G-Day: 3 things to look out for in Georgia’s spring game

Georgia football is back in action on Saturday before the long summer break. For just a few hours, we’ll get our first real look at the Bulldogs’ 2024 roster until the season opener versus Clemson on Aug. 31.

Georgia’s sidelines won’t look the same in 2024 after the departure of key staffers Fran Brown, Dell McGee and Bryan McClendon. Additionally, support staffers Scott Cochran and Darrell Dickey left this offseason.

UGA moved quickly to solidify its staff ahead of spring, adding defensive backs coach Donte Williams, co-defensive coordinator/ safeties coach Travaris Robinson, wide receivers coach James Coley and running backs coach Josh Crawford.

The transfer portal hit the Bulldogs hard, with 21 players electing to play elsewhere, the most of the Kirby Smart era. On the other hand, UGA added eight players of its own via the portal and signed 28 recruits in the No. 1 recruiting class.

The most critical part of the offseason is the return of star quarterback Carson Beck. He’ll be back at the helm of the Mike Bobo offense as a senior. Beck’s play last season has garnered Heisman Trophy and potential No. 1 NFL draft pick hype as of late.

Here’s 3 things to lookout for on G-Day

There’s no shortage of talent on the outside, but who steps up?

Smart gave us some insight this spring into his opinion of Beck and the new offense. He acknowledged that the Bulldogs will only go as far as Beck takes them, and to do that, Georgia needs to give him more freedom to make plays.

“Early in the year last season, we probably did try to protect him too much,” Smart said. “But then you see nothing ever really affects him and know you’ve just got to let the cat go play because we were either going to make it or not make it on his back. As the year went on, he got better and better, but we were probably a little too slow with him out of the gate.”

It’s safe to say that Beck will have more control of the offense, not a bad idea for the SEC’s leading passer in his first year as a starter.

But how will Georgia replace Beck’s biggest weapons? The production lost in Brock Bowers, Ladd McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint is substantial. Each provided a different skillset and made an impact in multiple ways.

We know what Georgia has in Dominick Lovett and Dillon Bell. Lovett led all UGA wide receivers with 54 catches, 613 yards and four touchdowns. Teammates have raved about Lovett’s growth thus far in his second spring in Athens.

“Dominic Lovett…you don’t understand,” JaCorey Thomas told me on “UGA Football Live“. “Personally, I think that’s the hardest person to guard on a team. Dominic Lovett is quick, fast and shifty, really shifty. So it’s kind of hard to get a little touch and little hand on him, but I think Dominic Lovett has really stepped his game up this season.”

Bell, in addition, is perhaps the most versatile player for the Bulldogs and also might have the most experience in catching passes from Beck. Bell is coming off a career year, catching 29 passes for 355 yards two receiving touchdowns. He showed his versatility when UGA suffered injuries at tailback, forcing Bell into a larger role. He impressed with 25 carries for 157 yards and scores on the ground in 2023.

While Bell and Lovett are the favorites to become the go-to options, Arian Smith is an intriguing part of how Georgia can stretch the field. While he has been inconsistent during his career, the senior seems fully healthy, something that has held him back in the past. The former track star might be the fastest player on the field at any given time. Another offseason to work on his skills as a receiver may prove valuable.

There are also several young players and transfers that can help Beck move the ball. Miami transfer Colbie Young (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) is a physical mismatch with speed to burn. He caught 47 passes for 563 yards and five touchdowns as a junior last season. It isn’t clear how UGA will elect to use his skillset.

London Humphreys is also a key player to watch. The 6-foot-3, 186-pound sophomore was rated as the No. 1 transfer wideout by 247Sports after catching 22 passes for 439 yards (20 yard avg.) and four touchdowns as a freshman at Vanderbilt. Humphreys is another player with special speed, but it may take time for him to get acclimated.

It will be interesting to see where these player mentioned line up on Saturday and how comfortable they look with what is asked of them within the offense.

Questions at TE

The tight end room took a hit this offseason when rising sophomore Pearce Spurlin II was forced to medically retire due to a congenital heart condition. The former four-star prospect was competing with fellow sophomore Lawson Luckie to be the No. 2 option behind junior Oscar Delp.

While it’s unfair to expect this group to replace a generational talent in Bowers, Delp has shown flashes of ability that should give Georgia a mix of blocking and receiving skillsets at the top of the depth chart. He had a career year backing up No. 19 in 2023, totaling 24 catches for 284 yards with three touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, he’s a commendable blocker as well.

Luckie (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) turned heads this time last year in spring practice. His fluidity and run after the catch ability looked like a dangerous combination. He missed the first part of the season due to an ankle injury that required surgery. Luckie finished the year playing in seven games, catching one 4-yard pass for a score in the Orange Bowl win versus Florida State.

The Bulldogs will likely ask a lot from their two tight end additions out of the 2024 class, Jaden Reddell and Colton Heinrich. Reddell (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) is a former four-star that signed with Georgia rated as the No. 4 tight end, per 247Sports. On the other hand, Heinrich (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) was rated as the No. 33 tight end.

The outlier here is the addition of Stanford transfer Benjamin Yurosek. Although he won’t join the team until the summer, Yurosek could be a large part of keeping the production humming at the position.

Headed into the 2023 season, Pro Football Focus ranked Yurosek as the No. 6 tight end with Bowers taking the top spot. Yurosek’s 1,099 receiving yards and 596 yards after the catch over the 2021 and 2022 seasons trailed only Bowers among returning Power Five tight ends.

Yurosek earned All-Pac-12 honors as a sophomore and junior. His senior season was plagued by injuries, limiting him to only six games. However, he was named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention by conference coaches.

How tight ends coach Todd Hartley elects to use this group is one of my biggest questions of the 2024 season. We’ll get an idea of where they stand on G-Day.

Can the DL cause issues for a stout OL?

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is perhaps the most talked about position group of the offseason. There is also questions in the secondary, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about UGA’s defense under Smart, replacing NFL-level talent isn’t an issue.

Put simply, Georgia’s 2023 defensive front didn’t play to Smart’s standard of greatness.

“Either we’re maybe a little weaker on the defensive line or we’re really good on the offensive line,” Smart said. “The glaring thing I’ve seen at practices is that the offensive line has done a really good job. That’s not to say we were subpar on the defensive line last year. We just weren’t great. We didn’t have a dominant guy, but we’re always going to be good on defense. I don’t know that we’re going to be great this year, but I think we have a chance to be great on offense.”

The standard was raised during the Bulldogs’ back-to-back title runs. Eventual NFL draft picks Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt, Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith Jr. made up a special group.

Carter and Smith’s absence in 2023 was noticeable. After leading the country in run defense in 2021 and 2022, Georgia finished 16th in that category last season.

Depth isn’t the concern for this 2024 group, as Georgia focuses on keeping both fronts stocked with big bodies on a yearly basis. UGA signed six defensive linemen in the 2024 class and return super-seniors Warren Brinson and Nazir Stackhouse. Tyrion-Ingram Dawkins, Christen Miller and Jordan Hall will also be featured, though it’s unclear who can become that game wrecker that the Bulldogs need on the inside.

On the edge, sophomore Damon Wilson Jr. is my pick to lead the team in sacks and quarterback pressures.

“He’s always been a really good rusher. He gives extremely, he gives great effort. I’m proud of those things,” Smart said this spring. “He’s got to become a more consistent first and second down player, which he’s doing.”

The former five-star recruit appeared in 12 games last season as a reserve before going down with a torn meniscus and missing the Orange Bowl. Since then, he’s beefed up from 230 to 240 pounds. That should help him set the edge against the mammoth SEC tackles in the run game, making him for of a complete defender that Smart wants.

This group faces a tough task on Saturday, as Georgia’s offensive line returns as one of the best in the country. This will be a good barometer for where things stand with this 2024 defensive front.




Story originally appeared on UGA Wire