What we have learned about Georgia football so far this spring

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 What we have learned about Georgia football so far this spring

The Bulldogs are finished with the first two weeks of spring practice and will hold their seventh practice on Tuesday evening. We know now Georgia will be without star wide receiver George Pickens after he tore his ACL, while running back Kenny McIntosh will miss the rest of spring with an elbow injury.

As discouraging as those injuries are, it isn’t the only thing we’ve learned about Georgia this spring. There have been quite a few more positive developments for the Bulldogs this spring on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

The Georgia offense is well ahead of the defense

Kirby Smart has made it clear on multiple occasions the Georgia offense is ahead of not just where it was a season ago but the defense this spring.

This was to be expected, with Georgia bringing back quarterback JT Daniels while the defense ranks 126th in the country in returning production.

Related: 5 most intriguing Georgia football players on offense this spring

Perhaps what has made this so interesting is the candor with which Smart speaks on the offense. That side of the ball has been a bugaboo under Smart and he will always be a defensive guy at heart. So for Smart to so bluntly state how the offense is outperforming the defense should be a good sign for a unit that will have to carry Georgia.

“They’re just ahead right now,” Smart said. “Who better to get you better than a team with a talented, experienced quarterback and pretty good skill players. The drills are not set up to be an advantage for the offense.

“We don’t really know much until you have the first scrimmage and you have to go out and tackle. I would say they’re definitely ahead in terms of execution and doing it right.”

If you believe in the offense, you believe in Todd Monken

The loss of Pickens impacts the ceiling of the Georgia offense. Still, there’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball, led by Daniels.

Georgia also feels comfortable in what it has in wide receivers Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson. Add in tight end Darnell Washington and a loaded running back, the Bulldogs have enough to overcome the loss of Pickens.

If there is one person who is going to help the Georgia offense the most in terms of replacing Pickens though, it will be offensive coordinator Todd Monken. The Georgia offense doesn’t have another player like Pickens.

What it does have is a sharp offensive mind who can design an offense to replace the production that Pickens would have given.

Consider Monken the Billy Beane of this Georgia organization.

“You find your best football players and you find ways to get them the ball and that’s what I think coach Monken does a great job of,” Smart said. “He’s going to try to exploit whoever you are playing’s weaknesses and he’s going to try to use our strengths to do that with. ”

Related: ESPN likes direction of Georgia offense thanks to offensive coordinator Todd Monken

“We have plays that we call that are the same plays we call in all personnel groupings, it’s just another way to get another playmaker the ball.”

Much is expected of the Georgia offense in year two under Monken. So far the returns have been positive for Georgia. The spring game on April 17 will give us our first chance to see what the offense will look like, even with Pickens out.

A couple of names to know emerge on defense

Georgia will need a number of defensive players to step given the Bulldogs have to replace its top pass rushers and most of its secondary.

In the front seven, there have been two clear developments that have caught our attention.

The first is in Travon Walker. Smart was asked about Nolan Smith, an obvious candidate for someone to replace Azeez Ojulari, when he brought up Walker unprompted.

“Travon is the guy that’s got to have a big year for us,” Smart said. “Not only is he replacing Malik [Herring] but in a lot of ways he’s replacing Azeez. I think everybody just assumes with Azeez being gone that it’s Nolan’s job. It’s not like that for us. Sixty to 70 percent of the snaps, Travon is Azeez and Nolan is Azeez. It’s just one’s left and one’s right. Both of those guys play defensive end a lot.”

Walker has played a small role in the Georgia defense in each of the last two seasons. Traditionally though, Georgia has not asked its defensive line to be disruptive players.

The Bulldogs have rarely had a player as gifted as Walker. In his first two seasons on campus, he has just 3.5 sacks. If Walker is to help replace Ojulari, he’ll need to have a much bigger season.

The other player that has turned heads is fellow junior Nakobe Dean. It’s for reason very different than that of Walker.

Dean hasn’t been able to fully participate this spring due to labrum surgery in January. But Georgia’s leading tackler from a season ago is still making his presence felt.

“I think guys are growing more confident,” Smart said. “Nakobe (Dean) has stood out to me. He’s been a guy that really is a tremendous leader and has taken on more of a vocal role. I think that’s big. Obviously, offensively, we’ve got a lot of leaders over there.”

Related: Nakobe Dean continues to impress Kirby Smart, even while dealing with injury

If Dean makes another leap, once he gets back to full strength, he’ll have a good shot at being the best Georgia linebacker since Roquan Smith.

Kirby Smart meant it when Georgia needed help at cornerback

Georgia reporters did not have to wait long to find out how serious Smart was about trying any and everything at the cornerback position, when starting Georgia safety Lewis Cine revealed he had been getting reps at cornerback.

The position will be one of constant fascination up until and through when Georgia players Clemson on Sept. 4. Georgia has young players like Kelee Ringo, Jalen Kimber and Nyland Green. There’s also veteran Ameer Speed at the position.

Related: Kirby Smart challenges former 5-star Georgia football defensive players

Georgia could also turn to the transfer portal to help address needs in the secondary, as the Bulldogs have three available scholarships for the fall.

Just last week another high-profile defensive back entered the transfer portal and there was a Georgia connection. Tykee Smith from West Virginia announced he would be entering the transfer portal.

Smith played for new Georgia defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae last season, though he was a safety for the Mountaineers. Georgia could try Smith at corner, like it did Cine, but Smith’s best possible home might be at the star position if he were to end up picking the Bulldogs.

Smith won’t be the last talented defensive back though to enter the portal and Georgia is going to be patient with its current set of defensive backs. That much we know from what we have seen this spring.

Georgia can still recruit nationally

This isn’t something related to the current Georgia team but the recruiting trail has enforced this is in recent days.

After eight of the first nine public commitments were from the state of Georgia for the 2022 recruiting class, the Bulldogs landed out of state prospects in linebacker Jalon Walker and running back Jordan James.

Georgia had to lean on in-state recruiting for the 2021 cycle due to the absence of recruiting visits. So far in the 2022 cycle, where Georgia currently has the No. 2 ranked class, the Bulldogs have used that same formula.

But the return of visits looms, with June 1 being the targeted date. In the 2019 and 2020 recruiting cycles, Georgia’s classes were made up by a majority of out-of-state recruits. The Bulldogs have found success drawing from both in and out of the state of Georgia in recent years

As the recruiting cycle begins to look more traditional it will be worth monitoring where Georgia’s commitments come from. Do the Bulldogs continue to prioritize the in-state prospects with whom they have a stronger relationship, or pursue more talented prospects that will likely be more contentious recruiting battles?

How that question gets answered will go on to define the 2022 signing class for Georgia.

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