Everybody loves talking about the freshmen. They enter the program with plenty of hype, bring potential to Georgia’s program and all of that is based on high-school highlight tapes and recruiting visits.
It’s that time again. But they’ll get their first look in a collegiate uniform — at least those who are on campus.
Georgia opens spring practice Tuesday and will have 14 early enrollees (four of which are JUCO transfers) on its roster, which is quite a staggering number. But with the early December signing period, it’s become more of the norm. Head coach Kirby Smart will have a prime opportunity to develop his newcomers along with coaches across the country.
Last spring, Georgia saw Divaad Wilson shine before he suffered a season-ending ACL injury. The performances that were impressive to Smart continued up to the G-Day spring game: then-freshman Justin Fields (now at Ohio State, but many of you already knew that) had 233 yards on 18 of 33 passing, Brenton Cox had five tackles and Peach County product Kearis Jackson saw game action.
One season and another highly-touted incoming class later, the Bulldogs hope for more of the same as these athletes are welcomed to new opportunity at the Division I level.
“I will have so many resources, people and so many other things to help me progress my game both on the field and on the whiteboard,” Jermaine Johnson said before arriving on campus in December. He received a glimpse of the Bulldogs’ routine as a Sugar Bowl practice participant.
Here are three newcomers to keep an eye on as Georgia opens its fourth season under Smart.
Nakobe Dean — Horn Lake, Miss.
Georgia added one of the country’s most-coveted defensive recruits in Nakobe Dean. As a former five-star prospect, he was a big win during a hectic signing period on Dec. 20. Dean will slot into Glenn Schumann’s inside linebackers’ group with a chance to emerge amongst a crowded group.
Schumann’s room holds plenty of talent in a group that is led by junior Monty Rice (as crazy as that sounds, no, Rice didn’t just get to Georgia although it seems like it). Dean will be amongst a group with Channing Tindall and Quay Walker — two young returners who saw glimpses of action last season — to make a statement and play a significant role. Tae Crowder, now a senior, will be the elder statesman of the group.
Dean holds a favorable build for the Bulldogs at 6-foot, 220 pounds. Trezmen Marshall is the other inside linebacker who made it to Georgia’s campus early.
Clay Webb — Oxford, Ala.
The one thing that stands out about Smart’s 2019 class is his work on the offensive-and-defensive lines. He has at least one five-star on each line-of-scrimmage, and Webb is one who enters the program with a lot of chatter surrounding him.
Webb entered the program as a bowl practice attendee, and left a solid impression amongst his teammates. With a 6-foot-5, 293-pound frame, he carries a bit more agility than those recruited by position coach Sam Pittman in the past.
Webb will enter in competition to replace Lamont Gaillard at the center position, and redshirt freshmen Warren Ericson and Jamaree Salyer will join him. Houston County product Trey Hill could lead the race entering spring practice as he served as the main backup when Gaillard briefly exited games due to injury. Any of the aforementioned names could also work at either guard position.
“He’s been doing really well and working hard,” junior Andrew Thomas said, who has all but cemented his role as Georgia’s starting left tackle. “I’m excited to see where he goes. These guys get reps and it’s a great opportunity for young guys.”
Stetson Bennett — Jones County Community College
Believe it or not, this is Stetson Bennett’s second G-Day spring game. He returned to the program on scholarship after transferring from the program after last season’s spring festivities. Bennett, the famed backup known as “The Mailman,” is expected to be a significant depth piece behind assumed starter Jake Fromm.
Smart will say that competition is open at any position during spring practice, and that will include quarterback. Let’s be clear though and say that Fromm’s role isn’t in danger. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an important spring for Bennett. After a season away from the program, he can prove to quarterbacks’ coach James Coley that he is worthy of the second backup spot. D’wan Mathis, the four-star who was formerly committed to Ohio State, will also be a spring participant.
Bennett is small in stature at 6-foot, 185 pounds, but has already established himself amongst the Bulldogs. Before transferring, he recorded 73 passing yards on five completions in last year’s spring game.