Final camp updates: Is Georgia ready for UNC, season?

The long wait is over, and football has finally returned. With game week upon us at last, it’s time to take one final look at the Bulldogs as they prepare to face North Carolina in the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

Preparedness is an interesting topic in that it depends upon an individual’s standard. Knowledge of a plan that has been put into place, or if a plan exists at all, is also a crucial element.

Like most teams, there are several aspects in which Georgia likely feels comfortable and confident but also plenty of areas that still need work.

What should be of greater interest is whether there is a plan in place for the areas that still need work. If there is, fans should see improvement over the course of the season. If not, there could be a bigger issue in place.

Let’s start with the areas where the Bulldogs should feel prepared.

The most important development of the offseason is not the quarterback battle, but rather the health of All-SEC running back Nick Chubb. Having Chubb fully healthy for the opener against North Carolina is a huge swing of momentum.

The Tar Heels ranked No. 122 out of 128 teams last season in rushing yards allowed per game, surrendering 247.36. Before his injury, Chubb had run for 100 or more yards in 13-straight contests (every start in his career!) tying a school record set by one Herschel Walker. He was on pace to rush for 1,937 yards and 18.2 touchdowns, bowl game included, through five games last year.

With Sony Michel’s status still up in the air — but looking positive —  Georgia’s ground attack would have relied upon veteran Brandon Douglas and freshmen Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien had Chubb been unable to play. With all due respect to those three backs, the gap between them and Chubb is large.

Sticking with the offense, the team’s tight ends are another position of strength. Wide receiver is still a relative unknown – more on that in a bit – so it would not be surprising to see offensive coordinator Jim Chaney use multiple tight end sets early on.

The offensive line is one of those areas that isn’t settled, but there is a clear plan in place and fans should not be concerned. Kirby Smart believes he has six guys who are playing at a high level and an even deeper rotation of eight or nine players he is comfortable playing. There are a few first-time starters so they will need to prove themselves in games that matter, but the coaching staff doesn’t appear to be worried.

Defensively, the only unit that is settled is the secondary. The Bulldogs have all of last year’s starters returning as upperclassmen and have added a few nice pieces. Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger (below) are the leaders of this unit, but transfer Maurice Smith and freshman Mecole Hardman are names fans should be familiar with.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Georgia Tech

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Now, let’s look at the areas where there are still some question marks.

No position has received as much attention this offseason as quarterback, and for good reason. After two seasons with game managers Hutson Mason and Greyson Lambert, fans are aching to see a more dynamic player start.

Jacob Eason’s arrival was much anticipated, and now people are ready to see him take the field as the team’s starting quarterback. Before tossing the true freshman out there, however, the coaching staff will want to make sure he’s prepared.

Eason has been working with the first team a lot lately, and worked exclusively with the starters Friday. According to a report by DawgPost, Eason is in line to start in the season opener.

“Insiders say that Eason’s development improved during his time with the No. 1 unit, and that the extra day off (this Monday) helped him recover from what has been a grueling, high-voluming of throwing camp,” DawgPost reported. “At this point insiders expect Eason not just to start against the Tar Heels, but to play the entire game.”

It’s still too early to say anything is definite, but Smart has a plan.

Whoever starts at quarterback, his receivers remain a mystery. Sophomore Terry Godwin and senior Reggie Davis figure to play a big role, but there are several players who have yet to separate themselves. Freshman Riley Ridley was impressive in the spring game and has tantalizing potential if not a publicly defined role.

Wide receiver shouldn’t be a major issue, especially is Godwin improves on his first season, but the coaches would love to see one or two more players establish themselves in the pecking order.

One area that’s more concerning is the defensive line. Injuries and suspensions have thinned out a unit that wasn’t deep to begin with. John Atkins looks better after a knee injury sidelined him early in fall camp and sophomore Trent Thompson is expected to take a step forward. Those are really the only known entities, however, and there is a lot of inexperience that could hurt the Bulldogs.

They certainly will be challenged in the opener. UNC tailback Elijah Hood ran for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

Behind the defensive line, the linebackers are an interesting group. There is talent, and the staff seems to like what they have, but there isn’t much game experience. Lorenzo Carter is expected to fill the role left behind by Leonard Floyd at outside linebacker, and inside linebackers Reggie Carter and Natrez Patrick have been solid when on the field.

Like the defensive line, the lack of starting experience could hurt the linebackers initially. What makes the unit different from the line, however, is the talent in place. There is enough talent to turn the position into one of strength if they continue to improve early in the season.

At this point, one of the biggest concerns defensively could be the pass rush. Carter can rush the passer, but will need to take a decent step forward this season. He won’t have the luxury of having players around him who have proven track records of penetrating an opponent’s backfield. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Thompson emerge as one of the team’s better pass disrupters from the defensive tackle position.

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

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