After the Bulldogs fell short of expectations the last three seasons, don't be surprised if Georgia football looks a little different in 2021. The Bulldogs have been really good since Kirby Smart arrived in Athens. They've been relevant, and they've been successful, but they haven't quite lived up to the preseason hype. In fact, one could argue that the program has been trending downward ever so slightly, with a close SEC championship loss to Alabama in 2018, a blowout loss in the same game to LSU in 2019, and a failure to win the SEC East in 2020.
Smart's sixth team at UGA should be led by the offense, which returns seven of 11 starters, while the defense is talented but is retooling at cornerback. The special teams are as experienced as any Smart has had since becoming a head coach.
Previewing Georgia's Offense for 2021
What's new in 2021? Well, not much, and that's a good thing. Todd Monken is entering his second season as the offensive coordinator and this time had a full spring to help get his unit ready. He also has fourth-year junior JT Daniels behind center, a guy Smart has already named as the starter.
Daniels got the Bulldogs' offense going last season in the final four games by helping execute big-play opportunities down the field and bringing balance. UGA had just four 300-yard passing performances under Smart before Daniels did it twice in his four starts.
The running back group is stacked with experience and talent. UGA returns all of its running back production, with Zamir White spearheading the attack. He reached the end zone 11 times a year ago and eclipsed 100 yards three times in UGA's final six games. James Cook also broke out despite battling injuries. He became a big-play threat in the passing game while showing that he could create as a runner. Kenny McIntosh, an elusive junior, and Kendall Milton, a physically imposing sophomore, help create what could be a four-headed monster.
Wide receiver George Pickens suffered a torn ACL in spring drills and will miss most, if not all, of the 2021 season. In years past, that would have been a death knell for the passing game, but the Bulldogs have other proven playmakers. Kearis Jackson had one more receiving yard than Pickens in 2020 in the race for the team lead and was UGA's most dynamic receiver early in the season. Jermaine Burton has talent in spades and may be the most gifted pass-catcher on the roster. UGA also has speedster Arian Smith and a versatile group of tight ends led by the massive Darnell Washington. Additionally, LSU transfer Arik Gilbert committed to the team in early June and should receive snaps right away at receiver.
The offensive line, led by Jamaree Salyer, should be a strength because it returns three starters and a ton of talented players who haven't yet gotten their opportunity.
Previewing Georgia's Defense for 2021
The front seven is in good hands. Georgia returns plenty of experience on the line, and the interior is as talented as any in the country. Led by senior nose tackle Jordan Davis, the Bulldogs are big and athletic in the trenches. Sophomore Jalen Carter is potentially a rising star, while super seniors Devonte Wyatt and Julian Rochester provide a steady veteran presence. Defensive end Travon Walker has changed his body and will look to build upon two strong years with the program.
Outside linebacker Adam Anderson gives defensive coordinator Dan Lanning a dangerous pass-rush weapon, and he'll team up with former No. 1 overall prospect Nolan Smith. The inside linebackers will miss Monty Rice, but Nakobe Dean, the team's leading tackler, is back along with experienced defenders Quay Walker and Channing Tindall.
The secondary is where things might get a little dicey. Safeties Lewis Cine and Christopher Smith are talented and reliable, but the Bulldogs have limited experience at cornerback after losing their top four players at that position. The nation's No. 1 cornerback prospect in 2020, Kelee Ringo, is back from a shoulder injury and will be a factor. Fellow 2020 signee Jalen Kimber is coming off a strong spring, and fifth-year senior Ameer Speed has the most experience in the group. True freshman Nyland Green could make a move during preseason camp. The June 1 addition of Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick adds a talented and experienced option to the cornerback battle. Kendrick should push for a starting job right away and helps answer some of the concerns about this position. The Bulldogs answered a big question mark at the STAR/nickel spot by adding transfer Tykee Smith from West Virginia.
Previewing Georgia's Specialists for 2021
Jake Camarda will handle punting after leading the SEC at 46.6 yards per punt a year ago. He's also a consistently effective kickoff guy. Jack Podlesny, a redshirt sophomore, surprisingly won the placekicking job in the 2020 preseason and hit a 53-yard game winner in the Peach Bowl while also making 13-of-16 tries on the year. He has range, accuracy and the temperament to be the next great kicker at UGA.
When you recruit like UGA does, the return game is going to be dangerous. McIntosh and Jackson proved that at times in 2020 and will likely handle those duties again if healthy.
Georgia's offense is loaded with talent and experience, and that could make the difference for its championship hopes. Monken and Smart will look to open things up with those weapons. The defense should be stout against the run once again, but the young secondary will need time to grow up. The Bulldogs may have to score early and often to keep pace, but talent isn't lacking on either side of the football.
National Ranking: 5
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(JT Daniels photo by Perry McIntyre/Georgia Athletics)