further impress coaches.
How Jacob Eason Performs
The maturation of Jacob Eason is extremely important for Georgia to take that extra step this season. Smart has praised how far Eason has come but says there is still room for improvement.
“He’s (Eason) got a long way to go, but he’s come a long way,” Smart said earlier this spring according to reporters on the scene. “He understands the protection now. Last year, there were times he did, times he didn’t. There’s a lot on his plate. To manage that offense is challenging coming straight in from high school. I think he’s in a better place; he’s more confident, throwing the ball good and wideouts are catching it. I still think we have a ways to go at wideout to get where we need to go, but Jacob helps those guys out by putting the ball in some tight spots.”
While Eason had a decent season last year (2,430 yards, 16 TDs and eight interceptions), he struggled with going through his progressions and did not utilize his check downs effectively a lot of times. Eason needs to be more patient in the pocket and spread the ball out more. He also needs to improve on his accuracy particularly on the deep ball. These are all issues that have been stressed to Eason, and he seems to be making strides. He can showcase how much he has improved on Saturday.
Offense as a Whole
The Georgia offense has been criticized a lot this offseason for good reason. The Bulldogs’ offense struggled mightily at times last season. While Chaney took the brunt of the criticism for his play calling, a lot of the offensive struggles can be contributed to youth in key places, a weak offensive line and just an overall lack of execution.
Now that Eason has a year of experience under his belt among other things, Chaney seems to trust him more and seems to be opening up the offense. That certainly needs to happen. This Georgia offense has the potential to be very dangerous next season as it returns one of the best running back corps in the entire country led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, returns a quarterback who has one of the best arms in the country and fields an offensive line that cannot possibly be worse than they were last year.
One of the changes Jim Chaney is making is using some of his backs in the slot to get the most talent on the field at the same time. Also, having athletic guys out in that position will help a receiving corps that is in need of guys to step up and establish themselves, especially since Isaiah McKenzie is gone.
Riley Ridley (out for spring because of ankle) and Terry Godwin are two guys who look primed to challenge to becoming the go-to guy at receiver this fall. Michael Chigbu, Javon Wims, the electric Mecole Hardman, the speedy Tyler Simmons, freshman early enrollee J.J. Holloman and others are all challenging though. Several guys in the class of 2017 will look to compete for playing time at wideout early this fall as well when they get to Athens. However, the spring game will serve as the perfect place for a receiver to step up.
Whatever happens, the spring game should prove interesting when it comes to the offense. Spring games are always hard to predict how much will be shown, but we will definitely see how that side of the ball is progressing.
The Early Enrollees
Six guys enrolled early this spring from Georgia’s vaunted 2017 recruiting class. They are 5-star safety Richard LeCounte III, 4-star safety DeAngelo Gibbs, 4-star quarterback Jake Fromm, 4-star wide receiver J.J. Holloman, 4-star offensive tackle D’Marcus Hayes and 3-star inside linebacker Monty Rice.
Most if not all of these guys should see the field at some point on Saturday. Some will get more playing time than others. Georgia will air the ball out a lot on Saturday similar to what they did in last year’s G-Day game, so Fromm should get his fair share of snaps. LeCounte should also get a lot of playing time in the secondary, as he is a key contender to earn one of those starting spots in the defensive backfield this fall. DeAngelo Gibbs has impressed this spring, but his game status is still up in the air as he has dealt with some injuries.
Holloman should also get a lot of reps as Smart has praised him this spring. D’Marcus Hayes and Monty Rice (who has drawn comparisons to former Bulldog star Amarlo Herrera) should also get time as well.
The 2017 recruiting class is not only star studded but also extremely deep. These six guys got a head start on their fellow signees by enrolling early and getting into the system. G-Day will provide their real first game experience in front of fans and will be an important step in their maturation.
Smart has certainly criticized his defense a lot this spring, but he seemed a little happier with the unit after last Saturday’s scrimmage. Some of his criticism can be taken with a few grains of salt as he is trying to motivate the stop unit that could prove to be one of the best in the conference next year.
Even though the defense is talented, something seemed to be missing last season. One of those things they are fighting is complacency. One thing this defense really needs to improve on is their pass rush. That area will be helped by the return of Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, who are both primed for big senior seasons, and the addition of several explosive freshman.
The defensive line should be excellent this year, as the unit was a pleasant surprise despite its youth. Georgia returns stars across the defense between Trent Thompson at tackle and Roquan Smith at inside linebacker (both out for spring), safety Dominick Sanders and others.
As previously said, the defense has the potential to be truly great in 2017, and the spring game is a perfect place to get things going in the right direction.
The 2017 G-Day Game will be a very interesting one. There are many other areas to watch as well (*looks in the direction of the special teams), but these stand out the most. Whatever happens, it will be great for everyone in Bulldog Nation to see the Dawgs take the field as we get a little closer to real football.