The first week of spring practice for Georgia is now but a memory. Culminating in an open practice for fans on Saturday, the Bulldogs are now one week closer to their season opener against North Carolina.
Before that matchup in the Georgia Dome arrives, however, there are still plenty of questions for Kirby Smart and his staff to iron out. The weeks leading up to the season are the perfect time to do so, and the bigger picture will become clearer as fall camp wears on.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from Georgia’s first week of practice:
Nick Chubb working hard to be healthy for season
The health of All-SEC running back Nick Chubb is at the forefront of Bulldogs fans’ minds, and for good reason. When on the field, Chubb is an elite playmaker who raises the overall ability of Georgia’s offense. Since injuring his knee last year against Tennessee, Chubb’s status for the start of the season has been up in the air.
With only weeks left, there still hasn’t been a definitive answer about Chubb’s availability for the game, but all parties claim that he is working hard in his recovery and recovering nicely.
The junior running back has been a full participant at practice but has yet to be tackled. After Wednesday’s practice, Chubb spoke with reporters about his recovery and said he’s had no issues thus far.
“I got wrapped up a couple of times,” Chubb said Wednesday. “It felt good.”
Following Saturday’s open practice, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney met with the media for the first time and reiterated Chubb’s message.
“He’s out there on the field working every day to get himself in shape,” Chaney said, “and I feel comfortable we’re on track of where they are at with the medical stuff.
“I see Nick Chubb being the player he’s been before and will continue to do so. He’s a downhill-running son of a gun, so let’s hand him the ball and see what he can do.”
Updates on the quarterback competition
Outside of Chubb’s health, the biggest storyline undoubtedly is the competition to decide Georgia’s starting quarterback.
At this point, it is still a close race between the Bulldogs’ three main candidates, Jacob Eason, Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey. All quarterbacks continue to get reps with different units as the coaching staff evaluates the players’ various strengths and weaknesses.
Chaney spoke candidly on Saturday about the quarterback battle, revealing it was an ever-changing process.
“On any given day, I like one a little bit more than the other,” Chaney said in a Georgia release. “I told them yesterday, I got a little upset with them. I said, somebody needs to start emerging a little bit here, showing a little bit more.
“As the volume comes in, it gets a little tougher on some of them. Some can handle a little more volume than others. That doesn’t necessarily make you the best player and the one we’re going to choose. But at the end of the day, every one of us are human beings, and like quarterbacks, we have fleas. We’re not all perfect.
“So they have to figure out what they do good and do it as best they can and work on their weaknesses, and I feel comfortable in saying they are all doing that right now. The competition is hot and it’s alive and it’s very competitive and it’s been fun to watch them.”
Many believe Eason, the 5-star prize of the Bulldogs’ freshmen class, has the most talent of the bunch. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Eason wowed fans during the spring game with his ability to throw deep balls down the sideline, but there is also concern about starting him against a high-caliber opponent due to his lack of experience.
Smart reiterated that all three quarterbacks have been rotated evenly throughout the practices in order to get an equal look. The coaching staff is looking for a player who can take care of the football and lead the offense on scoring drives, according to Chaney. It doesn’t appear the competition will be decided anytime soon, either.
“Sometimes it’s about a gut feeling what you’re going to do,” Chaney said Saturday. “So at the end of the day, let them compete, it will sort out when it sorts out. There’s no timetable on this. And we’ll figure out where it goes from there.”
Mel Tucker excited about Georgia’s defense
Although Smart showed his excellence in commanding a defense at Alabama, he’s got a bit more on his plate now that he’s a head coach. Overseeing the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts is Mel Tucker, and he likes what he’s seen on that side of the ball so far.
“I’ve been impressed with the energy of this group,” Tucker said in a Georgia release Saturday. “When you walk into the meeting room with those guys, you know, they are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, paying attention. They have really good attitudes. They seem like the chemistry is getting better and better, and they are just very coachable, and you can tell, they want to be great.”
Georgia’s secondary is among the many strengths on this team, and the unit Tucker works most closely with. Given the veteran presence of players like Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger, the Bulldogs’ leadership may come from the back-end of the defense.
Outside of the secondary, linebacker Lorenzo Carter is the player most expect to make a big impact. After a strong freshman season, Carter disappeared at times in 2015. He’s flashed the ability to take over games, and Tucker believes Carter can become a leader on his defense.
“I tell you what, Lorenzo, obviously he’s a tremendous athlete,” Tucker said. “He responds well to coaching. I’ve been impressed with him.”
For fans wondering whether or not Smart will have any influence on the defense, Tucker made it a point to say that running the defense would be a team effort. He and Smart will work closely together, and that should bode well for Georgia moving forward.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) August 2, 2016
Tight end a strength for the Bulldogs offensively
There are still plenty of question marks for Georgia’s offense, but it’s clear that the tight end unit is not one.
When 5-star freshman Isaac Nauta was added to a group that already consisted of Jeb Blazevich and Jackson Harris, the unit became one of the deepest and most talented in the SEC.
Chaney certainly has taken notice.
“I think it’s as deep as any group I’ve ever been around,” Chaney said Saturday. “They have the ability to do a lot of things. They can be inline blockers, we can detach them and throw them footballs as a wide receiver. They have a unique ability to learn.
“This is a pretty sharp room. You walk into that room, they have a high aptitude. It doesn’t bother them to learn 14 new concepts in a day. They will pick that up quickly. We have smart kids at that room, which at that position, you need to have. Other than the quarterback spot, there will be more demand at the tight end position than any other position on our football team. They have got to learn to be a tackle in the run game and a wide-out in the passing game.
“So I can see us in multiple tight end sets, if needed, if that’s the direction we need to go to win that football game, then I feel real comfortable doing that. What I’m looking for is all those pieces. If I have to play with three tight ends to play in a game to win, we can.”
Expect plenty of rotation along the defensive line
It’s no big secret that Georgia lacks depth and experience along the defensive line. There is talent, yes, but it’s unproven.
Defensive tackle Trent Thompson was the nation’s No. 1 prospect for 2015, and he has the potential to dominate at the position. Around him, though, there is plenty of mystery. Defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter is dealing with several off-field issues, John Atkins hurt his knee this week and the promising group of freshmen has yet to play a down in the SEC.
In an effort to get productivity, Tucker says he plans to use a heavy rotation. He believes it will help keep fresh guys and increase the team’s depth as more players get in-game experience.
A good pass rush is important at any level of football, and while Georgia’s linebackers have provided help in recent seasons, Tucker expects to see a strong push from the line.
“I think we have guys that can push the pocket inside,” Tucker said Saturday. “I think we have guys that can give you some rush off the edge, and I think we have more than two or three. I think we have quite a few guys that can get that done. I feel good about it. It’s a work-in-progress but we’re working on it every day, and the guys, they are getting after it out there.”
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.
Source: Saturday Down South