Offense shines, injuries mount as Georgia’s preseason camp concludes

Georgia quarterback Gunner Stockton (14) rolls to the right looking for an open receiver during Georgia’s scrimmage on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGAAA

Georgia quarterback Gunner Stockton (14) rolls to the right looking for an open receiver during Georgia’s scrimmage on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

ATHENS – The big news over the weekend was coach Kirby Smart announcing that Carson Beck has won the job as Georgia’s starting quarterback. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound redshirt junior from Jacksonville will get his first career start when the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs open the season against UT-Martin at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 2 (6 p.m., SECN-Plus).

Simultaneously, Smart said that the backup position was still up for grabs between redshirt sophomore Brock Vandagriff and redshirt freshman Gunner Stockton.

Those developments punctuated Georgia’s second and final competitive scrimmage of preseason camp. The Bulldogs will scrimmage again at Sanford Stadium this week, likely on Saturday, but that will be more a game operational rehearsal than a referendum on depth-chart hierarchy.

That said, not every position is settled.

“We’ve got to secure some more spots; a couple spots still up for grabs,” Smart told reporters after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Then we’ll really hone in on who our special teams and travel roster guys are going to be. So, we’re two weeks away from kickoff. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re competing. I want to see some more improvement, but I did see improvement from scrimmage one to two.”

Saturday’s scrimmage was attended by Georgia football lettermen. Following were some of the observations shared:

Good shape at quarterback

Everybody who watched seemed to be impressed with the play of Vandagriff and Stockton, who alternated snaps with the No. 2 offense, while Stockton also went with the third team. Vandagriff continues to display great mobility and seems to be evolving as a passer. Overall, though, Stockton looks smoother and seems more polished, according to observers.

Those conclusions seemed to mesh with Smart’s post-scrimmage comments.

“I want to continue to grow both those guys, and they’re like sponges,” Smart said of the backups. “They soak it up, they’re getting it, they understand, they know where to go with the ball and they’ve done some good things. It’s the few plays where (the defense) brings down a guy and (they don’t) do things with them. If another offensive player doesn’t do the right thing, a little bit of panic mode sets in. They’ve got to learn to give up on a play sometimes and not make it spectacular, just play for the next down.”

Injuries concerning

Smart told the lettermen in a brief meeting at the scrimmage that he’s a little concerned with the mounting injuries on the team. Senior running back Kendall Milton (hamstring) continues to run on the side with trainers rather than participating in the on-field work. Freshmen Roderick Robinson and Andrew Paul got the majority of contact work in the backfield on Saturday. Branson Robinson (foot) and Daijun Edwards (hamstring) participated but did not carry the football.

“The running back position has been a work in progress,” Smart said. “We’re trying to get healthy guys. They’re going to get to play behind a really good offensive line, some good tight ends and a quarterback that’s going to be able to help them. But we need to get production out of that position.”

During the scrimmage, left guard Xavier Truss and left tackle Earnest Greene both left for a time with apparent ankle injuries. Both returned for a short time, though Austin Blaske finished the scrimmage at left tackle with the No. 1 offense. Smart did not believe either injury was serious.

Defensive back Joenel Aguero was unable to participate due to a “Grade 1 hamstring” strain, Smart said. That’s the least serious of hamstring injuries, but indications are he’ll be sidelined a while.

Linebacker Smael Mondon (foot) remains out, Georgia lost linebacker Raylen Wilson to a knee injury last week, tight end Lawson Luckie (ankle) was sidelined last week and defensive back Chris Peal (toe) will be out for a while longer.

Georgia did get some injured players back Saturday. Defensive end Mykel Williams (toe) and outside linebacker Marvin Jones Jr. (shoulder) were able to play.

Secondary shaping up

Another player who was back in action Saturday was starting cornerback Kamari Lassiter (foot). Though he wore a non-contact jersey, the star junior’s return to the lineup had the Bulldogs’ No. 1 secondary back intact for the first time since preseason practice opened.

Sophomore Daylen Everette appeared to get the majority of snaps at the corner position opposite of Lassiter, Javon Bullard and Malaki Starks were the No. 1 safeties and senior Tykee Smith was the primary player at the star position.

Also making his presence known was senior safety Dan Jackson, who picked off a pass late in the scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown. The walk-on and part-time starter had been out since midseason last year with a foot injury.

Receivers shine

One of the standouts of camp has been slotback Dominic Lovett. The junior transfer from Missouri got loose again, this time for a 40-yard touchdown on the No. 1 offense’s opening possession.

Lovett got open down the middle of the field after Beck evaded pressure and rolled out to one side. That led to Smart chiding the defense over his ever-present microphone. “Yeah, just like Ohio State; quarterback on the move – touchdown!”

Tight end Brock Bowers continued to make play after play, often making catches despite tight coverage. With sophomore Oscar Delp taking most of the other snaps at tight end, it does not look like Georgia will be utilizing “12″ personnel as much as it did last season, when the Bulldogs paired Bowers with 6-foot-7, 275-pound Darnell Washington.