Georgia is set to begin practice for the Liberty Bowl on Wednesday, which gives the program ample time to make some necessary improvements heading into its final game of the season.
This time can also be used to get a head start on next season. Younger players who haven’t had the opportunity to contribute will receive additional practices to better their development while possibly playing more in the final game of the season.
While Georgia’s objective will be to win the game and end the season on a high note, there is also a delicate balance of getting those younger players experience.
Looking back on the season that was, Georgia fielded a young roster with only six major senior contributors on offense and defense. The next three weeks could be beneficial to a lot of these up-and-coming contributors.
Here are three things to look out for with bowl practice soon to be underway.
McGhee, Hardman’s development
The lone cornerback Georgia loses is Maurice Smith, the graduate transfer from Alabama who started every game this season at the nickel position. With Malkom Parrish and Deandre Baker set to return on the outside, a key position is set to open up.
Word is that freshman and former Peach County standout Tyrique McGhee has been impressive from an athletic standpoint throughout the entire season. It’s why he played every game on special teams and earned one of the team’s newcomer of the year awards.
But like any freshman, McGhee has been adjusting to the college game while those with more experience have played in front of him. These next couple of weeks could benefit McGhee in a major way as he prepares to take on the task of competing for starting spot as a sophomore.
Fellow freshman Mecole Hardman is in a similar situation. Arriving at Georgia as a five-star prospect, Hardman saw time on special teams but didn’t return any kicks until Reggie Davis missed time late in the season due to a shoulder injury. This could be a good time to get Hardman more reps as a returner while getting a closer look at him in the secondary.
Passing game improvements
Quarterback Jacob Eason did plenty of positive things as a freshman. He had great moments against North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee and Auburn. But he also struggled at times in games against Mississippi, Florida and late against Georgia Tech.
While he threw 14 touchdowns to eight interceptions, Eason completed 55 percent of his passes — a number that will need to increase as his time at Georgia continues. These next couple of weeks, including in the Liberty Bowl, will be a great opportunity to hone in on chemistry with his passing targets.
Toward the end of the year, Eason’s rapport was growing stronger with tight end Isaac Nauta and receiver Javon Wims, both of whom will be back in 2017. Eason delivered most of his passes throughout the year to Isaiah McKenzie, and also got Terry Godwin and Riley Ridley involved a good bit too.
Furthermore, Georgia could be without Nick Chubb and Sony Michel next season if they decide to enter the NFL draft. That would mean offensive coordinator Jim Chaney could turn more toward Eason and the passing game instead of relying heavily on a rushing attack.
This will be a great time to work on timing with the returning receiving targets so that Eason can improve upon his true freshman season.
Scout-teamers to earn valuable reps
At least in the first few bowl practices, scout-teamers and players redshirting will have a chance to earn some valuable reps.
On the defensive side of the ball, the one who could benefit the most is outside linebacker Chauncey Manac. Manac didn’t see the field as a freshman because of who is in front of him on the depth chart. Manac has given the offense a great simulated look during practice and could be primed for some additional reps to develop his own game.
If he does so, and if either Lorenzo Carter or Davin Bellamy decide to take a shot at the NFL, playing time as a redshirt freshman could emerge.
On the offensive line, Solomon Kindley, Ben Cleveland and Chris Barnes will have a chance to get some team reps to get an early start on offseason preparation. With three offensive linemen needing to be replaced next season, competition will be high up front – especially considering a slew of linemen are joining the program in this year’s recruiting class.