Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is a defensive-minded guy and that figures to be the Bulldogs' strength in 2017. The defense, which was top 20 nationally in both total and passing yards per game allowed last season, returns intact and should be among the best in the SEC, if not all of FBS. Georgia also has an impressive tandem to lead its running game but needs sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason to take the next step. New playmakers need to emerge to help Eason, but Smart and Bulldogs should be able to stay in the SEC East race until the very end, and don’t be surprised if they win it.
Previewing Georgia Football’s Offense for 2017
Georgia fans figure their offense will improve this year, if only because it couldn’t get worse. Well, that’s what they thought entering last year, and it did get worse: 87th nationally in total offense, four spots worse than the season that got Mark Richt fired.
So how will it get better with three offensive line starters and the team’s most dynamic player (Isaiah McKenzie) all gone? There are reasons to believe in moderate improvement.
Jacob Eason will be more comfortable in his second year as the starting quarterback. He was solid as a freshman and now will be a better leader of the offense. But Eason will need to improve his footwork and accuracy, as he was a bit lucky to have only eight interceptions, and his 55.1 completion percentage needs to improve.
The unexpected returns of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel should keep the running game from falling off even more than it did last year, when the two were relatively healthy. But Chubb and Michel need blocking help.
So it ultimately comes down to the offensive line and receivers. The coaches have recruited well to those positions, but the impact there may not be truly felt until 2018. For this season, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has said he will “freshen up” the offense, featuring more run-pass options. And Chaney needs to do a better job of scheming around the weaknesses at receiver and line.
Previewing Georgia Football’s Defense for 2017
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This has a chance to be one of the best defensive units in the SEC, and thus the country. It was pretty good last year, ranking 16th nationally in total defense. And it returns all but one starter (nickel back Maurice Smith), so the defense will be loaded with high-end players and has no obvious weak spot.
The front seven could be dominant, with a deep defensive line headed by Trenton Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter. The edge rushers are both seniors who passed on entering the NFL Draft, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. And the inside linebackers are juniors who are adept tacklers, Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick.
The secondary doesn’t have as much star power. Safety Dominick Sanders was a first-team All-SEC pick in 2015, but his performance fell off last year, when he dealt with shoulder pain. But he’s back healthy and is joined by fellow seniors Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish, along with some talented freshmen who will push for playing time.
Given all that, it frankly will be a disappointment if Georgia isn’t among the top three defenses in the SEC. And it has a chance to be dominant.
Previewing Georgia Football’s Specialists for 2017
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship had a solid freshman season (14-for-18 on field goals). The question is whether he can kick it long; he didn’t hit any field goals longer than 46 yards, and his kickoffs need to improve. Punter Marshall Long was okay as a freshman, then broke his kneecap late in the season. Both will have competition in the preseason. The return spots, meanwhile, are both wide open. Receiver Terry Godwin, who has dabbled in returning punts, will get a shot to do it full-time. Mecole Hardman, a dynamic sophomore who didn’t play much last year, will begin as the favorite to return kickoffs.
If the defense plays up to its potential, and the offense and special teams improve even a little, Georgia has a very good chance to win its first SEC East title in five years. There’s a chance to go even further, depending on how quickly the young talent develops, and how Kirby Smart improves as a head coach. And there’s also a chance to disappoint, which Georgia has tended to do lately.
NATIONAL RANKING: 15
SEC EAST PREDICTION: 1
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