Ahhhh. Rituals can be so comforting, and making the trip to Athens after being away for several months is definitely chicken soup for the Bulldog soul. The weather cooperated; what started out as an overcast Saturday morning turned into the kind of blue sky and sunshine day that leaves a sunburn to remind me I was there.
And there was football, too. Lots of football, as a matter of fact, especially if you like watching quarterbacks throw and receivers catch.
As a general observation, I wouldn’t say Saturday’s game was full of revelations. Quite the contrary, it was far more a day of confirmation: that Smart wanted his team to throw the ball a bunch so that the offense could work on timing and the secondary could get a workout; that the coaches wouldn’t show much (while the coverages were pretty vanilla, if there was a surprise, it was that there was more blitzing than I anticipated); that there was a clear pecking order at quarterback; that there was some legitimacy to the late developing buzz surrounding Adonai Mitchell; that RBU still has a loaded running backs room; and that Georgia, as I posted yesterday, has done good work attracting talent to the program.
One other nice thing was seeing Pickens walking around without crutches a week after ACL surgery.
This was a glorified scrimmage, so rather than break down a bunch of plays, or point to game changing moments, I’m gonna limit the bullet points to position group assessments.
- Quarterbacks. If what you saw Saturday didn’t make you happy with Georgia’s situation at QB, I don’t know what to tell you. As I posted yesterday, it’s completely night and day from where the program stood when last season kicked off. That’s not to say everything went perfectly.
- JT Daniels. While Daniels looks recovered from his injury and surgery, there were moments when it didn’t seem like his mechanics were totally in sync. He was lucky to avoid at least one interception on the day. (Chris Smith, you gotta catch that!) But that’s fairly minor carping. For one thing, he didn’t throw a deep ball that hung up the way some did last season. Sure, that was partly because he didn’t go deep much, but that 59-yarder to Robertson for the Red team’s final score was laid out perfectly. And he threw a couple of jaw droppers, one to Mitchell and one to Jackson, for touchdowns that showed he can get plenty of zip on the ball when it’s needed. But what I was most encouraged about was the obvious work Daniels has put in on a couple of fronts. He’s doing a much better job of stepping up in the pocket instead of running around to avoid the rush, even if the touch sack format of the scrimmage didn’t reward him for doing so. And it’s also clear how much better his communication with his receivers has gotten. I’m using the word receivers broadly here — if you get a chance to watch a replay, check out how in sync he and Zamir White are. There’s a catch in the first half and one in the second half where both know exactly what the other will do on the play. All in all, it was a good day for JT.
- Stetson Bennett. He is exactly the Stetson Bennett we’ve come to know and love. His first half scoring drive, when he played under control and went 3-3 in leading the Red squad to its first score, was Good Stetson. His second half interception came on one of his patented “sometimes you just gotta say WTF” plays when he ignored the open receiver underneath, threw deep a second too late and illustrated the exact limit of his arm strength. He’s perfectly suited for the role of coming in on an emergency basis to keep things on an even keel during a game, but he’s not the guy you’d want to lead the offense over an extended stretch of the season.
- Carson Beck. He may have the best arm of the group. He’s made strides to learn the offense. He pressed at times and missed some easy reads, but he looked quite good on the two drives he directed for touchdowns when he didn’t try to push things. Would the coaches trust him to take over the offense if Daniels went down for an extended period of time? I tend to think so for now, if only because he’s clearly got a better arm than does Bennett.
- Brock Vandagriff. I thought he was on his way to launching a spirited G-Day QBR debate in the comments here, at least until he fumbled on his first series. But while there’s no question about his athleticism, it was very clear that his reads were extremely limited and that he’s got a way to go before becoming a contributor. Still, there’s plenty of time to develop and there’s no denying his future looks pretty bright.
- Running backs. Jeez, what a group. Georgia didn’t run much Saturday, but, then again, it didn’t really need to. The coaches know what they have, and what they have should be plenty. All four backs showed they can play a role in the passing game, something Monken values.
- Zamir White. I know there are plenty of folks who don’t see White being the number one guy, but I don’t get it. He’s a load to bring down. He’s still the best of the backs in pass pro. He’s patient waiting for holes to open. He can be just shifty enough in the open field. And along with all that, he showed Saturday that he can be a useful option in the passing game. Somebody needs to tell me what I’m missing here.
- James Cook. He’s still the Swiss Army knife of Georgia’s backfield. He looks a little bigger than he did last season. He’s a defensive distraction in motion. As a receiver, he’s a match up nightmare, as his easy reception on the wheel route demonstrated. (That play came right at me and Nolan Smith’s “oh, shit” body language as the play unfolded was priceless.) A great 1-2 combination with White.
- Kendall Milton. He’s going to follow in the tradition of Georgia under Smart of being that killer number three back. He’s big enough. He’s a little more elusive than White. His pass blocking continues to improve. He, too, is a viable option in the passing game. Let’s hope he stays healthy this season, because he’s gonna be a monster in 2022.
- Daijun Edwards. Every time I see him run, I come away impressed with his physicality. I think he also caught a pass or two Saturday, although I don’t remember how he did in pass pro. A solid contributor.
- Wide Receivers. With all the injuries, this was a hard group to evaluate. Still, a few things stood out.
- Adonai Mitchell. He was the talk of the game, no question. He wasn’t as consistent as you’d like, but you could see where Daniels’ description of him being twitchy comes from. He’s not as physical as, say, Jackson (or Pickens, for that matter), but as a true freshman with just a couple of months in S&C, that’s to be expected. I also don’t think he’s 6-4, but I may be digressing there. Is he just another G-Day flash in the pan, or will he step up in Pickens’ absence to become a significant contributor this season?
- Kearis Jackson. Between Pickens and Burton, sometimes it seems like Jackson gets a little lost in the shuffle, but, damn, he can play. He didn’t have a ton of catches Saturday, but he made two in particular count. He also gets after it with his downfield blocking.
- Demetris Robertson. It took him a while to get going, but he did alright. He seemed more physical than in times past, as he demonstrated on his touchdown catch.
- Tight ends. Heh, heh, heh. Monken’s gonna be calling a lot of 12 formations this year, my friends. You already know what the returning two can do and Brock Bowers flashed on a couple of receptions, enough to make me think he’s got a real shot at being in the mix. (By the way, doesn’t “Brock Bowers” sound like a name straight out of Boogie Nights?)
- Offensive line. The talent is there. How to deploy it is the big question. Overall, the Red team o-line struggled with the Black team d-line, which was hardly a surprise. While the blitzing was hardly exotic, there were times when blitzers weren’t being picked up, so there are still issues with communication. My overall feeling is that the coaches better be able to settle on a starting five sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed in that regard.
- Xavier Truss. He’s better, but still not consistent enough to make me feel comfortable. It seemed like he was on his game every time the Red team scored. I watched him stone Nolan Smith and Adam Anderson on back to back plays on the last scoring drive of the first half. But when he scrabbled, particularly with run blocking, things stalled. He looked better when Salyer was flanking him at guard, for what that’s worth. In other words, Kirby’s description of his spring was spot on. The good news is that he’s capable of winning the starting job if he shows more consistency. Let’s hope Luke can motivate him.
- Tate Ratledge. The closest thing to a surprise on the day was Ratledge getting the start on the Red team at right guard. The results were mixed. He struggled handling d-line pressure, particularly from Devonte Wyatt. (Not that he was alone in that regard; Ericson and McClendon had their rough spots, too.) But I can see one big reason why the coaches love him: he can pull like a sumbitch. How far that gets him remains to be seen.
- Amarius Mims and Broderick Jones. Together, they’re first team First To Get Off The Bus, physique-wise. Otherwise, some good, some bad, as was to be expected. They both struggled at times with speed rushes. Jones did a great job blocking the safety on Milton’s TD run. They benefited from not having to block the first team d-line, obviously. I didn’t see either of them showing enough to take the starting left tackle spot.
- Defensive line. My gawd. I can’t say enough how big a deal it was that Davis and Wyatt elected to return for another season. But there’s plenty more behind them. Travon Walker and Jalen Carter ain’t exactly slouches. The Red team d-line showed out, too, Tramel Walthour, in particular. If any of Georgia’s opponents this season are capable of running the ball successfully against that front, my hat’s off to them.
- Outside linebacker. Outside of the aforementioned wheel route, Nolan Smith had the kind of day you’d want to see out of a potential all-SEC player. Adam Anderson had a quiet day, though. For the Reds, true freshman Chaz Chambliss showed out a little.
- Inside linebacker. With Nakobe Dean out, there was no way to see what the final two deep will look like here, but one thing’s clear, there is plenty of speed and athleticism at the position. Channing Tindall started strong, but seemed to fade as the game went on. Quay Walker, on the other hand, looks like he’s becoming a keeper. A little faster than I remember him, he was all over the field making plays.
- Secondary. Again, this is another position group in a state of flux. We already know that Tykee Smith will likely grab the Star spot when he shows up in August. I’ve already posted that I didn’t see enough to make me think even one of the three primary contenders (Kimber, Ringo and Speed) for the starting cornerback slots locked anything up. It’s not that any of the three were total busts, but none of the three looked consistently ready, either. Kimber looks a little slight, but he can sure run. Ringo doesn’t look fluid at times, but played more physical than Kimber did. Speed had a couple of solid breakups, but sort of looked like Kimber’s opposite in terms of being better defending the underneath stuff than the deep ball. Cine and Smith are solid, of course, but they were both stretched more than I’d like by the corner play.
- Special teams. Not much was shown, so there’s not much to say, other than Camarda’s two punts, especially the 70-yarder, being total bombs.
Whew! There you have it, another G-Day in the books. There won’t be much to hear about for the next three-plus months, other than a few roster management decisions and, hopefully, some good news on the health front. August will be here soon enough, though.