New coach Kirby Smart returned home and is changing a lot in and around Georgia's football program. Parting wit longtime, successful coach Mark Richt was met with mixed reviews, but there is a little more buzz and excitement in Athens with Smart in town.
Here are a few things we learned from Smart's first spring back in Athens:
What we learned about the offense: Don't expect a ton to change with how the Bulldogs run their offense. Smart isn't totally tied down to a complete pro-style approach, so there could be some spread elements and some tempo with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney running things. Of course, that will depend on who is the quarterback. That race will stretch into the fall, as Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Jacob Eason all shared snaps this spring. Lambert has the most experience, but Ramsey and Eason made it more interesting, especially Eason. Eason, touted as the next great thing at Georgia, gave up prom to be in Athens and was the star of the spring game. Coaches are bringing him along slowly, which is smart, but he's easily the most talented QB on the roster. Nick Chubb continued to rehab is knee but is apparently well ahead of schedule. Still, the staff is going to be very cautious with his return this fall. Smart wasn't thrilled with the play of his undersized offensive line, but having three starters back is big. Terry Godwin is a star-in-the-making at receiver, but he was the only proven wide out the Dawgs had this spring. Veteran Reggie Davis looked solid in the spring game, and getting the shifty Isaiah McKenzie moving around the field more is definitely a good thing for the offense.
What we learned about the defense: Smart shouldn't have to worry too much about his secondary. This is the most experienced group on the team, as it's stocked with cornerbacks, and safeties Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger have plenty of playmaking skills in the back end. The linebacking unit lost studs Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, but it could have stars in Lorenzo Carter on the outside and Natrez Patrick inside. Patrick could really be a special player because of his athleticism and versatility. He could even see time along the defensive line. Davin Bellamy also had a solid spring on the outside. Trenton Thompson is the star of the defensive front seven, and after a tame freshman season, Thompson was great this spring. The Bulldogs don't have a lot of depth up front, and there aren't any proven stars so Thompson will have to take that greatness into the fall for this group to have a major impact.
Breakout player: Patrick is a guy who really caught Smart's eye this spring. He played in 11 games last year but recorded just 22 tackles. Now, he's vying to be the Dawgs' top inside linebacker, and Smart has already compared him to some of the big, physical backers he coached at Alabama. That's high praise right there. Patrick is becoming the quarterback of this defense, and he'll also get a chance to move back to his old high school position of defensive end. Smart would like to use him as a third-down pass-rusher off the edge when needed.
Key storyline: Everyone will be keeping tabs on Eason and his progress through the summer and fall, but Chubb's recovery and rehab trumps everything else in Athens. Chubb is the heart of this team and the linchpin of this offense. Sony Michel played admirably in Chubb's absence, but he's not Nick Chubb. And while that's perfectly OK, not having Chubb this fall means we won't see the offense's full potential. Word is that Chubb is coming along nicely with his rehab, and he could be healthy by Week 1. But after shredding multiple ligaments in his knee, it's just not a guarantee that he'll be 100 percent by the first part of the season.