In talking with a slew of folks over the weekend, the No. 1 problem heading into the 2016 season is depth. More than anything else, quarterback play included, depth is the top concern of those most in the know.
“If you look at all of the starters you can really be a pretty good team,” said one insider. “Honestly, and I might be biased, but I think No. 16 is about right to start the season. But I’m telling you right now, we are on the precipice of being in serious danger of losing a few games if someone gets hurt. The offensive line isn’t super deep; obviously you don’t yet know your starting quarterback; the running backs - don’t get me started. That could be a real mess. We just are not deep enough anywhere. Maybe at linebacker.”
That’s just the sentiments of one insider. In my calls around to folks this weekend to check on their thoughts on the Saturday practice, that was repeatedly stated - UGA’s depth is a real concern. I wanted to call and check around with other folks on what they saw as to not overact to things I saw on Saturday, and things I have been hearing over the week at practices.
“Just not enough warm bodies at D line,” said another observer.
There was some confusion, and understandably so, about which quarterback was running with which group on Saturday. It was pretty clear that Jacob Eason was running with the No. 1 unit as it was his day to go with that group in team settings. But much of he media mistook Brice Ramsey’s day as being with the No. 2 unit. That’s incorrect - Ramsey was with the No. 3s.
The confusion was likely because Ramsey and Eason were on the right side of the field during many of what seemed like competitive parts of practice. Greyson Lambert was rotating with walk-on QB Sam Vaughn going towards the open end of the stadium, and it seemed that most of the playmaking receivers were with Ramsey and Eason.
The media’s incorrect notion of who was going with what unit could cause some major confusion going forward. If Lambert officially went with the No. 3 unit on Saturday, which he did not, that would mean the QB rotation was out of order and something had changed on the depth chart. That’s not the case.
Folks in the press are likely forgetting that Lambert came in with the No. 2 unit during 11-on-11 situations. He just wasn’t out there for a long period of time because his group didn’t move the ball much. Lambert, who is seen as eager to please, is very much in the fight for the starting QB job. The question is if he will be able to keep up with the other two going forward.
“Its not that he can’t do it,” one said about Lambert. “Its that he is so streaky, and when he does do well he’s almost never pretty doing it. That’s a pretty stark comparison to the other two who really can throw it. Sometimes his balls are real wobbly, but they get there. The funny thing, too, was that the few folks who went to the practice were cheering for Eason, but not for the other two guys. It was kind of like they were there to see what they wanted to see, and that was it. After a while you didn’t hear a ton of cheers, but almost never for Lambert or Ramsey.”
Jim Chaney said on Saturday of his QBs: “As the volume (of plays) comes in, it gets a little tougher on some of them. Some can handle a little more volume than others. That doesn't necessarily make you the best player, and the one we're going to choose.”
That’s what helped Lambert win the job at UGA last fall. Chaney also pointed out that all three QBs “have fleas”. Chaney said of Ramsey having three offensive coordinators in three seasons: “I have no empathy. I've had three different schools in three years. What's the big deal? Grow up, kiddo.” On Eason: “He's an extremely talented young man that's learning his way around of being a good quarterback.”
I must say, and this is my observation, is that last season seemed much more clinical in nature at the QB spot. This season the competition is much more vocal in nature from the coaches (Kirby and Chaney). I’m not sure I heard much last fall, but nonetheless, this fall is much more chatty from coaches to players… at least it certainly seems that way. Maybe Chaney likes to hear himself talk like many of us.
Eason is the one learning the most right now. Lambert and the youngster seemed the two most uncomfortable in the pocket on Saturday, but Eason really struggled getting used to staying the pocket and making the correct decisions. Lambert struggled in the pocket, too, but not like Eason.
But one observer made the point that “if the defense knows what you are doing, and at some point out there with the volume of throws those guys were putting up, the defense knows, its hard for them not to jump routes or shade over where they know the ball is going. There was a point in practice when I was hoping the QBs would get a break from throwing. They finally did. It sure seemed like they threw a lot.”
Another chimed in to say: “Eason really struggles with the blitz. That’s something that could take a very long time for him to get used to. I really don’t know if folks understand how difficult it is to deal with reading SEC defenses. They change before the snap. You have to adjust. Honestly, it could take him a year and a half to get used to that. I’m telling you. That’s one of the most difficult things for any player to get used to. Receivers take a little time because they have to run routes based on what the defense is showing - that’s why Godwin screwed stuff up at times last year - he was getting used adjusting to the defense. That’s the challenge for them coming out of high school because they are used to seeing 2-deep and 3-deep zones. Running backs, and I think everyone knows this, have a hard time pass blocking. But someone as smart as Nick Chubb is going to play because he’s smart, and he gets how important pass blocking is. But at QB you have to know those two things for those guys. I mean, some of these receivers can’t even get lined up correctly right now. And some of those guys are going to play. You have to also deal with identifying and the defense and playing against it in real time. That’s something that’s really hard to do. When I played that was the No. 1 problem for the quarterbacks… getting used to that. And that takes time. A lot of time.”
The criticism/concern about Ramsey is that he’s put himself in this position before - having a very good first week of camp - only to lose the job over time during camp. If Ramsey can continue to play he’s going to get lots of playing time and perhaps the starting gig. But that’s not set in stone.
“We will see,” said one insider. “He’s looked good, but time will tell. We saw this last year.”
Frankly, we are going to need to see some toughness from Ramsey in terms of his ability to fight to the end of this battle. Its time for him to get tough. He might have thought he won it early last fall. You have to wonder if he will make the same mistake twice. He has to stay with his peddle to the floor. You get the feeling with the new coaching staff that he and the other two QBs won’t have any other option. But is is up to those guys to do it.
It seems Tyler Catalina is a person the Bulldogs are eager to have in their rotation on the offensive line this fall. But there is also skepticism.
“Have you seen Catalina yet? He’s a pretty big guy,” said an insider. “I just have my doubts man. I really wonder if someone who spent last season playing at Rhode Island is going to get used to what he’s going to see in the SEC. The pass rushers in this league are no joke.”
Greg Pyke is probably UGA’s best offensive lineman, but Isaiah Wynn is a heck of a player, too. Those two are All-SEC candidates (perhaps not first string), and will be the anchor of the line… no matter where they line up. Pyke will almost certainly be at tackle the entire year.
It also sounds like Javon Wims could be a candidate to be a big slot receiver. Tyler Simmons had a very good Saturday, but he’s had some drops during practices the first part of camp that make you concerned. Those two, along with newcomer Riley Ridley, are going to have to step up their understanding of the playbook. They seem confused often on Saturday on where to go. I’ve heard that from other folks as well.
It sure feels like the starting members of the secondary from 2015 are going to be the starters for the foreseeable future in 2016. I’d keep an eye on Rico McGraw and Mecole Hardman, however.
Speaking of the effects of Hardman, who blocked two field goal attempts on Saturday, the race for place kicker seems between William Ham and Rodrigo Blankenship. Ham took all of the attempts on Saturday, which was only about eight. That made it seem like Ham is in the lead. But Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph reported on Sunday that Blankenship was injured (not sure how) during practice on Saturday. My reporting tells me that Blankenship has been kicking the ball better during camp on the whole, but one couldn’t draw that determination on Saturday considering that Ham took all of the kicks. Most of those kicks were solid, but he did sneak through a very ugly sidewinder. Special teams kicking could be an adventure.
If Lambert starts at QB, we are still going to see all three QBs in action this fall one way or another. If today were the first game, Ramsey would be the punter at UGA. Meanwhile, Eason will likely be the holder on field goal attempts. That means the Bulldogs will have a capable signal caller in on every single offensive snap - no matter if they actually put toe to football at the end of the play.
On the Trevor Lawrence front, that “seems” (and that’s a really very light seems) that UGA is “slightly” in front. Slightly. Don’t get your hopes up. He’s got a great relationship with Kirby Smart, Jim Chaney and Dabo Swinney. This one has gone back and forth for some time. Don’t underestimate Lawrence’s connection with Eason. That’s something UGA has in its favor for sure, but this is a very tight race. I can’t stress that enough.