Junkyard Mail: Most impressive spring Dawg, offensive prospects, stopping the run and more!

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Defensive back Devin Gillespie and linebacker Natrez Patrick (No. 6) combine for a tackle during G-Day. (John Kelley / UGA)
Defensive back Devin Gillespie and linebacker Natrez Patrick (No. 6) combine for a tackle during G-Day. (John Kelley / UGA)

Defensive back Devin Gillespie and linebacker Natrez Patrick (No. 6) combine for a tackle during G-Day. (John Kelley / UGA)

Let’s get right to some Junkyard Mail. …

Dennis McDawg writes: Bill, which player impressed you the most at this year’s G-Day game?

Dennis, my answer is Natrez Patrick, but that has a couple of asterisks attached to it, named Isaiah McKenzie and Nick Chubb.

I actually was most impressed by McKenzie’s work at receiver during his brief time in the game before pulling up lame after a 72-yard touchdown catch. He also had a nifty 20-yard catch that was called back by a penalty. Last year, McKenzie wowed a lot of folks as a kick returner but wasn’t much of a threat at receiver. But this spring Mark Richt talked about how much improved he was, and what little we got to see of him at G-Day backed that up. I think he could be a real downfield threat this coming season.

Isaiah McKenzie was extremely impressive on G-Day before hurting his hamstring on a long touchdown catch. (John Kelley / UGA)

Isaiah McKenzie was extremely impressive on G-Day before hurting his hamstring on a long touchdown catch. (John Kelley / UGA)

And Chubb, of course, looked terrific as usual in his few touches. I think he was easily the most impressive athlete on the field.

But, with those caveats noted, it was tough to believe from what we saw on the field that true freshman Patrick, an early entry at UGA, is only a few months removed from high school. Moved from outside linebacker to inside during spring practice, the 6-foot-3, 259-pound four-star signee from Atlanta’s Mays High racked up eight tackles and a sack on G-Day. Richt singled him out as the most impressive of the new Bulldogs so far.

Terry Thompson writes: Bill, I have to say that after watching the quarterback battle remain unresolved by the end of G-Day, and the Dawgs still not settled on a starting center, plus all those sacks that were given up, the fragile nature of the two top receivers, the uncertainty behind Nick Chubb at tailback and a pretty unimpressive debut by Brian Schottenheimer, I’m more than a little concerned about how our offense will perform this fall. Can you talk me down from the ledge?

Take it easy, Terry. The Dawgs may not have settled on a starting QB yet, but both Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta had their shining moments at G-Day, and we still have August to settle who gets to be the starter. Besides, early on I expect the chief requirement of Georgia’s starting quarterback to be handing off smoothly to Chubb. And some of those “sacks” were quick whistles intended to keep the QB safe, while others were a case of the quarterback holding on to the ball too long rather than an indictment of the offensive line’s protection.

Wide receiver depth is a little worrisome, but the Dawgs are loaded at tight end and, based on what we know of Schottenheimer’s work in the NFL, I expect those guys to play a big part in the passing game. Aside from the one high snap, I didn’t see any real problems with the play at center on G-Day and I imagine by September whoever wins the starting job will have the mechanics down pat and will be mostly working on the blocking signals that the center calls. And there’s no way to really do that except to play.

Nick Chubb scores on one of his few plays in the G-Day game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Nick Chubb scores on one of his few plays in the G-Day game. (John Kelley / UGA)

As for depth behind Chubb, assuming Sony Michel and Keith Marshall get back in form, I’m not too worried. Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman made some tough yards on G-Day and Turman had a nice 52-yard break-away run for a touchdown, so I think the Dawgs are in good shape there.

And when it comes to what we saw of Schottenheimer’s offense, well, we didn’t, really. The G-Day calls were extremely vanilla, as expected. Looking head to fall, there are bound to be some hiccups with a new quarterback, but Georgia still looks to be capable of putting up a lot of points.

Jim P. writes: Bill, A year ago coaches from top to bottom wanted lighter linemen. For stamina? How did that work out? We’re seeing the problems that have arisen in our rushing defense. Getting beaten badly on the rushing side of the ball. They might be right in needing faster, more agile linemen. But the true problem is the Dawgs need more depth on the line. Some 350-pound behemoth to replace another 350-pound behemoth every other series. I realize easier said than done, but the lighter defensive line is not helping against the run. Are we getting back to the “beef”? What do you say?

Defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter during Georgia's annual G-Day football game at Sanford Stadium. (John Kelley / UGA)

Defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter during Georgia’s annual G-Day football game at Sanford Stadium. (John Kelley / UGA)

I think a middle ground between big, beefy linemen and fast but undersized linemen is the way to go nowadays, Jim. Aside from the Florida and Tech games last year, the defensive line did a pretty solid job against the run. And against the spread-type teams like Auburn (who continue to proliferate in college ball), they did extremely well. So I don’t really agree with your overall negative assessment of Georgia’s run defense, though I will concede that the defensive line was probably the least impressive part of last year’s D. However, there’s some very good fresh blood coming aboard. Jonathan Ledbetter drew praise for how quickly he picked things up this spring, and his seven tackles on G-Day trailed only Patrick and Reggie Carter’s eight apiece. And this fall, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Trent Thompson, looks likely to join senior Chris Mayes in getting a lot of playing time at tackle. I think that will mark a definite upgrading of Georgia’s defensive line.

Steve Upshaw writes: Hi Bill, I’ve had season tickets for 33 years. My wife and I rarely even miss road games. Like most true fans, I love the team so much that I truly get physically ill after a loss. I can honestly say that I’ve never blamed a loss on players. A loss is a loss for all of us and not one or a few players or even a coach. ….  It’s the red helmet and the G that I love. Players and coaches come and go, but those beautiful red helmets and that special oval G never change. I suppose I’ll spend the rest of my days loving this university and team. [But] for all my love for everything UGA and the football team, my wife and I have never attended a spring game. As much as I can guarantee we’ll be in section 137 for every home game and in two seats someplace for every road game, I also guarantee I’ll never be in attendance at a spring game; just don’t see the point. I cannot get excited about witnessing a game against ourselves. I get emotionally up to play against South Caroline, Auburn, Tech, Bama, etc., but to line up against our own has the appeal of watching pollen blow around: NONE.

Before you completely dismiss an experience, Steve, maybe you ought to try it at least once. The spring game isn’t about who wins or loses or school pride or pageantry or any of the aspects that make the college football regular season the most satisfying sport to watch. It’s a chance to see players competing for a starting position and to scope out newcomers who might play a key role come fall. It’s also the only chance we fans get to sit in Sanford Stadium and watch football between late November and late summer, when a new season starts. There’s also a laid-back feel to G-Day that’s enjoyable. Admission is free, you can sit wherever you want (in the lower level), and you’re free to enjoy a couple of hours of football without worrying about whether the Dawgs will win or not. I love watching the spring game, and I’d urge you to find out what it’s like before dismissing it as a fan experience.

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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