Why Georgia defensive back J.R. Reed decided to come back and play his senior year
Happy August. Georgia plays a football game this month.
Even before Georgia kicks it off on Aug. 31 against Vanderbilt, a wave of football air will dissipate across the athletic facilities Friday. The grass will get roughed up. Each coach’s whistle will echo throughout the practice fields along with bursts of stern instruction and encouragement.
Georgia enters its new season with lofty expectations, but many carry over for one of college football’s now-assembled powerhouse programs. The Bulldogs received a No. 3 ranking in the USA Today coaches’ poll Thursday, and four of its opponents are ranked within the top 16: No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 16 Auburn.
To preview, here’s a mailbag (or “Bulldog Box”) session as The Telegraph answers questions from Georgia fans on social media.
Chase H.: With (Zamir White’s) injuries, what kind of workload do you expect him to have? Especially early in the season.
It’s hard to forget that afternoon last preseason when Zamir White tore his ACL for the second time. There were expectations he’d be Georgia’s next big-time running back (moreso from the fan base than the coaches) and had a lot of capabilities as a backfield piece who perfectly fit the system. Rumors percolated throughout the media working area at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, and Kirby Smart confirmed it a couple hours later in visible grief for the freshman.
Not only did Georgia lose his talents last season, but Smart understood the weight of White having to endure another round of rehabilitation and recovery. Safe to say, no one wants to see a recurrence and Georgia is excited for White to see the field. At media days a few weeks back, all of the Bulldog representatives were overjoyed for his return. Smart, however, said it’ll be taken slow.
White almost seems like the forgotten guy in the running back rotation, especially after last signing day when the Bulldogs didn’t land an upper-echelon prospect at the position. But there’ll be plenty of reminders that White is a presence and potential difference-maker. He may be eased in early along with D’Andre Swift, James Cook and others in a talented room, but I don’t expect it to be far from the norm.
Georgia is notorious for splitting its carries at nearly an even mark, and White shouldn’t be held back solely for injury. Unless there’s a difference in performance among the running backs, expect White to be carrying a similar load as the rest of his backfield mates.
EmoryDave: Kirby mentions a lot about during camp the players and team is put in difficult situations. Can you speak to this and the fall camp environment at Georgia?
This is an interesting question, because it’s tough to answer. Georgia grants the media eight minutes of practice (generally two periods) on basically a daily basis. So, we don’t get to see much of what the Bulldogs do.
In the same breath, those periods may be different from day-to-day. It could be simple board and passing drills (which is most frequently viewed by reporters), but sometimes Smart has surprises. One day last season, we went into the indoor facility and Georgia changed it up drastically. It felt like structured training for an important mission. Players repped at stations, including a 7-on-7 still, then Smart went “Big Brother” on them and screamed ‘ROTATE’ or yelled a player through a loudspeaker for all to hear.
So, yes, there are some differences and Smart is practicing what he preaches in that regard. That’s also seen by spending a period each preseason practice on Georgia Tech’s former triple-option attack or spending more time on red zone offense. Expect a few new practice wrinkles this season as Georgia searches for its 2019 identity.
Spencer Daughtry: What impact do you think Nolan Smith and Jermaine Johnson will have on the DL this season?
If I were a fan, the additions of Jermaine Johnson and Nolan Smith would be what excites me the most. Smith entered the program as the nation’s No. 1 high school linebacker as Johnson was atop the junior college ranks.
They’ve got SEC-ready builds as Johnson is listed at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and Smith at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. Each of them displayed a bit of flash at the G-Day spring game and drew more rave reviews at SEC Media Days from offensive tackle Andrew Thomas.
As of two weeks ago, Smart said Georgia’s defense would be able to do more. Much of that will come from the edge rushers and affecting the opposing quarterbacks. Other than D’Andre Walker, pass rushing was a pinpointed weakness for the Bulldogs and a deeper rotation can only make their defense more potent. It’s also something that fires up new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning — the driving force in bringing Johnson to Athens from Independence Community College.
T-Dawg: Update on D’Wan Mathis, please.
Short and direct prompt, I like it. There isn’t much of an update on D’Wan Mathis since Smart last spoke about him on July 16 in Hoover — other than a team-issued video of Mathis performing some high-flying dunk action, which was pretty impressive and showed recovery strides.
Smart said he will make his way back into football action, but there’s no timetable for a return. I’m not sure how much we will see Mathis on the practice field. My guess is as good as anyone else’s. Nevertheless, this is the right move as Smart indicated the importance of caution after brain surgery.
Jennings Hughes: Who will be catching passes this season (referencing the loss of draftees, Jeremiah Holloman)?
Believe it or not, Georgia has options at receiver amidst a heavy weight of concern from many. At the receiver spot, Demetris Robertson — who should make a significant stride toward NFL draft consideration — and Tyler Simmons lead the returners and targets Jake Fromm can trust to balance the offense with a heavy rushing attack.
Other pass catching targets, however, are not so familiar with Georgia’s system. The likes of Matt Landers, Kearis Jackson and Trey Blount will be mixed in with newcomers. Four of them, in fact, have made their way to campus: Lawrence Cager (graduate transfer from Miami), George Pickens, Dominick Blaylock at wide receiver and Eli Wolf (Tennessee) at tight end. They’ll spend time getting accustomed, but expect all of them to be sprinkled into the rotation as well.
Away from receiver, Georgia has pass-catching options at running back and tight end. I expect offensive coordinator James Coley to be somewhat creative while forming this offense. A few things may be unconventional such as Swift getting a good number of receiving touches. Or Cook, who can complete a burst before you could blink. Senior tight end Charlie Woerner, after spending three years doing a whole lot of blocking, could be rewarded with more targets.