Jason Butt makes a case that Georgia should see three areas of improvement from last season to this one, and you know what? I think he’s right on all three counts.
Breaking them down, he starts with special teams.
Kickoffs proved difficult for Georgia a season ago. Place-kicking took a while to get into form. Punting was inconsistent throughout the entire year.
While the struggle was real in 2016, this season should have a much different outlook.
Word is that Wofford graduate transfer David Marvin can absolutely boot the ball into the end zone on kickoffs. That was evidenced by Marvin nailing 37 touchbacks with the Terriers in 2016. Georgia’s kickoff coverage unit struggled at times last season. One cure for those woes would be for the opposition to not return many kicks.
Smart worked diligently in the offseason to bring in experienced depth at both place kicker and punter to foster competition and to give him better options than he had going into 2016. If Butt is right about Marvin and Nizialek turns out to be a contributor at punter (he showed good hang time at G-Day, but that was without facing a rush), that would make for some real improvement.
One other thing about special teams worth considering is that with the promise of this year’s recruiting class, overall team depth and talent has been upgraded, and some of that should flow into the coverage and return teams.
On to the next area:
Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman has too good of a track record for the offensive line not to make considerable gains in his second season on the job.
Early on in 2016, the Bulldogs struggled to move men off of the line of scrimmage in Pittman’s dual blocking scheme. The line’s struggles made running back Nick Chubb look human at times, which was something no one thought they would ever see.
But while Georgia has to replace three contributors from last year’s line, two reasons exist as to why there will be significant improvement in 2017.
Size matters up front in Pittman’s scheme and Georgia will be a bigger group…
… The other factor going Georgia’s way is the fact that this is the first time since 2014 that the line will have the same position coach returning to the program. Continuity is a big deal in college football. Sims even admitted as such shortly after Georgia arrived to Memphis, Tennessee for the Liberty Bowl.
The Bulldogs spent a lot of last season growing accustomed to Pittman’s scheme and terminology. That’s now in the past, with Georgia’s linemen able to focus more on executing than thinking through each particular call.
Agree, agree, agree. Add in that depth should be considerably improved, especially if Isaiah Wilson lives up to the hype, and I buy into the offensive line taking a noticeable step forward. (Read my previous post to see what that should mean.)
The third area Butt cites is something that maybe doesn’t get as much attention as the first two — probably because it wasn’t nearly as much of a disappointment last season as were special teams and the offensive line — but should nicely complement what I expect to be an effective front seven.
Georgia’s secondary began the 2016 season showcasing a few deficiencies. It came to a head against Ole Miss, when former Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly went off for 282 passing yards and two touchdowns.
If Ole Miss didn’t get out to such a big lead early, the damage could have been worse. But as the season went along, Georgia improved as a secondary. A lot of this had to do with the emergence of Deandre Baker, who was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 5 against Tennessee.
… The Bulldogs, however, improved considerably in the back end and finished the year second in the SEC in pass defense at 183.8 yards through the air per game.
But the Bulldogs shouldn’t be in a position where they are working out some early kinks. With four defensive backs returning and a slew of potential quality contributors at the star position, Georgia will be in good position in the secondary from the first game on.
If you’ll recall the situation Pruitt inherited in his first season as defensive coordinator, it’s taken Georgia several seasons to stabilize the defensive backfield. As Butt notes, even last year was an ongoing process at the beginning. (Don’t forget that Maurice Smith was a late 2016 arrival, and wound up being a steadying influence at the star position.) This year, the secondary appears to be in good shape from both a talent and experience perspective and that can only help the front end of the defense.
Maybe it’s just a form of irrational exuberance on my part, but I like what I see from all three spots.