Summertime, and the existential posting is easy

It’s something I mentioned to my friends last night, but as the 2017 season approaches, I find myself in an unprecedented place:  for the first time since I started this blog, my head is more optimistic about Georgia’s chances than is my heart.

It’s not hard to make a logical case for a great season.  The schedule is favorable.  The talent base is noticeably deeper than it was two seasons ago, particularly in comparison to every other team in the division.  There is more experience at almost every position group, especially on defense.  The quarterback has a year of the SEC wars under his belt.

Perhaps most significantly, Kirby Smart is no longer a virginal head coach.  It’s reasonable to expect a year’s experience to make someone with Smart’s intelligence and work ethic better at his job.

My head looks at all that and sees ten wins, a division title and the trip to the conference championship game as an almost inevitable conclusion.  So why isn’t my heart gushing with even bigger results?

For that, I take you to something Pete Fiutak wrote in his national preseason rankings post the other day.  He’s quite bullish about Georgia, which he ranks ninth.

Everything is in place to win the SEC East and have a puncher’s chance at the title if the offensive line can rock right away. Everything was there last year, too, but now there’s really no excuse to not take down the division.  [Emphasis added.]

Ah, and therein, as we say, lies the rub.  Some of you are likely to disagree, but I saw a group returning with which Mark Richt and his staff managed to grind out ten wins, facing a weak division and a soft schedule, having sufficient talent to compete and believed that nine or ten wins and a trip to Atlanta were more than reasonable expectations.  Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way.

As to that, we all have our reasons.  Mine go back to something I fretted about when Smart was hired, namely, inexperience.  No matter how much he may have learned at the feet of Nick Saban, the 2016 season was going to be on the job training for Kirby Smart, who had never been a head coach before.  That showed from the beginning, as Smart allowed himself to get sidetracked with matters totally unrelated to his new gig, like staying on in Tuscaloosa through the national title game (understandable from an honor standpoint) and allowing himself to become enmeshed in Greg McGarity’s play to have the state legislature enact a law to keep athletic department information from the public (totally not understandable).

There was also a touch of arrogance on his part, carried over from all those years at Alabama and enabled by an administration and big boosters, that wasn’t justified for a rookie head coach, even if the enabling was not unexpected from a group that was both excited at the prospect of hiring a Georgia man and a little awed by Saban’s aura while not really knowing any better.  However, Athens ain’t Tuscaloosa, a lesson that was taught and re-taught throughout the season.

That’s what bugs my heart.  What if Kirby, out of a misguided sense of pride, isn’t willing to learn that lesson and adapt?  I don’t know him well enough — hell, I don’t know him at all — to answer a question like that, but I do know that I can’t dismiss it.  Nor do I consider it likely that the folks Smart answers to have any more of a clue than they did a year ago.

We can all play the “what if” game about the 2016 season.  My example of that is wondering if Smart would have done better with an experienced former college head coach working as an assistant on his staff, someone he could have turned to on the sidelines and in his office with the kinds of questions he didn’t have to face working as an assistant for Saban.  (No, I don’t count Foley’s Coley’s brief stint in Miami as qualifying.)

That’s water under the bridge now, except for one thing:  he still doesn’t have that guy on his staff.  So it’s up to Smart to grow on his own, which means for now, my heart will just have to wait.

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The Process and the secondary

In this post about Georgia’s pass defense, William McFadden makes a point I hadn’t really considered.

Like nearly every defensive scheme, Georgia uses a mix of man and zone coverage. At Alabama, Smart often employed pattern-match coverages that relied on defensive players reading their opposing receivers and switching from zone or man coverage based on the route being run.

This is an advanced scheme, and the Bulldogs appeared to run more traditional coverages in 2016 but that could change this fall…

It’s easy to assume that since Pruitt and Smart are both products of the Saban coaching system, their approaches on defense are nearly identical.  (Indeed, part of me wonders if subconsciously Smart and Tucker went into last season assuming there would be more of a carryover from that than there turned out to be in certain areas, like red zone defense.)

If, however, Smart’s intention is to run a more complicated coverage scheme than did Pruitt, it’s not unreasonable to expect growing pains.  Will this be an area where the second-year effect has a noticeable impact?

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“He cares about Georgia.”

I don’t claim to know how things will shake out at quarterback behind Jacob Eason, but there was one benefit from Brice Ramsey’s journey off and back on the roster this spring.

Since Ramsey wasn’t with the program during the spring — although he did help out as a student assistant — freshman early enrollee Jake Fromm took all of the reps with the second string.

As an early enrollee, that was really a fortunate development for both Fromm and the coaches, and it leaves the team in a better position than it might have been when August camp starts.

Ramsey and Fromm figure to compete for second-string reps in August when preseason practice begins.

That stated, Smart doesn’t think Ramsey’s return changes how the coaching staff is approaching Fromm, considering Georgia theoretically could now have the opportunity to redshirt the Houston County product.

“I don’t think so. There will be good competition,” Smart said. “The good thing about the way we practice is all of them get reps. He’ll continue to get reps and all of those guys will rotate. It was hard for us to get quarterbacks in the spring. Now we have enough quarterbacks to get reps.”

There will be good competition beccause Fromm is farther along than he would have been had he been sharing reps with Ramsey in spring practice.  If he manages to avoid taking the redshirt this year, that’s likely to be the biggest reason why.

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How does that saying about history go?

I know I’m dating myself a little with this, but for all the gnashing of teeth we do about the current occupant of the athletic director’s chair at Georgia, as well as the president who hired him, it’s worth remembering that before his tussle with Michael Adams, the latter part of Vince Dooley’s tenure as AD wasn’t exactly sitting well with the fan base.  During the mid-90s, a significant chunk of the fan base was ready to run Dooley out of town due to a bad track record of hires and fires, most notably with regard to Ray Goff’s stint as head coach.

As to that, the straw the broke the camel’s back was Dooley’s decision to bring Goff back for the 1995 season with one of those this-year-or-else mandates that quickly became known publicly.  It was something that didn’t sit well with Goff’s players or the fan base, and it ended with Goff’s firing before the Tech game, followed by a mad scramble to hire a replacement that ended with Jim Donnan.

Which is why I find this highly amusing.

Dooley said he thought McGarity found himself at odds with a faction of the fan base when he fired Mark Richt at the end of 2015 football season.

“He had to make to real tough decision in changing coaches,” Dooley said. “Mark Richt, I hired him and, well, you have this loyalty when you hire someone that you’re going to go the extra mile. If I’d have been the athletic director, I probably would have sat down with Mark and said ‘next year is very important,’ and I probably would’ve gone another year with him.”

I wonder how those two “probably”s would have stood up to boosters screaming about Kirby Smart interviewing for the South Carolina job.  Probably not too well.  Oh, and speaking of Smart,

That said, Dooley very much likes what happened after that. He’s a big fan of Kirby Smart and believes “he’s going to be a very successful coach.”

“He’s got a great background,” Dooley said. “He knows what it takes in this league. He’s a Georgia man. He played here but then he had his training under a guy who is a proven success in Nick Saban. He’s got a good staff and the recruiting has been great. So I really think that the future is really bright.”

This is your father’s Georgia Way.  Yours, too.

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Progress of a sorts: “…we shouldn’t have too many awful signal callers.”

I enjoy it when the guys at And The Valley Shook! roll out their preseason position rankings, and this post on the SEC’s 2017 quarterback group is no exception.

There are two obvious takeaways from their ballots:  one, with a couple of exceptions, nobody really knows what to expect from the position this season, and two, say what you will about him, Dan Mullen is underrated as a developer of quarterbacks.  It’ll be interesting to see how Georgia’s defense handles Nick Fitzgerald.

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It never was about getting top talent.

If you had to pick a school that generated the most players on a list of the NFL’s top 100, you’d pick Alabama, correct?

Well, you’d be half right.

… The NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2017 features 20 former SEC players, not including former TAMU stars Von Miller and Michael Bennett.

Alabama and Georgia not only led all SEC teams, but they led all of college football, too. Of course, Alabama won several championships with the following players included, and Georgia, well, didn’t. But that’s why Kirby Smart now roams the sidelines at Georgia to help change that.

This is why I have a hard time feeling sorrowful over Mark Richt’s departure.  Georgia never had a problem signing elite talent.  It had a problem maintaining roster depth.  As to that, we all know where the buck stopped.

Just like we know where it stops now.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Recruiting

Another Georgia Bulldog point of pride

If you were frustrated by Rodrigo Blankenship’s lack of dominance on kickoffs last year, Seth Emerson points out that he was merely continuing in a long line of mediocre to poor performance by Georgia freshmen kickers in that regard.

Blankenship’s kickoffs weren’t all that different when compared to some other past freshmen at Georgia. Blankenship averaged 62.2 yards, and was 36.4 percent on touchbacks. Marshall Morgan averaged 63.2 yards and had touchbacks on 36.8 percent as a freshman. Blair Walsh — who kicked off when the kickoff was at the 30-yard line, thus his touchbacks were much less — had 5 percent touchbacks, with an average distance of 60.0. Brandon Coutu, who like Walsh kicked from the 30-yard line, averaged 29 percent touchbacks, with an average distance of 60.5.

Ah, consistency.  Although fairness requires me to offer some defense of the honor and ability of Walsh, who was victimized by a special teams position coach who was obsessed with the concept of directional kicking, to Walsh’s detriment.

Would only someone be equally obsessed with touchbacks.  Sigh.

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