With another top-five recruiting class, Georgia football is set to be one of the strongest programs in the nation. The Bulldogs are in a prime position to build on a Sugar Bowl Appearance in January. Turnover among coordinators on both sides of the ball highlight an offseason of change. Despite the shakeup, Georgia has championship aspirations. With the 2019 season quickly approaching, it’s time to take a look at the state of Georgia football’s position groups.
The Bulldog signal callers represent one of the team’s strongest positions groups. Junior Jake Fromm is coming off two excellent seasons in which he beat out consecutive five-star challengers Jacob Eason and Justin Fields. Both have since transferred elsewhere. Fromm has become a Georgia fan favorite ever since his impressive 2017 performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish where the Bulldogs won 20-19. He finished 2018 with 2,761 yards accompanied by 30 touchdowns.
The Bulldogs flipped former four-star quarterback D’wan Mathis from Ohio State to strengthen the position behind Fromm. Mathis underwent emergency brain surgery to remove a cyst in May, but he is expected to make a full recovery and challenge for backup playing time. Behind Mathis, Stetson Bennett will be making a return to Athens after a year at junior college. Georgia’s depth at quarterback was an early worry but now looks to be a strength behind NFL prospect Fromm.
The running game has been Georgia’s offensive focal point during the Kirby Smart era. This season will be no different. Junior D’Andre Swift will be stronger and sophomore James Cook now has a year of experience under his belt. The Bulldogs also have a few notable additions to the backfield this year with four-star signee Kenny McIntosh, as well as Zamir White, a 2018 five-star signee who sat out last year due to a torn ACL.
Swift rushed for 618 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. He accumulated 1,049 yards on the ground last year with 10 touchdowns. He added 297 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver. Swift will likely be the featured back in new head offensive coordinator James Coley’s system.
The dismissal of Jeremiah Holloman will open up new opportunities within the Bulldog’s receiving corps. Holloman was the projected No. 1 target for Fromm, but Coley and Smart still have a talented group of receivers to work with.
Junior Demetris Roberston, a transfer from University of California, Berkeley, saw limited action last season, with a majority of his work being on the ground. The former five-star recruit had a 23-yard rush against Middle Tennessee along with a 72-yard touchdown run in the Austin Peay contest. Robertson’s speed was his top attribute, giving a glimpse of what he can do with an open field.
Senior Tyler Simmons also figures to be a main target in the Bulldog passing game. He started six games in 2018. Simmons was one of three Charley Trippi award winners on the team. The Bulldogs have both a five-star and four-star receiver joining the program for the 2019 season in George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock. The incoming freshmen will have every chance to win time on the field.
The Bulldog offensive line will be among the nation’s best from the start of the 2019 season. Multiple college football analysts have marked junior left tackle Andrew Thomas as the best offensive lineman in the country. This position group is getting bigger year after year at Georgia with the average weight being over 320 pounds. Sophomore Isaiah Wilson and Junior Ben Cleveland are also among the best in the Georgia front five.
Depth will not be an issue this time around for Smart’s trench occupiers. There are seven to eight guys vying for just five spots on the line, providing not only depth, but a sense of urgent competition. Due to the loss of Lamont Gaillard to the NFL, the Bulldogs need to see which of this group is capable of shoring up the middle.
The D-Line was a weak point on the 2018 team. The Bulldogs also lost two key contributors to the NFL from last season’s group in Jonathan Ledbetter and edge rusher D’Andre Walker. Seniors Julian Rochester and Tyler Clark project to be the leaders on the line.
After a breakout freshman season in the trench, Jordan Davis will now take on a much larger role. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native stands at an imposing 6 feet, 6 inches and weighs 330 pounds. Since he will often be double-teamed, Davis will be tasked with creating holes for Clark, Rochester and company to fill. Incoming freshman Nolan Smith will also be a name to watch. He was a five-star recruit and looks like a contender to slide into Walker’s old role.
Last season, former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker had to piece together a group of linebackers who were not all equipped to handle the playing time. The impact Roquan Smith had will be difficult to replicate. The Bulldogs now believe they have Smith’s successor in rising freshman Nakobe Dean.
Georgia has promoted the former outside linebackers coach, Dan Lanning, to defensive coordinator. He will have a compilation of junior Monty Rice, senior Tae Crowder and Dean. Other players will certainly see playing time at the linebacker position due to such turnover. The rotation will be in flux though the season’s inaugural contests.
There is a lot of potential with this group. The defensive backs feature a great mixture of newcomers and decorated veterans. Junior Richard Lecounte will be the back side anchor on defense along with senior J.R. Reed. Lecounte led the team with 74 total tackles in 2018. Much of that potential comes from sophomore Tyson Campbell. The Plantation, Florida, native struggled for much of his freshman year and appeared lost at times. A full offseason with the other Bulldog veterans should correct the majority of his mistakes.
Georgia returns one of the nation’s best kickers in 2019, senior Rodrigo Blankenship. The special teams ace was 19 of 23 on field-goal attempts and a perfect 65 of 65 on extra points in 2018. Sophomore punter Jake Camarda enjoyed a rather successful 2018 season himself. He punted 43 times for an average of 42.6 yards per kick.
With the kick returner position wide open after Mecole Hardman’s departure, Smart is giving new players a chance in practice. Running backs D’Andre Swift and James Cook have been getting reps as of late. Cook returned one kick for 34 yards in 2018. In regard to receivers, both Demetris Robertson and Tyler Simmons are working. At Cal-Berkeley, Robertson had 10 returns for 202 yards.