ATHENS — Wednesday is “Report Day.” At least, that’s the way it’s listed on Georgia football’s official calendar.
There was a time that was a real red-letter day for the Bulldogs. Players would pull back into town with their cars loaded down with clothes and dorm supplies to move back onto campus and start getting into shape for the fast-approaching season.
Nowadays, even the incoming freshmen have been living in Athens for months. Most haven’t left town for more than a week since the first of June. And they’ve stayed plenty busy in the meantime.
That was evidenced Monday as Georgia football’s creative team called attention to “Max Day” in the Bulldogs’ glistening new weight room. Even some of the young pups were hoisting some serious poundage under the screaming direction of strength-and-conditioning director Scott Sinclair. For a reference, check out freshman running back Branson Robinson.
So, Georgia will hit the ground running when preseason practices get underway Thursday afternoon. It’s a good thing as the Bulldogs will have 29 days to conduct a maximum of 25 practices before the season opener against Oregon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Sept. 3, 3:30 p.m., ABC).
The same goes for the Ducks, as it does for all other Division I teams. The NCAA still sets the parameters in college football: contact allowed for 18 workouts, nine in full pads, two scrimmages, and so on.
There is one difference, though. There is no hourly limit for preseason preparations, as long as classes haven’t started. Georgia players don’t return to school until Aug. 17, when fall semester commences, so they’ll have almost two weeks of unfettered prep time.
That sounds good until one checks Oregon’s academic calendar. Fall semester doesn’t start for the Ducks until Sept. 27.
Good thing the Bulldogs have stayed busy.
Here are 10 preseason camp priorities for Georgia:
1. Who’s #2? For the first time in his collegiate career, Stetson “Stet The Jet” Bennett is unchallenged as the starting quarterback. But the battle to be next-up will be intense. Only Jake Fromm has begun and ended a season as Georgia’s starting quarterback in Kirby Smart’s six seasons as coach. Injuries or subpar performances resulted in changes the other four years. So, coordinator Todd Monken will take a hard look at Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton to establish a clear succession plan, whether it be for next year or next week.
2. Defensive rebuild: There’s no downplaying it: Georgia’s defensive reconstruction is massive. To replace five NFL first-rounders and eight draft picks from the defense without a drop in production will be challenging if not impossible. The Bulldogs will try to do it under the direction of new coordinators. Neither Glenn Schumann nor Will Muschamp is new to coordinating or to Georgia. But with Dan Lanning landing a Power Five head coaching gig in only three seasons, they, too, have a tough act to follow.
3. More new coaches: While Schumann and Muschamp aren’t new to Georgia, several other coaches are. As is typical coming off a championship season, the Bulldogs are replacing several assistant coaches. Chidera Uzo-Diribe takes over Lanning’s role coaching outside linebackers, Fran Brown succeeds Jahmile Addae coaching defensive backs, and Stacy Searels and Bryan McClendon return to the Bulldogs to coach offensive line and receivers, respectively. That makes for a lot of new voices bouncing off the walls around McWhorter Practice Fields.
4. Linebacker U: Priority No. 1 on defense is establishing a pecking order and rotation at inside linebacker. Georgia has recruited through the roof at this position, with Jamon “Pop” Dumas-Johnson, Smael Mondon, Xavian Sorey, Jalon Walker, Rian Davis and Trezmen Marshall in the fold. But the experience that contributed to Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker logging 206 tackles last season is nowhere to be found.
5. Tykee or not Tykee? Junior Tykee Smith was an All-American when he transferred to Georgia from West Virginia before last season. Injuries have limited him to one game with the Bulldogs so far. After finally recovering from a broken foot, Smith tore his ACL upon his midseason return. It will have been 10 months since that injury occurred by mid-August. The thought is he’ll be a starter at safety or nickel if he’s healthy. At this point, nobody knows when that might be.
6. Passing the torch: “RBU” has enjoyed an almost seamless transition from running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, to D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield and to Zamir White and James Cook. It looks like that legacy will continue with Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton poised to step into featured roles. But nothing is guaranteed and experience is low within the group, with just two career starts between those aforementioned backs and a total of 49 carries between all the others. The proof will be in the pounding.
7. O-line realign: Georgia’s offensive line will have much to say about ball distribution, and there is some ongoing transition up front. Alterations already were underway toward the end of last season. In the decisive second half against Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship game, Broderick Jones emerged at left tackle while Jamaree Salyer moved over to shore up at right guard. With Jones and Warren McClendon back at the tackles and Sedrick Van Pran-Granger affixed at center, the most intense competition will be at guard. Senior Warren Ericson will want to stake a claim to one, but the Bulldogs have much larger options in Xavier Truss, Devin Willock and several others. Tate Ratledge was the starter at right guard before a season-ending foot injury sidelined him in last year’s opener versus Clemson. Meanwhile, Amarius Mims’ return from the transfer portal assures that there will be competition and options at tackle.
8. Tussling for targets: The notion that Georgia is deficient at receiver is absurd. The Bulldogs’ three most productive receivers of a year ago are back in Ladd McConkey, Adonai “A.D.” Mitchell and Brock Bowers. One of them just happens to be the most prolific pass-catching tight end in UGA history (56 rec., 882 yards, 13 TDs). And there are more where Bowers came from. Don’t think Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert are receivers? Try covering them with a defensive back or linebacker against a run-pass-option look. And here Georgia’s backs say, “we like catching the ball, too.” Rich people problems.
9. Specialists: Jake Camarda was somewhat unsung for the Bulldogs the past couple of years. Between booming punts, soaring kickoffs and drama-free, placement-kick holds, Camarda was a Zen master when it came to keeping things calm and productive on special teams. His NFL departure creates three openings to be decided during camp. There’s a fourth if one counts kick returner. While senior Kearis Jackson has been the epitome of sure-handedness, the Bulldogs have lacked their traditional dynamism when it comes to game-busting returns. Tryouts should be entertaining.
10. Follow me: When Georgia made its postseason run in 2017, Chubb, Michel, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter led the way. Last year, it was Cook, White, Dean and Jordan Davis who took the mantle. Will there be such leadership this season? Senior outside linebacker Nolan Smith forewent an NFL opportunity to play another season at Georgia, and Bennett is back for a sixth season. They’re natural choices. But who else might emerge as an example, provider and tower of leadership? Applications are being taken all month.