A few things actually…
Nick Chubb is on track to play or “ahead of schedule” with his recovery, according to coach Kirby Smart. That’s probably the biggest news of the spring so far. Georgia will have a difficult time winning without Chubb. Folks have been talking a lot about when Nick will return. I know that I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. No one is doubting Chubb’s ability to return as fast as possible; the question is when that fast as possible really is.
We can’t know because he could tweek something, and that could set him back dramatically. Reality is as follows: We don’t know. No one knows. If he’s healthy at the start of the season he will play. If he’s not he won’t.
On the quarterbacks - they look better to me than last season already. That could be as a result of dropping Faton Bauta in favor of Jacob Eason, but they look better nonetheless. Greyson Lambert is the lowest on the totem pole in terms of arm talent, but he’s still running with the No. 1 unit. How long will that last? I don’t think Lambert is eager to give up his status with the No. 1 unit any time soon.
With that said - it’s clear the other two QBs have much better arm strength and ability to deliver balls further down the field. All of the QBs have had balls were not what you would want on film, but Lambert’s balls can drag getting to the receivers. The further down the field you go the further that seems evident.
All three quarterbacks do just fine with slants. But since he got the job, Kirby Smart has repeatedly said that UGA is going to have to get the ball down the field with long passes. That’s something that was non existent last season. It was a trademark of Mike Bobo offenses in Athens. It is something that has to return for the Bulldogs to compete for the SEC title and become relevant nationally again.
At receiver, I saw Shakenneth Williams line up with the No. 1 unit today when that group was in a three-wide set. Williams played in eight games last season and had only one catch for ten yards. He was out there with Terry Godwin and Isaiah McKenzie. You have to wonder why he would be running with the ones right now and have exactly one catch last season. These are the sorts of things you notice. Will Williams be a starter in 2016? No clue, but that he’s running with the No. 1s right now and had only one catch last season makes me scratch my head about why Williams wasn’t used last season hardly at all.
Georgia is going to have to figure out its linebacker spot at some point as well. Natrez Patrick had a very good end of the 2015 season. It appears Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter will be on the outside. So who is the fourth linebacker in a 3-4 defense? Is it Tim Kimbrough? Is Reggie Carter going to be healthy enough to come back and start? Will it be Roquon Smith when he’s healthy?
In the secondary, who is going to start?
I’ve heard a lot behind the scenes as well as in interview settings that Georgia is going to simplify things as much as possible in order to get the most talented players on the field. UGA wants players to think less about scheme and play more. That’s something that became a real problem on offense last season, and you could see the results of that on the scoreboard as the year went on.
But what will that mean on defense? Does that mean, and he’s gone so this is just an example, players like Jake Ganus are less likely to see playing time under Kirby Smart? It feels that way. It feels like there is a renewed emphasis on getting playmakers in positions rather than players who understand what’s going on and can help line up units. That happened a lot last year at multiple levels of the offense and defense.
The other thing that’s easy to see is that there’s been a lot of change. From the coaching staff to the place the Bulldogs are actually practicing - change is in the air. I’ve not seen Kirby go nuts on anyone yet. But I have seen a particular attention to detail that seemed missing last season.
That’s what I took from the Thursday practice when I saw the special teams players being instructed on certain things. I have no idea what they were working on, but it was much different than any time in the Richt Era. Also, the quarterbacks are doing drills two and three at a time. That’s certainly new. The other thing, perhaps this is the most obvious, is that OL coach Sam Pittman has a total and firm grasp on what should be going on during his unit’s practice time.
I continue to have conversations with folks about if this team is going to be better or not. I think that not only will they be better, but they will fight more. It is my belief that the days of Georgia being noncompetitive in games (2015 Alabama and Florida) is over. These Bulldogs will lose games, but it won’t be in the same manner as they have in the past. Punt blocks? Mental mistakes fielding punts inside the five-yard line and then running the same player back out there? Those days are gone.