Georgia looks to return to the top of the SEC East and contend for a national championship in 2021, and coach Kirby Smart gets his first look at his team when spring practice begins on March 16. The Bulldogs return 12 starters from last year’s squad that finished 8-2 and capped ’20 by beating Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. The emergence of quarterback JT Daniels enhances the potential for this offense to take off in ’21, and while there are holes to fill on defense, Smart should keep this unit near the top of college football.
Smart has assembled one of the nation’s most-talented rosters, so even with a few key losses on both sides of the ball, a quick transition should be in order this fall. Restocking the secondary is the biggest question mark for this team, and new assistant Jahmile Addae will play a key role in shaping the defensive backfield before a critical opener against Clemson.
5 Storylines to Watch During Georgia's Spring Practices
1. Another Step Forward for JT Daniels
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented nearly every FBS team from a full set of spring practices last offseason. As a result, teams breaking in a new quarterback or play-caller faced a difficult transition period in the regular season. That will change in 2021, as all 130 college football teams should have more normalcy in spring ball. The full set of spring practices is a good thing for many programs, including Georgia with JT Daniels and coordinator Todd Monken looking to build off a strong finish to the 2020 season. The USC transfer started the final four games and threw for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns to just two picks. Daniels also helped Georgia average 37.3 over the final four games – up from 29 over the previous six. With Daniels entrenched as the starter and a host of talented playmakers on the outside, the Bulldogs seem primed to take a big step forward on offense this fall. This spring is all about getting Daniels and Monken on the same page and installing the complete offense to deploy this fall.
2. Sorting Out the Trenches
The Bulldogs bring back three starters from an offensive line that allowed 20 sacks, while clearing the way for rushers to average 4.6 yards per carry in 2020. The makings of a good group are here, but line coach Matt Luke could shuffle a few players around to fill the voids left behind by center Trey Hill and guard Ben Cleveland. Jamaree Salyer started at left tackle last season but could shift to guard in ’21. Right tackle Warren McClendon could flip to the left side if a couple of talented players – Xavier Truss, Broderick Jones, Tate Ratledge or Amarius Mims – fail to seize the job. How Georgia fills the two open spots and shifts the returning personnel around will be a significant area of focus this offseason and is likely to extend into the fall. There’s no shortage of talent, however. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces into place.
3. Develop the Receiving Corps
Everything points to a big year from Georgia’s offense in 2021. Monken’s scheme will help the Bulldogs attack the field better via the pass, Daniels is poised for a huge season in his first as a full-time starter, and there’s plenty of playmakers ready to emerge at receiver. Kearis Jackson and George Pickens headline the receiving corps after each player grabbed 36 catches last fall. Jermaine Burton wasn’t far behind with 27, with Arian Smith (two) and tight end Darnell Washington (seven) up next. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Dominick Blaylock are recovering from injuries this spring but seem to be on track to play in 2021. Assuming both play this fall, Georgia should have one of the deepest receiving corps in college football. After an unusual offseason and transitioning to a new quarterback and play-caller, this spring is a good opportunity for a young receiving corps to take the next step in their development.
4. Revamped Secondary
The secondary is going to receive the bulk of the attention from Smart and coordinator Dan Lanning this offseason. The Bulldogs lost several key pieces, including Tyrique Stevenson, Tyson Campbell, Richard LeCounte, Mark Webb, Eric Stokes and DJ Daniel from a pass defense that ranked near the top of the SEC. Thanks to elite recruiting, the drop in performance is likely to be minimal, but the new starters will be tested right away with Clemson on tap in the season opener. At cornerback, former five-star prospect Kelee Ringo is primed for major snaps this fall, with ’20 signees Brian Branch and Jalen Kimber and ’21 top prospect Nyland Green also expected to factor prominently into the mix at this position. Senior Ameer Speed has played in 35 games during his Athens career and is expected to push the talented youngsters for a starting job. One safety position is in good hands with Lewis Cine, while Christopher Smith should hold down the other spot. The Bulldogs also need to shore up which player starts at the star/nickel position, which could go to Latavious Brini or a player that doesn’t win one of the starting jobs at cornerback.
5. Restock the Defensive Front
While the needs and turnover in the secondary are more pressing, Georgia does have a few holes to plug up front. The linebacker unit loses Monty Rice (52 stops) and Azeez Ojulari (9.5 sacks). The edge rusher role vacated by Ojulari is in good hands with Adam Anderson or Nolan Smith, while Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall are expected to fill in for Rice at inside linebacker. The Bulldogs lose Malik Herring up front, but there’s little cause for concern. Jordan Davis is one of the best in the SEC, and Travon Walker, Julian Rochester, Devonte Wyatt and Jalen Carter provide plenty of depth and talent.
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