For the first time in three seasons, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart will have to replace the player under center.
Junior quarterback Jake Fromm’s announcement to forgo his senior season leaves no obvious replacement. Fromm has the second-most touchdown passes and fourth-most passing yards in Georgia history. Signee Carson Beck and Stetson Bennett will now have their own opportunity at quarterback, but replacing their predecessor is no simple order.
What will loom in the months following also concerns the rest of the offense as it attempts to replace at least six starters.
Three of the five regular spots on Georgia’s offensive line are vacant since Andrew Thomas, Solomon Kindley and Isaiah Wilson are leaving early to ignite their professional careers in the NFL. Additionally, reports said Cade Mays entered the transfer portal on Jan. 8, which was anything but expected.
The Sugar Bowl was supposed to be a sneak peek of the future offensive line, but because of the news about Mays’ and Kindley’s departure, this year’s group is still uncertain.
Jamaree Salyer impressed during his first start in the Sugar Bowl in Wilson’s place at right tackle, but will he appear there for the 2020 season opener? Warren Ericson made his first career start at right guard in the Sugar Bowl, but will he stay put as well?
Georgia’s offense in the first year under James Coley has been relentlessly criticized and perhaps deservedly so. In 2018 — Jim Chaney’s final year as offensive coordinator — Georgia put up 37.3 points per game. Coley’s first year at the helm produced a less explosive offense, as the average dwindled to 28.3 points per game.
Smart acknowledged in the moments after the SEC championship game that such a drastic decline could have more to do with losing four wide receivers to the NFL the season before. He brought up that Georgia didn’t have the same amount of talent to replace those players within one offseason. At the same time, it’s also unclear how much the group will improve in the offseason.
Though wide receiver George Pickens showed promise against No. 7 Baylor, it’s going to take more than one player to get the offense back to championship level. It’s also unknown how well fellow wideout Dominick Blaylock will perform after suffering a torn ACL in the first quarter against LSU in the SEC championship game.
Georgia has signed four wide receivers in the 2020 class, but it’s too early to know whether they will be able to do the necessary dirty work — such as blocking in Georgia’s run-heavy offense — to receive significant playing time.
Five-star tight end Darnell Washington’s addition to the 2020 class could be what makes up for what’s missing on the outside. His unique size and athleticism are encouraging, but he has yet to step on the practice field in Athens.
Smart inserted Swift and Elijah Holyfield at running back in 2018 to replace Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Now Zamir White and James Cook will have time in the spotlight, while Kenny McIntosh and 2020 signee Kendall Milton could contribute as well. The self-proclaimed ‘RBU’ was expected to become more prolific, but five-star Zachary Evans’ release from his National Letter of Intent on Jan. 7 lowers expectations.
Georgia’s 2020 recruiting class currently ranks No. 3 in the nation, per the 247Sports Composite, but the development of talent — especially on offense — will be front and center in the first season of the decade. If he doesn’t figure out how to halt the sudden decline, another frustrating year could be on the horizon.