Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs are close, very close. Close to dethroning Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC as well as close to winning a national championship. Is 2019 the year the Dawgs finally reclaim college football supremacy? That answer will come soon enough, but in the meantime, spring practices are just about ready to kick off in Athens in preparation for the G-Day spring game on April 20.
5 Storylines to Watch During Georgia's Spring Practices
1. Catching on
Jake Fromm returns as the quarterback of the Bulldogs, but who will be his targets? Terry Godwin has graduated. Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley, and Isaac Nauta are NFL-bound. Jeremiah Holloman should be Fromm's top weapon this season along with D'Andre Swift out of the backfield. How the supporting cast of receivers, tight ends, and pass catchers out of the backfield come together will be something to watch all spring and summer.
2. Defensive leadership
Two years ago Kirby Smart saw leaders on offense like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel depart for the NFL draft. This year, it happens on the defensive side of the ball. Deandre Baker and Jonathan Ledbetter are gone and it's up to Smart to identify the leaders and alpha-males for the 2019 Bulldogs defense. Safety J.R. Reed could fill that void.
3. Coaching carousel
Smart enters 2019 after losing both of his coordinators. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney left to take the same position at SEC East rival Tennessee. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is now the head coach at Colorado. James Coley was promoted from quarterbacks coach to OC with outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning likewise being elevated to defensive coordinator. One of the goals of these moves is to hopefully maintain continuity, but these coaching changes are certainly something to watch.
4. Nolan Smith
The five-star prospect was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 class according to 247Sports' Composite rankings and he could have an immediate impact for Georgia's defense this fall. Smith (6-3, 235) may be a true freshman, but he's the kind of talent that already appears to be physically ready and is versatile enough to play off the edge, as an outside linebacker, or with his hand in the grass at defensive end. The Bulldogs have seen plenty of talented defenders leave for the NFL the past two seasons so Smith should have every opportunity to show he's ready to play. And considering Georgia finished 12th in the SEC in sacks (24) last season, it could be argued the Dawgs need the Savannah native to make his presence known as soon as he gets on the field.
This may be off the radar for some, but this is something I will be watching closely. What is Georgia's mindset entering spring ball? The Dawgs were outplayed and didn't show much interest in their Sugar Bowl loss to Texas, which is somewhat understandable considering it came on the heels of yet another gut-wrenching loss to Alabama. Can Smart get this group to come out ticked off for greatness or will there be a bit of a malaise? Georgia's head coach is a motivator but let's just keep an eye on team morale as the team gets back to work.
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.