By Garrett Shearman:
We are well into the final week of offseason practice before preparations for Louisiana-Monroe begin after Thursday’s final scrimmage. All through the offseason, various uncertainties have plagued the Bulldog Faithful; from depth chart confusion to individual players’ potential, here are five questions surrounding the Dawgs in this final stretch of the offseason:
1. The Quarterback Conflict
With just over a week until kickoff against the Warhawks, Georgia’s coaching staff find themselves judging such a wide-open quarterback competition that Mark Richt hasn’t seen the likes of since 2001, his first season as head coach when David Greene and Cory Philips both appeared in the first game of the season against Arkansas State. It’s starting to seem as if the same scenario is possible in the upcoming season opener.
More and more it appears as if the three quarterback race is down to two; redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey and junior transfer Greyson Lambert have been alternating reps with the first and second teams while redshirt junior Faton Bauta has consistently appeared with the third team.
So with the group down to two, Georgia fans find themselves asking which player is truly a better fit for the team. Ramsey, with his three years of experience in Georgia’s system, has the bigger arm of the two (but not by much—and remember that both players provide a deep ball threat greater than their predecessor Hutson Mason). At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Ramsey has quicker feet and appears a tad more mobile than his 6-foot-5, 220-pound counterpart. By all accounts, however, Lambert appears the more ready of the two to lead the team and master knowledge of Brian Schottenheimer’s complex offense. Though the new offensive coordinator maintains his version of the pro-style offense is similar to Mike Bobo’s just with different terminology, running the hurry-up pro-style offense Schottenheimer plans to implement will require a lot of pre-snap responsibility from the quarterback. With that being the case, if Lambert’s brain turns out to be what separates him from Ramsey, his brain could be very instrumental in executing such an offense.
Both players will play in the season opener. It’s highly likely that both players will play the following week against Vanderbilt. However, by the time Georgia returns home in week three to face South Carolina, the Dawgs will need to have chosen their starter. Whether it is Ramsey or Lambert who takes control of the reigns, Georgia’s next starting quarterback must be ready to command the huddle by week three or the Dawgs may be doomed to a one-dimensional offense.
2. Concerns on the Defensive Line
If Georgia had a main area of concern in 2014, it was the defensive front. The Dawgs gave up 168 yards per game to opposing running backs, including giving up 418 yards to Florida and allowing Georgia Tech to amass 399 yards less than a month later. And with three starting lineman—Toby Johnson, Mike Thornton, and Ray Drew—having graduated, the Dawgs lose experience at a key position.
However, with defensive line coach Tracy Rocker bringing in his first group of recruits at UGA since being hired in January of 2014, Georgia fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Replacing the three departed seniors is an incredibly talented group of young players in three-star recruits Justin Young and DaQuan Hawkins, four-star recruits Chauncey Rivers, D’Andre Walker, and Jonathan Ledbetter, and five-star recruit Trenton Thompson. Rivers and Ledbetter are expected to help fill some holes at defensive end, likely backing up seniors Josh Dawson and Sterling Bailey, respectively. The true freshman Thompson is likely to get the nod at starting defensive tackle; behind him will be senior Chris Mayes. A true freshman starting ahead of a senior at a position with such a learning curve as defensive tackle may seem unlikely, but reports indicate Thompson being everything he was advertised to be coming out of high school. The young standout, who was named Defensive Player of the Year by USA Today en route to winning All-America honors his senior year, is far and away the most naturally gifted player Coach Rocker has had the opportunity to coach in his short tenure at UGA. With the right instruction, Trenton Thompson can help plug gaps by drawing double- and triple-teams from the outsized and overpowered offensive lineman who will have the misfortune of being assigned to block the 6-foot-4 pass rusher. A player like Trent would match up well against a team like Georgia Tech, against whom he could use his size to overpower lineman and to neutralize the “dive” (or cut-block) that allows flexbone offenses to work so well against teams with a less-than-stellar d-line, like the 2014 Georgia Bulldogs.
With so many incoming freshman, it will be a while before the Dawgs have an outstanding defensive line. But with that group of freshman being so talented in conjunction with the looming possibility of a “Fab Five” being signed in 2016, Georgia fans finally have good reason to be excited about the defensive line position moving forward.
3. Depth at Wide Receiver
When rumors of Justin Scott-Wesley ending his playing career started circulating this week, Dawg fans everywhere were reminded of the lack of depth the Dawgs have at wide receiver in 2014. Though the possibility remains that Scott-Wesley could see the field again before the end of 2015, Georgia will not return starting receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett along with backup Jonathon Rumph, each graduating in May.
The Dawgs’ receiving corps will be led by senior Malcolm Mitchell in 2015, returning alongside sophomore Isaiah McKenzie, juniors Reggie Davis, Kenneth Towns, and the oft-injured NC State transfer Charlie Hegedus.
In Mitchell, Georgia has a proven playmaker. Aside from that, not much can be expected from the inexperienced group. The speedy return specialist McKenzie showed moments of brilliance at receiver in his freshman season, but had several notable drops on otherwise perfectly-thrown passes, notably against Auburn. Davis had a promising start to his freshman season playing alongside gunslinger Aaron Murray, but took a step back in 2014 as the offense became more run-heavy. Towns has seen little of the field, and Hegedus is entering his first season of eligibility after a redshirt transfer year. So where is Schottenheimer going to look when it’s time to air out the ball?
Several viable receiver options exist within the group of incoming freshmen. Terry Godwin, a former five-star performer, has shown serious promise at the position and will earn considerable playing time as a true freshman. Michael Chigbu enrolled at UGA in June with an SEC-ready body; at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he possesses the frame of which even some NFL receivers would be jealous. He has improved remarkably as a route runner in his short time in Athens and is primed to see the field quite a bit this year. Jayson Stanley has been nursing a nagging ACL injury but has recovered speedily. Shaquery Wilson is likely to see time on special teams and possibly some looks at receiver by year’s end.
With UGA’s embarrassment of riches at the tailback position, Sony Michel could line up as a slot receiver on occasion and meet great success. Coach Schottenheimer’s willingness to be creative in utilizing his personnel may also give tight end Jeb Blazevich time at WR should it be necessary. In addition, Schottenheimer’s affinity for twin-tight end sets will allow Georgia to mask any lack of depth at wideout. Jeb Blazevich and (finally healthy) Jay Rome are two of the best tight ends in the conference and should be used accordingly.
Georgia will be a run-first team, as expected, in 2015. In order to preserve the element of surprise, the Dawgs will need to field a group of guys who can threaten big play-making. It would appear as if the Bulldogs have what they need in Mitchell, McKenzie, and Godwin, but those three can’t play every down. The coaching staff will be looking for someone to step up.
4. Linebacker Depth Chart
Georgia has two or three of the most versatile defenders in the SEC and one of the most talented groups of linebackers in the country overall. This has given defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt the opportunity to consider a series of defensive lineups that, instead of featuring a lineup with two designated outside linebackers bookending two inside linebackers, puts the best groups of guys on the field.
That said, there is essentially no depth chart. Pruitt will substitute on and off different groups of linebackers depending on the scenario that presents itself on the field. This way, Georgia fans will be able to enjoy watching Leonard Floyd at a middle linebacker-star hybrid, sandwiched between Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter playing outside linebacker on passing downs. Running downs will bring a lineup of Jenkins-Tim Kimbrough-Reggie Carter-Floyd, or perhaps Jenkins-Jake Ganus-Natrez Patrick-Floyd, or even Davin Bellamy-Kimbrough-R. Carter-L. Carter, or Bellamy-Ganus-Patrick-L. Carter, or Jenkins-Kimbrough-R. Carter-L. Carter.
There are more combinations. A lot more combinations. The point is that the Dawgs are, like, totally stacked at linebacker. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch Georgia’s pass rush in 2015.
5. Chubb for Heisman?
I know, I know, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here…but most Georgia fans would be lying if they told you they hadn’t even thought of the possibility of Nick Chubb bringing the Heisman Trophy back to Athens in 2015. What will the young man need to accomplish in order to do so? The math is simple:
In the eight games he started in 2014, Nick Chubb carried the ball 23.5 times per game. Assuming he starts all twelve regular season games, this would amount to 282 carries in the regular season, surpassing his freshman totals by 63 carries.
Chubb achieved an average run of 7.1 yards per during his freshman campaign. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say he maintains the same average in 2015. This would put Mr. Chubb at 2,002 yards in the regular season alone. Should the Bulldogs qualify for the SEC Championship Game, their star tailback would have an opportunity to add to those totals before the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony takes place the following week.
The problem with this thinking, unfortunately, is assuming all of these factors will remain constant. What has the potential to limit Chubb’s statistics is the talent he has surrounding him. Georgia has a very gifted young tailback in sophomore Sony Michel. All signs indicate that RS Junior Keith Marshall is back to his old self; he is running without a knee brace and has returned to his freshman weight of 210 pounds after nearing 230 following his knee injury. Junior Brendan Douglas will always be prepared to run through gassed defenses, and RS sophomore AJ Turman is finally ready to see the field after a series of foot injuries.
So now we’re back to where we started. Can Nick Chubb bring a third Heisman Trophy to the Classic City? Yes, he can, and we all know this. But will he? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling it’ll be a heck of a lot of fun to watch him try.