1. It would seem like optimism abounds in Athens right now — what was the mood around Georgia’s spring practices?
The talk from Kirby and some of the players was about leadership, which is kind of a catch-all term for having the focus and desire that last season’s team possessed. There is a real concern about replacing what certain players, like Chubb and Michel, brought to how the team carried itself. The plan is for competition at every position group to bring out that same kind of focus by the season’s start.
2. The Bulldogs have lost a ton of talent to the NFL, but two straight huge recruiting classes will be on hand. Is there a feeling that all that young talent is jumping right in, or will there still be a lot of experience.?
Both. Some position groups, like wide receiver and tight end, will be dominated by returning depth. Some, like outside linebacker and the secondary, will see a mix of experience and fresh faces. Then there’s the offensive line, which actually returns four starters, but will see a starter without game experience at right tackle and possibly left guard. As I mentioned in my previous answer, Smart sees young talent competing as a feature, not a bug.
3. Justin Fields steps in as one of the top quarterback prospects, and he’ll certainly have a chance to claim the job. Any real chance that happens, or is Jake Fromm still the guy here?
Kirby hasn’t been afraid to start a true freshman quarterback in his first two seasons — once by necessity, once by choice — so I’d never say never here, but when you’re talking about replacing a kid who was one play away from leading Georgia to a national championship a few months ago, Fields would have to prove himself to be one impressive option for that to happen. This is not to say he’s meh, of course, as he showed a live arm and an ability to move at the spring game. I would be shocked to see him redshirt in 2018, but he’d have to come on a lot in August to supplant Jake Fromm.
4. What’s next on defense with Roquan Smith, Trenton Thompson and Lorenzo Carter departing?
We’re about to find out if Georgia has made it to the “reload, not rebuild” stage on defense. Thompson was inconsistent last season, so it’s hard to say how much he’ll be missed, though there are legitimate concerns about d-line depth. Carter had a solid senior season, but outside linebacker is one of the deepest positions on the team and I don’t expect much of a drop off there at all. Smith, on the other hand… well, there’s talent and there’s other-worldly talent. You just don’t find other-worldly guys that easily. Roquan Smith is going to be the hardest player for Georgia to replace in 2018.
5. After the high of last year, what’s next for this program? Even with the depressing title game loss, Georgia had a magical season. Any worry about the follow-up, or just ready to enjoy the ride?
I don’t want to sound overly cocky here, but given the schedule and the relative gap between Georgia’s talent and that of the rest of the division, it’s hard to see how the Dawgs don’t return to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship, at a minimum. At some point, they’re going to have to figure out how to beat Alabama, but in the meantime, yeah, the ride is still an enjoyable one.