1. Who will play Guard?
The largest weakness on Georgia’s 2021 offense was its Guard play. The inconsistency from Warren Ericson and Justin Shaffer created dozens of busted plays and caused UGA’s rushing offense to stall on many series throughout the season. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at the way Missouri dominated the center of UGA’s line at the end of last season. Shaffer is now in the NFL, but Ericson remains in the Georgia program.
Let’s take a look at this chart for UGA’s rushing last season. When you look at where the yards came from, it is easy to see where Georgia found consistent blocking and where it did not.
Georgia rushed for 8.1 YPA off Right Tackle last season. They ran for just 3.9 YPA in the hole between Center and Left Guard. On those carries, UGA running backs averaged just 1.4 yards before contact. UGA ran for just 4.1 YPA at the hole between Left Guard and Left Tackle, with again just 1.4 yards per carry coming before contact.
The numbers were a bit better at the hole between Center and Right Guard, as UGA running backs ran for 4.8 YPA in that gap in 2021. Those carries came with an average of 1.8 yards before contact for Georgia ball carriers.
Shaffer’s 20 quarterback pressures allowed were the most on UGA’s 2021 team. His 6 penalties was tied for the most on the team with Jamaree Salyer. Ericson’s 11 pressures allowed was the 2nd most on UGA’s team last season, but he should be credited for only drawing one holding penalty.
Georgia’s offensive line room is filled with talent. Tate Ratledge was by far Georgia’s best Guard during fall camp last year, but his lisfranc injury on the season’s first series ended his year before it ever started.
Is Ratledge fully healthy? Kirby Smart has said they will be careful with Ratledge as he returns to full speed drills and taking contact. Will he be ready in time for Georgia’s opener against Oregon?
Devin Willock’s 6’7” 355 pound frame is tantalizing. He has been the buzz of practices for a couple of years now and can really move folks in the run game. He played 87 snaps for Georgia last year and he had some nice moments as a run blocker. Is his pass blocking ability polished enough for him to take on a starting role this year? On G-Day he got a lot of work against the first team defensive line and performed admirably. Still, there were times where he had trouble with Georgia’s very athletic lineman.
The other leading candidate appears to be Xavier Truss. He was the choice to replace Warren Ericson at RG last year when he was injured against Tennessee. After a couple series he settled in, and the big man started opening some impressive holes in the second half in Knoxville. He allowed one pressure on 64 snaps and showed he could be relied upon in a pinch.
Willock looked like the better player on G-Day, but position battles are decided through day after day consistency. Which man will emerge at the Guard position opposite of Ratledge? If Tate isn’t ready early in the season will another player challenge Truss and Willock? Those answers will have a big impact on how Georgia looks up front against Oregon when the season kicks off.
2. Which WR’s are healthy?
Much of the talk about UGA’s passing game this summer has been around Georgia’s dream tight end room. While 12 and 13 personnel sets should be prevalent throughout the fall, Georgia does have questions that need to be answered at some of the other pass catching spots.
AD Mitchell saw more snaps than any UGA receiver in 2021 and the light really came on for the true freshman down the stretch. Mitchell can improve in 2022 by lowering his drop percentage (17.1%) and upping his yards after the catch (2.1 YPC) numbers from last year. Still, AD is the unquestioned starting X-Receiver heading into the season. After Mitchell, things get murky.
Ladd McConkey’s game is probably best suited to the slot, but he played more snaps last year as the Z-Receiver. Can Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, now almost two years fully removed from the broken leg he suffered on his first career touchdown catch, be the guy on the outside?
When UGA was on setting up for 3rd & 1 in Indy with 41 years of drought on the line, Rosemy was on the field. That should tell you EVERYTHING about his habits as a blocker and the trust that the coaching staff has in his grasp of the playbook.
When you isolate Rosemy on film it’s clear that he is one of the 2-3 best route runners on Georgia’s roster. He has great feet and makes his breaks where he’s supposed to with consistency. 2021 was a season where he played because UGA desprately needed warm bodies at wideout, but clearly wasn’t 100%. If he takes what he’s learned about the offense over his time in the program and couples it with a return to the physical form he showed prior to breaking his leg he could become a consistent weapon for the Bulldogs in 2022.
Much like McConkey, Arian Smith has played a few more of his career snaps at Z than he has in the slot. Smith has only run 16 routes as a Bulldog. He has 5 catches for 188 yards and 3 TD’s. His speed is elite, and he will take the top off of any defense. If he can stay healthy for a full season he single handedly raises the passing explosiveness of this Georgia football team.
Last year we saw Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock play a handful of snaps each. Blaylock finally got back on the field after consecutive ACL surgeries and Jackson dealt with nagging injuries all year long.
Blaylock’s 3.10 Yards Per Route Run in 2019 was the most by a starting UGA pass catcher since PFF started tracking the stat in 2014. Kearis Jackson was Stetson Bennett’s favorite target in 2020. The two had an excellent chemistry when working the middle of the field together and a clear comfort in reading the secondary on option routes.
Jackson and Blaylock looked healthy on G-Day. If they’re both healthy for the season they give Georgia a dynamic pair of inside receivers. If they are joined by Rosemy-Jacksaint and Smith the impact on UGA’s offense in 2022 is tremendous.
3. Who will start in the secondary?
We know two things for sure about Georgia’s secondary
- Kelee Ringo will be UGA’s top Cornerback
- Christopher Smith will return at Safety to anchor the back end of Georgia’s defense
Ringo started last season as the ultra talented recruit who Georgia was hoping would hold up opposite of established veteran Derion Kendrick. He had some freshman moments early in the season, but as the year went along he proved himself.
Ringo played 516 coverage snaps while giving up just 24 receptions on 59 targets. His 40.6% reception percentage was the lowest of any player to see significant snaps in the UGA back seven. The 346 receiving yards he allowed were less than Kendrick. Quarterbacks targeting Ringo in 2021 had a passer rating of just 63.2, which was third lowest on the team after Kendrick and Christopher Smith.
Ringo’s toughest game came against Alabama in the National Championship game. He got caught with his head turned a couple of times and misplayed some routes, but when the game was on the line he delivered Georgia a championship sealing pick-six. Another offseason should turn him into a more savvy corner and make him more adept at knowing when to turn around and play the ball.
Christopher Smith was the quiet name in Georgia’s back end last year, but he is crucial to Georgia’s defensive scheme. He has elite coverage skills for a safety and can step into the slot corner position if needed. In 2021 he played 146 snaps as the “Star” or slot corner for the Bulldogs and 386 snaps as a free safety. He excels in both roles, and that is where a bit of the confusion comes in for Georgia in 2022.
Tykee Smith transferred into UGA before last season after being PFF’s highest rated slot defender in all of college football. He is an excellent blitzer and has fantastic coverage skills, but injuries derailed his 2021 season. In two years at West Virginia he produced 54 “stop plays” (A stop play is when an offense fails to gain half the yards needed for a first down on 1st or 2nd down and fails to gain a first down on 3rd down).
He only played 7 snaps for Georgia last year. 6 were at Star and 1 at Free Safety. If he is healthy where does he play? What about Javon Bullard? He flashed some impressive speed in the spring game and picked off Stetson Bennett on the goal line to end the first half.
William Poole III spent an entire career as a reserve player before being thrust into a starting role in the SEC Championship. On that day he gave up 8 receptions on 10 targets as Alabama worked the slot over and over. In Indianapolis he was a different player, holding his assignments to 29 yards on 9 targets and registering 2 pass breakups. The question for Georgia is which Poole is the one they can expect in 2022?
If it is the Indy version of Poole does that bump Tykee Smith to the other safety position opposite of Christopher Smith? If UGA feels like Tykee can best serve the team by playing that Star role then who will be the safety opposite of Chris Smith?
Dan Jackson is back after playing significant snaps for Georgia last year and feels like the safest choice for Georgia at Strong Safety. The problem? we saw Jackson struggle when covering elite receivers with high end speed.
In a scenario where Georgia goes a different route would David Daniel-Sisavanh potentially step in? Daniel only gave up 2 receptions in 51 coverage snaps last year but he mostly played in garbage time.
The highest ceiling for the position might come in the form of true freshman Malaki Starks. Can UGA get him up to speed quick enough to take on the Safety role in 2022? Starks was the top rated recruit in Georgia’s 2022 class and he possesses rare speed and instincts. Don’t count out true freshman JaCorey Thomas either.
This is where things get really muddy for Georgia. Kamari Lassiter is the returning CB with the most career snaps other than Ringo and started opposite of Ringo in Georgia’s spring game. In just 79 coverage snaps last season he gave up 19 yards per catch on 9 receptions while being targeted 14 times. Those snaps are almost all garbage time and his 171 yards allowed are half or more of the amount of yards that Ringo and Kendrick gave up in over 6 times the snaps played.
Nyland Green was a much heralded recruit in the Class of 2021, but he played just 4 snaps last season and we don’t know where he stands heading into fall camp. He was the 2nd team DB on G-Day but struggled at times.
Opposite of Green on G-Day was true freshman Daylen Everette. He showed some moments of five-star potential. In other moments he looked like a guy who was just a few months into being a college student.
Georgia’s 2022 recruiting class featured one of the best collections of defensive backs in school history. Everette, Thomas and Starks were part of it, but it also included other names. Marcus Washington was a heralded 2023 CB recruit who decided to reclassify into the 2022 class this spring.
Houston native Julian Humphrey was a top 100 player for most of the cycle before shutting down some of the nation’s best receivers in his class at the Army All-American Bowl and becoming a five-star.
Jaheim Singeltary is another five-star who joined the class out of Jacksonville, FL. For much of the recruiting cycle Singeltary looked like he might be the top Cornerback in his class.
There’s a lot of talent… But right now there’s no telling which of these players will end up in the CB spot opposite of Ringo. Don’t be shocked if you see UGA rotating positions in the spot early in the season.
Which questions are you eager to get answers for during Fall Camp? Let us know in the comments below…