It’s rare that a team enters the season with major question marks at quarterback and tailback and is still considered by many to be the team that might shock the pundits this fall.
That Georgia finds itself in that unique position speaks volumes about the Bulldogs’ overall talent level as the Kirby Smart coaching era begins. But there’s no denying the glaring uncertainties, either.
Figuring things out as much as possible in August will be the top priority for Smart. Here’s a look at the three biggest questions he’ll need answered before the Dawgs kick off the season in Atlanta against North Carolina on Sept. 3.
1. Will tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel be available for the season opener? Losing one 1,000-yard rusher is painful enough, but Smart might be faced with the dubious prospect of going without either of his future NFL backs when the Dawgs head to the Georgia Dome to face the Tar Heels.
Chubb, a first-team All-SEC pick in 2014 after rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman, was on his way to another banner year last year before suffering a severe knee injury that required surgery. Expect him to see limited action against UNC, but it could take awhile before he regains the form that made him one of the nation’s top backs prior to his injury.
Michel was brilliant in 2015, rushing for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in Chubb’s absence to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load. The junior suffered a broken left forearm while riding an ATV this summer and it remains to be seen whether the surgically-repaired limb will have healed enough for Michel to play in the opener.
Without either back to carry the ball, the Dawgs will likely turn to seldom-used senior Brendan Douglas and true freshman Elijah Holyfield.
2. When does the Jacob Eason era begin? UGA faithful have been drooling with anticipation of the former five-star quarterback’s arrival for what seems like an eternity, and they’d like nothing better than seeing him under center right away, in Atlanta.
Major college football is vastly different from high school with its added speed and complexities, but injuries to his two stud tailbacks means that Smart may have no choice than to throw the inexperienced Eason to the wolves earlier than he might have preferred.
The heralded freshman may not start against the Tar Heels, but there’s no question that he will play a lot and will be the Dawgs’ quarterback before the season’s end.
It’s just a matter of when he assumes the mantle and usurps returning starter Greyson Lambert.
3. Who will step up on the depleted defensive line early in the season? Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker has to be asking himself what he did to deserve this kind of unexpected challenge. Losing four seniors was already problematic. Add a couple of embarrassing disciplinary issues and you can understand why Rocker figures to have a lot of long nights between now and Sept. 3.
Facing UNC’s Elijah Hood (1,463 yards, 17 touchdowns) out of the gate doesn’t help, either.
This past offseason saw Georgia part ways with rising sophomore Chauncey Rivers following his third marijuana-related arrest, while likely starting defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter has been suspended for at least two games following the sophomore’s second alcohol-related arrest.
As if that weren’t enough already, the Dawgs could also be without true freshman Julian Rochester following a BB gun incident in a dorm this spring. A former five-star prospect according to one publication, Rochester had enrolled in school in January and figures to see significant action this season.
The lack of depth up front could be a problem early in the season as the heat will force teams to consistently rotate players in and out.
The Dawgs welcome budding star Trent Thompson back at defensive tackle after a solid freshman year in 2015, but he’ll need help. Sophomore Michael Barnett will likely assume a spot at one end while Ledbetter remains out.
Source: Saturday Down South