Georgia got back at it this week, as head coach Kirby Smart opened his second campaign in Athens by kicking off spring practice.
Expectations are high as always surrounding the Bulldogs, even if Smart’s debut 8-5 season didn’t exactly go as planned. Still, there is plenty of returning talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, to go with a highly-touted recruiting class making its way to campus.
Here are the biggest storylines facing Smart and the Dawgs this spring as they look to turn the corner in Year 2.
5 Storylines to Watch During Georgia’s Spring Practice
1. Quarterback battle
It’s Jacob Eason vs. Jake Fromm for the right to take the first snap for Georgia, and we mean that in the most literal sense possible: Those two are the Bulldogs’ only scholarship quarterbacks. Eason has the upper hand, having started 12 games last season as a true freshman. But Fromm comes with a ton of credentials — namely, a five-star rating and the No. 3 distinction among quarterbacks from the class of 2017, per Rivals. Enrolling early will only accelerate the expectations for Fromm. Of course, Eason was a five-star prospect the year before, and he had the nation’s No. 1 QB distinction, too. Game on.
2. Offensive line battle
It is entirely possible that Georgia opens the season with a completely new offensive line. But there’s a lot of time between now and then, and that’s what the spring is for: Figuring out how things shake out on a unit that loses its starting center and both starting tackles. Lamont Gaillard is moving to center from guard, while Isaiah Wynn could be starting at guard or tackle. There is plenty up for grabs.
3. Paging receivers
Isaiah McKenzie declared for the draft after leading the Dawgs in catches (44), receiving yards (633) and touchdowns (7) in 2016. And there wasn’t a ton of production from the rest of the Dawgs beyond that last season. Terry Godwin finished second in each category last season (38-397-0) and is the only real proven pass catcher of note, but Georgia could see itself utilizing its backfield much more in the passing game this season. However Georgia goes about it, production as a group must improve in 2017.
4. Finding the next “star”
Smart’s defenses prioritize this position, more commonly referred to as the nickel. His former Alabama corner, Maurice Smith, manned the post last season as a graduate transfer. Now Smart is likely turning to Tyrique McGhee, who saw action in all 13 games last season as a freshman but had minimal production. Smart has said that freshmen Deangelo Gibbs and Richard LeCounte III and senior Malkom Parrish will get their chances, too.
5. What’s next for the defense?
Georgia finished 16th nationally in total defense last season, Smart’s first with the program. Such a strong immediate impact has upped the ante for an encore this season, especially with the Dawgs returning as many as 10 starters on that side of the ball. The only real change is at defensive line coach, where Tray Scott replaces Tracy Rocker.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Georgia in the SEC
While Georgia’s uneven campaign under new head coach Kirby Smart last season may have given some fans pause, there is still plenty to like about this program’s direction, especially after the massive recruiting haul this past year. There is a talent infusion in Athens, and the quarterback competition should add an extra level of juice to an offense that has some picking up to do both up front and among its receivers.
The running backs are golden. The defense should be, too. In short, there’s no reason this team can’t win the SEC East in 2017. Of course, it seems as if we’ve been saying this about plenty of teams in that division year after year, so we’ll see how things shake out over the next several months.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.