Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley (8) gets ready to catch a pass on Fan Day at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, August 6, 2016. (Photo/Casey Sykes, www.caseysykes.com)

With only a little more than three weeks to the first game of Georgia's football season, there are still some questions as to which players will start. 


If there were odds as to who will start the season opener as quarterback in Georgia football’s opener against North Carolina, the favorite would likely be Greyson Lambert.

After a pair of underwhelming games to start the season, Lambert had Bulldog fans dreaming of a national title after he completed 24 of 25 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina. But Lambert threw only nine touchdowns in the other 12 games combined, contributing to a Bulldog offense that never got rolling a season ago.

Lambert wasn’t horrible by any means, as he completed 63 percent of his passes for nearly 2,000 yards. But he lacked the ability to stretch the ball down the field, which allowed teams to stack the box and take away the running game of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. With all three quarterbacks having to learn new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense from scratch, that experience doesn’t matter as much as it would have if Mark Richt’s staff from 2015 was still in place.

Jacob Eason is the most naturally talented of the trio, and the one that fans are clamoring for to start against the Tar Heels. The Lake Stevens, Washington, product has been compared to Bulldog quarterbacking great Matthew Stafford, and Eason’s performance at G-Day did nothing to stop those comparisons. Eason completed 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown in his time on the field. Eason will have to perform in practice and win the job, but it’s definitely there for the taking.

The longshot in this race is Brice Ramsey. He has neither the experience of Lambert nor the talent of Eason. He was slated to win the job heading into last season, but he never seized control and was eventually relegated to backup quarterback and punter. In his career at Georgia, Ramsey has appeared in 17 games, completing 45 of 74 passes for 582 yards with four touchdowns and four picks.

Front Seven

Defense was definitely the stronger side of the ball for Georgia in 2015. It allowed a tick less than 17 points per game and gave the offense a chance to win games that could have easily been losses had the defense played poorly, such as the contests against Missouri and Auburn.

For the season, the Bulldogs surrendered 149.46 rushing yards per game, which ranked 42nd in the country. However, as the season went on, the front seven got worse against the run. After allowing 107.25 rushing yards per game in August and September, that mark rose to 168.75 yards in October and 179.75 yards in November.

This year, the defensive front has the biggest question marks of any unit on the team, as senior linebacker Tim Kimbrough is the only returning starter. Senior defensive linemen Sterling Bailey, Chris Mayes, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson have all departed. Rising sophomore Chauncey Rivers was dismissed from the team in May. Add in the certain suspension of at least two games for sophomore Jonathan Ledbetter and the possible suspension for freshman Julian Rochester, and the line is perilously thin.

The good news is that Trenton Thompson returns. Thompson showed flashes of promise a year ago in delivering 25 tackles. He is the leading tackler to return on the defensive line. Sophomore Michael Barnett and freshmen Michail Carter and David Marshall will need to step up and contribute right away.

The situation at linebacker is a little brighter for the Bulldogs. The outside linebacking positions will be held down by the tandem of juniors Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter.

Bellamy showed flashes of promise last season, compiling three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Carter, meanwhile, followed up a solid freshman season with a very disappointing 2015 in which he didn’t record a single sack. They will be replacing the duo of Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, who racked up 9.5 sacks in 2015. Bellamy and Carter will need to perform well not just as pass rushers, but also as run defenders in setting the edge and spilling plays back to the inside.

Kimbrough and junior Reggie Carter are the most experienced options on the inside. Kimbrough is the leading returning tackler on the team with 67 in 2015, while Carter was injured for basically the entire season. Sophomores Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith will also challenge for starting spots.


In 2015, Georgia’s secondary led the country with a stout 156.5 passing yards allowed per game, and they tallied 12 interceptions in 13 games. While it is true that Georgia did play several run-oriented teams, and the pass rush definitely helped them out, those are still very strong numbers.

Every significant contributor from last season returns, and the Bulldogs add one of the best recruits in the country in five-star athlete Mecole Hardman. Head coach Kirby Smart has said \ Hardman will begin his career as a cornerback. The pressure will be on the secondary to be great once again, as the front seven is breaking in a ton of new players.

The secondary will be led by junior safety Dominick Sanders. He was one of the best safeties in the country last season, tying for the conference lead with six interceptions and earning First-Team All-SEC honors.

He will need to continue his ball-hawking ways if the defense is to be successful. The other safety spot will be held down by senior Quincy Mauger. He isn’t as much of a playmaker as his safety counterpart, but he is a veteran presence that serves as a leader on the back end. These two will be backed up by sophomore Jarvis Wilson, and sophomore Rico McGraw and junior Reggie Wilkerson could see some time at safety as well.

One corner spot will be taken by junior Aaron Davis, while fellow junior Malkom Parrish is likely to start on the other side. This pair combined for five pass break ups in 2015. Sophomore Juwuan Briscoe will serve as the third corner after a solid freshman season. It remains to be seen how much Hardman will see the field, but with his supreme athleticism he will surely see some time in the secondary sooner rather than later. McGraw and Wilkerson are also versatile enough to slide over and play some corner if needed as well.

Special teams

For the first time since 2012, Georgia faces uncertainty on special teams. Placekicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber have both departed. They have left behind two position battles that have still yet to be decided.

The competition to replace Morgan is down to a two horse race. Redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship and redshirt sophomore William Ham have been battling all spring and summer to see who will earn the right to be the kicker for the Bulldogs. Morgan didn’t exactly set the world on fire a season ago, as he converted 18 of 25 field goal opportunities. If Blankenship or Ham can replicate or improve on this performance, that will be a big bonus for the Georgia special teams.

The battle for punter also seems to be a duel between two players, but unlike the kicking battle there is an experienced option in the mix. After his chances at quarterback didn’t work out, Brice Ramsey took over the punting duties during the Florida game last season. He performed surprisingly well, averaging 41.92 yards on his 25 kicks. He will be challenged by incoming freshman Marshall Long. Long was an Army All-American last season as one of the best high school punters in the nation.

With questions abound in the kicking game, the return game is much more certain. The Bulldogs returning attack begins and ends with junior speedster Isaiah McKenzie. He has a total of five return touchdowns during his career in Athens, with four of those coming on punt returns. Last season he averaged 12.76 yards on 17 punt returns with two touchdowns.

Senior receiver Reggie Davis also added a touchdown and a 13.75 average on eight punt returns. Davis served as the primary kickoff return man, returning seventeen kickoffs to McKenzie’s four. Mecole Hardman’s speed and athleticism could make him a viable option in the return game as well, especially if head coach Kirby Smart wants to save Davis or McKenzie for more of a receiving role.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Georgia’s passing attack was extremely inconsistent in 2015. While much of this was due to lackluster quarterback play, UGA did not benefit from stellar performances from any of its wide receivers or tight ends. Not a single member from either group reached the 1,000-yard mark last season. But a combination of an extra year of experience for returning players and an influx of new talent leaves room for optimism when it comes to the Bulldog pass-catchers in 2016.

The biggest loss for the wide receivers is Malcolm Mitchell, the undisputed leader of the group from a year ago. His 865 yards and five touchdowns were both tops on the team.

However, that does not mean there is no returning production from the receiving corps. Terry Godwin will likely take Mitchell’s spot as the top option on the team. He was not always the most consistent player, but he showed his ability to make big plays in high pressure situations, catching the game-tying touchdown against Georgia Southern.

Isaiah McKenzie will also be back, and he should maintain his role as the top option out of the slot for the Bulldogs. The diminutive speedster makes his biggest mark in the return game, but he has the agility and breakaway speed to turn short passes into big plays as well. Reggie Davis and Michael Chigbu both saw an increase in snaps last season, and that trend is likely to continue into 2016.

There will also be several new options for whoever is lined up under center to throw to. Junior college transfer Javon Wims could have the best chance to make an impact early, as he has more experience than any of the younger newcomers.

Freshman Riley Ridley, brother of star Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley, made some impressive plays in Georgia’s spring game. Four-star recruit Tyler Simmons will also join the receiving corps, and has the talent to gain a role in the offense if he can earn the trust of the coaching staff early on. Mecole Hardman is an electric athlete who could see time playing on both sides of the ball. Hardman was recruited as an athlete, and getting the ball in his hands as much as possible should be a priority for the Bulldogs.

Georgia did not get a lot of production at tight end in 2015. Jeb Blazevich is the returning starter, although he made just 15 receptions a season ago. If Eason ends up starting for the Bulldogs, he could look to the 6-foot-5 Blazevich as a giant safety valve in the middle of the field.

UGA also made a few key acquisitions that should increase the effectiveness of its tight ends. Most notably, freshman Isaac Nauta joined the team. Nauta was the top tight end recruit in the country and could push Blazevich for playing time early if he has a good summer. The team also added Charlie Woerner, who is big and athletic, although he did not play against top-flight competition in high school. It's unclear exactly how good he can be, but he at least adds depth to a position that was a liability for Georgia last season.

In short, Georgia has ample opportunity to get much better production out of its receivers than it did a in 2015. The loss of Malcolm Mitchell will hurt, but he is the only meaningful departure from either wide receivers or tight ends.

The returning talent should be improved with another offseason of experience, and the new talent has promise. If the quarterback play is there, the receivers will not be what holds Georgia back this season.

Running backs

Injuries make the state of the running back position a little cloudier than usual for UGA going into the 2016 season, but the team’s depth should allow the team to stay efficient on the ground. Due to the uncertainty at quarterback, coach Kirby Smart will likely depend on the running game to help out whoever is under center, and he should not be disappointed.

Junior Nick Chubb was on pace for a potential Heisman campaign in 2015, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in each of Georgia’s first six games and averaging more than eight yards per carry. Chubb suffered a knee injury in the seventh game against Tennessee in Knoxville, and was forced out for the rest of the year. His rehab has supposedly been going well, but he has yet to take part in a padded practice or taken a serious hit since he hurt himself.

With Chubb’s availability in question for Georgia’s first game, his obvious replacement would be the player who started the last five games for the team, Sony Michel. Michel seemed a lock to take the bulk of the carries, at least in the early part of the year, until he hurt his arm this offseason in a four-wheeler accident.

The chaos at the top of the depth chart creates an opportunity for senior Brendan Douglas, who has found himself the odd man out of a two-player rotation throughout most his career at UGA. 

The Bulldogs will also have some new talented players that could make an impact on the ground. Redshirt freshman Tae Crowder flashed impressive potential during the team’s spring game. True freshman Elijah Holyfield is an intriguing prospect given his combination of size and speed as well, and Mecole Hardman could be used in the backfield off of specialty plays.

Offensive line

Regardless of who wins the quarterback competition, Georgia will likely run primarily through the ground game.

At tackle, Georgia has a good combination of experienced depth and new talent that should foster competition at the bookends. Isaiah Wynn finished up the season strong at left tackle last year, but his more natural position is inside at guard. He’s likely to slide back inside in 2016.

Kendall Baker has held down the right side of the line for the past two years, but his experience makes him a likely candidate to end up protecting the quarterback’s blind side. Aulden Bynum has the skills and athleticism to succeed at tackle, and he could get a shot at the job if Baker struggles.

Redshirt senior Greg Pyke has a good deal of experience and should get the first crack at right tackle. Redshirt freshman Patrick Allen could push him for playing time.

Four-star recruit Ben Cleveland is Georgia’s most highly touted newcomer, and he will likely play the tackle position at some point in his collegiate career — just not likely this year.

The interior of the line is held together by center Brandon Kublanow, who will likely remain the starter at that position come fall. Kublanow wasn’t perfect a season ago, but he started all 13 games and was named to the all-SEC second team.

Isaiah Wynn will almost certainly be starting at left guard, but could be asked to play some left tackle as well as he did last season. The other guard spot will probably be filled by junior Dyshon Sims.

Georgia is deep on the offensive interior line, and can afford to rotate players in and out based on performance. Lamont Gaillard and Sam Madden are returning players that are likely to see playing time at the guard spots. Other newcomer Solomon Kindley is the biggest player on the roster at 370 pounds, a big-bodied player that could be effective inside if he can make the step from high school to college football early on.