As Kirby Smart prepares to open his first spring practice as a head coach, his Georgia team faces a number of questions.
Not only must offensive coordinator Jim Chaney figure out a plan at quarterback, but the Bulldogs must begin to determine who will fill holes in the depth chart at wide receiver, on the offensive line and in the defensive front seven. This team will be loaded with potential but also with inexperience – including in the head coach’s office.
Here is a breakdown of the Bulldogs’ roster and prospects as spring practice begins:
2015 record: 10-3 (5-3), beat Penn State in TaxSlayer Bowl
Final AP rank: Unranked
2016 Way-too-early rank: No. 19
2016 FPI rank: No. 9
Spring game date: April 16
Key losses: OLB Leonard Floyd, OLB Jordan Jenkins, WR Malcolm Mitchell, OT John Theus, OL Kolton Houston, LB Jake Ganus, DL Chris Mayes, DL Sterling Bailey, DL James DeLoach, RB Keith Marshall, K Marshall Morgan
1. Can Jacob Eason threaten the returning players at QB? It’s no secret that the quarterback position was a mess last season, with Greyson Lambert (1,959 passing yards, 12 TDs, 2 INTs) and Brice Ramsey (249, 1 TD, 2 INT) – and for one pitiful loss to Florida, Faton Bauta – failing to move the offense consistently.
Lambert and Ramsey are back, and now they have early enrollee Eason – ESPN’s No. 13 overall prospect and No. 1 pocket passer – to battle for the starting job. Plenty of Georgia fans would like to see Eason grab the job between now and September, but leaning heavily on a true freshman quarterback is a risky proposition.
Will Eason show he can handle the demands of the position? Will Lambert and/or Ramsey take charge and display a better command of the offense this year? The SEC is loaded with quarterback battles this spring, but this one ranks among the most important since Georgia has the potential to be a top 25 team if it gets more consistent play at quarterback.
2. What’s the story with Nick Chubb? Even if we don’t see Chubb practice in the spring, the running back's availability for this season will directly affect Georgia’s prospects. Perhaps Smart will offer some clarity on his situation before the spring is over, since his public comments to date implied that he was uncertain when Chubb – who suffered a season-ending knee injury last October against Tennessee – might return.
In Georgia’s first five games last season, Chubb had 747 rushing yards. Sony Michel (1,161 rushing yards, 270 receiving, 11 total TDs) did an excellent job in taking over as the Bulldogs’ top tailback, and if both are healthy he and Chubb would again rank among the nation’s top 1-2 punches. But we simply don’t know yet whether Chubb will be ready for action by September.
If he is not, Georgia’s backfield depth will be a major concern. Behind Michel are Brendan Douglas and the unproven duo of A.J. Turman and Tae Crowder. Holyfield – ESPN’s No. 183 overall prospect and No. 11 running back – almost certainly will play as a true freshman, regardless of whether Chubb returns in 2016. Such is the state of the UGA backfield.
3. Who steps up at receiver? With Mitchell (58 catches, 865 receiving yards, 5 TDs) completing his career, Georgia has no proven option at wideout.
Sophomore Terry Godwin (35-379-2) is a rising star, and Reggie Davis (12-187-1) and Isaiah McKenzie (10-123) have been OK in spurts, but new receivers coach James Coley has his work cut out to establish some depth this spring. Among the players to watch are sophomores Michael Chigbu (4-28), Jayson Stanley (2-23) and Shaquery Wilson, all of whom played limited roles last season.
In addition, early enrollee Ridley is the first of Georgia’s wide receiver signees to arrive on campus. The younger brother of Alabama star Calvin Ridley, he was an Under Armour All-American and ESPN 300 honoree.