Saturday’s G-Day spring football game was quick, clean and injury free.
That’s the best possible news that could come out of the controlled scrimmage that is the only public showing for Georgia Bulldogs football fans leading into a prolonged break before summer conditioning commences.
While much of the attention is on the players that Georgia has to replace, there were plenty of positives to glean from the two-hour G-Day game before approximately 75,000 fans at Sanford Stadium.
The most promising sign was the presence of freshman quarterback Justin Fields, who was the nation’s top high school prospect in the Class of 2018, and could eventual push sophomore Jake Fromm for playing time in 2018. While directing the second-team offense, Fields was poised in the pocket and accurate with his passes. However, the true test of his composure will not come until he takes hits during the course of the game, which was not allowed in the spring football game.
Also, Georgia’s offensive line looks like it will be a huge strength (led by Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson, Kendall Baker and Solomon Kindley) in 2018 to buffer the learning curve for some of the tremendously talented but still unproven running backs.
The Bulldogs’ secondary appears to be equally aggressive with its talent returning in 2018, which is good in a league where offenses try to get playmakers in space.
Here’s the five main things that also stood out during Georgia’s spring football game:
1. DEEP BACKFIELD: While everyone is rightfully leery on what Georgia’s running game will do without Nick Chubb and Sony Michel next fall, the Bulldogs may have their most depth in the position in many years.
With sophomore D’Andre Swift the clear leader of the backfield, there’s a chance that five backs will see substantial playing time.
Junior Elijah Holyfield is a physical beast and due for a breakout, and Brian Herrien returns and will also get his share of carries. Georgia also welcomes five-star prospects James Cook (younger brother of Minnesota Vikings runner back Dalvin Cook) and Zamir White into the fold.
It’s likely someone will earn a red-shirt year, but with two of the top running backs in the country coming in, it’s anyone’s guess who that will be.
2. FROMM AND FIELDS CAN BOTH PLAY: While it’s clear that Georgia coach Kirby Smart showed last year that he wants one true starter at quarterback, both scholarship players at the position this year are both tremendously talented.
In the spring game, the challenger Fields threw for 207 yards and showed a real good composure in the pocked as the Black team won 21-13 against the Red.
The incumbent Fromm completed 50 percent of his throws (19 of 38) for 200 yards and a touchdown, but had a first-quarter interception returned for a touchdown by senior defensive back DeAndre Baker.
3. LINEBACKER IS THIN: No way around it: Georgia is going to have to break in some new players for the fall to fill the massive hole left by the early departure of Roquan Smith to the NFL.
We saw a taste of some of the younger talent on display in the spring football game as sophomore Nate McBride — a player well-suited to be a run-stuffer — and freshman Brenton Cox who also got on the field.
Senior D’Andre Walker is the clear veteran leader of this group, after making 40 stops as a junior. If he can stay out of trouble, Natrez Patrick will be a big boost, too.
4. DECEPTIVELY TALENTED WIDE RECEIVERS: The Bulldogs don’t require game-changers on the outside. Complementary pieces that can take some of the pressure off of Fromm, especially on third-and-long situations without Chubb and Michel to lean on, will be a big help.
Junior Riley Ridley will be the deep threat for the Bulldogs and almost hauled in a long touchdown pass from Fromm in the first half of G-Day — but was broken up on good coverage by Baker in the back of the end zone.
Tight ends will be called up to get more involved in the offense, most notably former Buford High standout Isaac Nauta who lacked in production as a sophomore, after having 29 receptions as a freshman in 2016.
5. NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A GOOD KICKER: Rodrigo Blankenship was 2 for 2 on field goals in the spring game and is a lock to hold down the position for the third consecutive season. Blankenship was 20 of 23 on field goals last year, which tied Blair Walsh for sixth-best percentage on field goals in school history.
In the Rose Bowl, it was Blankenship’s 55-yarder near the end of the first half that was the impetus behind the second-half comeback and overtime victory in the national semifinal game.
We won’t really have a good feel for the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs’ outlook until the summer and, more specifically, when SEC league play opens against South Carolina on Sept. 8.
However, despite large attrition of talent at key positions, Georgia is stacked with enough depth through its selective recruiting ability to fill those holes — and possibly be a step better.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com or @Bill_Murphy313 on Twitter.