Testing some stuff

Louisville at Hoover football; Friday, August 31, 2018
Louisville at Hoover football; Friday, August 31, 2018
Published August 1
Updated October 4

Aug. 1--ATHENS -- The Georgia Bulldogs open preseason camp Friday on the Woodruff Practice Fields. Officially.

The reality is, the Bulldogs haven't stopped preparing for the 2019 season with the exception of brief respites after the Sugar Bowl in January and during spring break. They've stepped on those fields almost every weekday since. After all, the well-verbalized mandate for this team is to "do more."

Last season came to a disappointing end with losses in the last two games to finish 11-3. Meanwhile, expectations this year are higher than they've been in Georgia's four seasons under coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs are runaway favorites to win a third consecutive SEC Eastern Division title and a consensus Top 4 national pick. That means it's College Football Playoff-or-bust for UGA's championship-starved fan base.

In order of importance, here's the top 10 priorities Georgia must address in preseason camp if it is to fulfill that haughty outlook:

Establish a primary receiver: The unexpected loss of rising junior J.J. Holloman to a domestic-violence accusation can't be overplayed. Yes, the Bulldogs already were going to be without their top three wideouts in Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin. But Holloman represented a known commodity and a dependable go-to receiver who had proven ability to make the contested catch. Georgia has plenty of options to choose from, but none of the candidates have shown yet they can perform in the clutch in prime time.

D-line development: The lack of elite defensive-line play last season left Georgia on the outside looking in. Again, the Bulldogs aren't lacking for options. There are plenty of defensive linemen on the roster, just none that have distinguished themselves as all-star/championship caliber. Identifying one or two from a group of lettermen and new arrivals is of prime concern.

Backup quarterback: Nobody cares who the backup quarterback is until you need one. The Bulldogs have one of the nation's best starters in Jake Fromm, and he could win the Heisman Trophy if the team achieves everything it seeks. But the unknown medical status of freshman early enrollee D'Wan Mathis leaves junior college transfer Stetson Bennett and walk-on John Seter as the only options in the event Fromm has to miss all or parts of any games. Imagine where Georgia would've been in 2017 without Fromm.

Shutdown corner: Last season's Sugar Bowl performance proved what NFL first-round pick Deandre Baker meant to Georgia's defense. Eric Stokes moved over to Baker's boundary corner position and 5-star Tyson Campbell stepped in at the other spot. But Texas QB Sam Ehlinger completed 20 of 28 passes and the Longhorns rolled up 355 yards on the way to a 28-21 upset.

Identify elite pass rusher: Also magnified in the loss to Texas was the absence of 2018 sack leader D'Andre Walker. The 13-game starter is now permanently gone with his NFL appointment. Nowhere have the Bulldogs recruited better than at the outside linebacker position, where they've stacked blue-chip prospects like firewood. Finding two or three who can consistently pressure the passer is a priority for first-year defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.

Settle on center, O-line rotation: Likewise, offensive-line coach Sam Pittman has no shortage of elite linemen to trot out. But resolving what should be the most intense playing-time competition of the preseason and settling on a rotation as soon as possible is paramount to get the offense clicking. Central to that is center, where sophomore Trey Hill appears entrenched as the successor to the highly underrated graduate Lamont Gaillard.

Get David Marshall healthy: Bolstering the D-line's outlook would be the 100 percent effectiveness of David Marshall. The midseason loss of the 274-pound senior defensive end/tackle to a foot fracture was felt in Georgia's rush defense. The emergence of a polished veteran such as Marshall could do wonders to fix problems up front.

Find an explosive returner: Mecole Hardman averaged 22.4 yards every time he fielded a punt or kickoff last season, best in the SEC. Never mind TD returns, that's 674 yards of hidden yardage. Whether it's Kearis Jackson, Demetris Robertson or a new arrival like Dominick Blaylock, Georgia can only hope to find someone who can pose an equal level of threat.

Determine what 'Zeus' can do: There is no preseason buzz greater than that surrounding redshirt freshman RB Zamir White, better known as "Zeus." The reality is, there is no great pressure on White to prove anything to anybody. America's No. 1 running back recruit of 2018 is exactly one year removed from a second ACL surgery. But the Bulldogs are fully loaded at his position. D'Andre Swift leads a group of capable backs in Brian Herrien, James Cook, Kenny McIntosh and Prather Hudson. Whatever White brings is a bonus. If he unseats any of the others, it could be a bonanza.

Refine kicking game: Last season was rife with kicking-situation disasters, some strategically self-inflicted, others fundamental breakdowns. There's little concern about recording-setting, senior place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, but thunder-legged sophomore Jake Camarda must prove himself a markedly more dependable punter.


(c)2019 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) at www.ajc.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.