Kirby Smart made sure to point out the importance of the G-Day spring game.
The Georgia head coach was asked if anyone with minor injuries could potentially sit out the spring game to risk aggravating a pre-existing ailment. Smart was quick to point out that if a player is cleared to play, he will play.
“I don’t demean the value of this game,” Smart said. “If that’s the case then why do we play it? If we hold everybody out, it creates a negative for the rest of your team.”
Therefore, most everyone who has been able to participate during spring practices will line up and play in front of the Sanford Stadium crowd.
And with that in mind, here are five things to watch at Saturday’s G-Day spring game:
How far has the offense come?
The talk throughout the spring has been that the offense has gotten the best of the defense. Now, in recent practices, Smart has made mention that the defense has rallied the troops and put in some good work.
It is certainly possible that a lot of the talk has been slanted due to offensive improvements more so than the defense, which returns 10 starters, not living up to its billing. While outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said he isn’t surprised that the offense has gotten better, he did admit that the defense as a whole may not have been prepared to see such a jump in production when spring practice began.
“There was no doubt in my mind that they were going to be ready to play,” Carter said. “I think it kind of caught us off guard as a defense, but we stepped up and answered the call. It’s been a great spring with both sides working.”
Eason’s progression and Fromm’s first look
When the spring neared, head coach Kirby Smart mentioned he was looking forward to the quarterback competition. Perhaps some folks took that to mean that there would be a real chance for Jake Fromm, the freshman early enrollee from Houston County, to unseat Jacob Eason, the incumbent starter.
Based on what reporters have seen at practice, it hasn’t been much of a competition. Eason is the clear front-runner and should be the No. 1 quarterback when the 2017 season begins. Eason has shown more comfort on the practice field to go with the behind-the-scenes buzz that he has already stepped his level of play up a notch.
This will be the first time Georgia fans get a look at Fromm. It will be interesting to see how far Eason has come in a year and how well Fromm looks after 14 spring practices.
Regardless, it sounds like Smart wants to put on an aerial show for the fans so both quarterbacks will likely get a chance to sling the ball all over the football field.
It should be of note that running back Brian Herrien is with the black team, which consists of the first-team offense and some subs. Herrien is on the same side as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, although those backs may not see too many carries in the spring game.
Herrien could wind up getting quite a few touches while seeing some time split out as a receiver. Earlier this spring, Smart said Herrien could be a starting wide receiver based on his skill set and that could be an area Georgia looks to showcase him Saturday.
Then again, how much the Bulldogs do that could depend on whether the coaches want to put that look on film for its 2017 opponents to see.
Nickel defender audition?
One interesting takeaway from the G-Day rosters was the fact that both Deangelo Gibbs and Tyrique McGhee were on the black team, which consists of the second-team defense. Both players are considered in the running for the starting star position, which is Georgia’s term for the nickel defender.
One player, however, who Smart has raved about is defensive back J.R. Reed, who is on the red team. Now, is Reed on the red team as a sub or as the starting nickel defender? He has been working with the safeties and it’s probably safe to say he has been receiving some cross-training at multiple spots. With the offense looking to throw the ball around quite a bit, Georgia’s first-team defense will likely line up in nickel and dime formations. It will be interesting to see if Reed is a part of that plan Saturday.
Special teams improvements
Georgia did not perform well a year ago on special teams. Saturday will be a first chance for the Bulldogs to show those miscues have been corrected.
Rodrigo Blankenship will surely get some work in but more eyes may be on graduate transfer Cameon Nizialek. Nizialek, who arrived to Georgia from Columbia, posted a 2016 punting average of 44.8 yards with a long of 65 in the Ivy League. As a team, Georgia averaged only 37.5 yards per punt a season ago.