Kirby Smart looks to kick off his 4th season in Athens with undoubtedly his highest expectations yet. Granted, lofty expectations are a bit self-inflicted for to Georgia alumni, he's expressed repeatedly that "The University of Georgia deserves to be in National Championship conversation every year"
This will most certainly be the deepest football team that Kirby Smart has had since taking the reigns at Georgia, and that's something he spoke about after Saturday's scrimmage were he was mostly pleased with the two's rather than the starting units.
But let's take a look at who we think will win those starting battles on both sides of the football:
LT: Andrew Thomas, JR.
Thomas is unquestionably the silent leader of this group. You'll read the stories about Ben Cleveland's buck knife, or Cade May's ability to play multiple positions. Andrew Thomas's story has been written in the wake of his defenders on the field on Saturdays. So much so that he is expected to be the first Tackle off the board in the upcoming NFL Draft.
LG: Solomon Kindley, RJR.
UGA's offensive line is so good..... (How good are they?) They are so good that Solomon Kindley, as a former 3-star, was the lowest-ranked prep player on the traveling roster. And I can guarantee you this, the evaluators that established that rating are eating copious amounts of crow. According to PFF.com, Kindley allowed just 5 interior pressures last season. That tied for first in the conference.
C: Trey Hill, SO
Trey Hill won the center spot fair and square this offseason. Holding off the likes of 5-star Clay Webb and Jamarree Salyer who both can, and probably will at some point, play center. Hill played in all 14 games last season, including starting the last 4 games at Guard. In my opinion, he's a perfect replacement for the caliber of player that Lamont Gaillard was for this program.
RG: Cade Mays, SO
I'm going out on a bit of a limb here. Ben Cleveland has had the lead for the fifth and final spot on this offensive line for quite some time. But we said it here on The Bulldog Maven that Cade Mays was one of the players that had the most to gain from a great camp, and early signs show that he's balling out. No shots here at Ben Cleveland, cause lord knows I don't want that smoke, it's going to be a rotating slot all year I would imagine.
RT: Isaiah Wilson, RSO
Isaiah Wilson is a former 5-star tackle from Brooklyn, New York and after having to redshirt his freshman year due to conditioning issues, Georgia fans have seen nothing but his full talents and goliath-like size and strength on display. If Wilson has another great year for the Dawgs, you could hear his name called in the draft rather early as well.
WR: Tyler Simmons, SR
The undoubted leader of this wide receivers unit, and yes he was onsides, Tyler Simmons may not lead the team in receptions at the end of the year, but in my opinion, he's done more than enough to earn a starting spot week 1 against Vanderbilt. And though this team, with the loss of Jeremiah Holloman, doesn't appear to have a #1 receiver yet, they have a tremendous amount of talented depth on the roster.
WR: George Pickens, FR
Is Lawrence Cager the most experienced wideout of the bunch? Yes. Does a guy like Kearis Jackson have a leg up on Pickens because he's got a redshirt year under his belt? Yep. But none of that matters. None of that undermines the fact that George Pickens has the highest ceiling of any wideout on roster. I think with the removal of Holloman, there's no reason not to let the young man work, and work early.
Slot: Demetris Robertson, JR
There are a handful of guys that could put their name in the hat for "fastest player in college football", and UGA certainly has one of those in Robertson. After transferring from Cal, Robertson spent the bulk of last season picking up the playbook. Now in his second year in Athens, though he has a new OC, he seems to have gotten acclimated. I expect big things out of the slot this season, perhaps replacing what was lost with Mecole Hardman declaring for the draft early.
TE: Charlie Woerner, SR
Perhaps the depth at the tight end position, or lack thereof, is the majority of the reason for Kirby Smart and staff persuing the likes of Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert so aggressively. Nonetheless, I think they give the nod to the veteran of the group in Woerner.
RB: D'andre Swift, JR
We saved the boring ones for last. Everyone knows Swift's the workhorse for this season, with expectations of 2,000+ all-purpose yards not out of the question. For a guy who's had to sit behind Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and even split carries with Elijah Holyfield, it's nice to see Swift get his season. Especially behind this offensive line.
QB: Jake Fromm, JR
I think we can move on, don't you? The real discussion is the backup QB spot. With Mathis coming back from a scary medical situation and Stetson Bennett back on campus, that's the more intriguing talking point.
DT: Tyler Clark, SR
Is it wrong to expect more from Tyler Clark than the 4 TFL's he turned in last season? Is it unreasonable to hope for him to return to at least his sophomore form? I don't think that's too much to ask especially considering he will most likely get the bulk of the snaps at the defensive tackle spot. Travon Walker just isn't quite ready yet.
NT: Jordan Davis, SO
Ahhhhhhh yea. Georgia found themselves a dawg in Jordan Davis. Reports are that the last facet of Davis's game has been implemented, controlling the weight and conditioning. Word out of camp is Davis is on track to be one of the nation's best interior defensive linemen. After helping improve the Dawgs run defense late last season, UGA hopes his impact will be substantial this season.
DE: Malik Herring, JR
When you talk about the prototypical 3-4 defensive end, you are looking for guys who may not be big enough to play 3-technique, but aren't quite athletic enough to hold it down solely as an edge defender. What you want is Malik Herring. A 6'3, 280 pounder that can hold his own when head up against a tackle, and also provide an edge rush when needed. Expect a big year from Malik.
Sam: Walter Grant, JR
We've heard all about the outside linebackers this offseason and there's certainly plenty to talk about. Whether it's Brenton Cox's departure, the additions of Jeremiah Johnson and Nolan Smith, or even Walter Grant getting work at running back this spring. All the buzz will eventually die down, and I think it's a 4-5 man rotation at both spots, but Grant gets the nod early from me.
Jack: Azeez Ojulari, SO
There have been few players that have impressed more this fall than Azeez Ojulari. Coming in a bit undersized last season, Ojulari certainly found the weight room this offseason and has catapulted himself into what appears to be, not only a potential starting position but a leadership role as well, speaking to the media this weekend on behalf of the defense.
Mike: Tae Crowder, RSR
These next two positions are similar to Quarterback and Running back on offense, apart from injury, we know who's going to be getting the bulk of the work this season. Since making the switch from high school running back to linebacker, Tae Crowder has earned himself quite the reputation as a ball hawk for Georgia. Finishing 5th in tackles last season with a career-high 53 and leading the team with 2 interceptions.
Will: Monty Rice, JR
Will Nakobe Dean get on the field at some point this season at one of these spots? Absolutely. But its unreasonably to assume or suggest he should start over either. It is my opinion that both Monty and Tae will be playing on Sundays next fall, so Nakobe can respectfully wait his turn.
CB: Eric Stokes, RSO
Coming off an incredible redshirt freshman campaign in which Eric Stokes played flip side of first-round draft pick DeAndre Baker, and held opposing Quarterbacks to a rating of 54.3 when going his way. And despite being picked on, if you will, all season last year because opponents were fearful of Baker, Stokes more than held his own.
CB: Tyson Campbell, SO
Campbell has the same exact opportunity in front of him this football season that Eric Stokes did last fall. Be the #2 corner on a top-5 football team and accept the challenges that come with it. And the #2 overall corner from the 2018 class has more than enough talent and potential to ball out in a starting role.
RS: J.R. Reed, SR
Despite receiving rather lofty draft grades following last year's season, J.R. Reed elected to finish out his career as a Bulldog and return for his senior season. And Dawg fans could not be more grateful to have our second-leading tackler, and leader in the secondary back. He and Richard Lecounte will be in conversations for the best Safety duo in all of college football.
LS: Richard Lecounte, JR
Lecounte was recently slotted as the #1 safety off the board in the upcoming draft by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, and though mock drafts 11 months before the actual draft aren't likely to be accurate, the evaluation remains. UGA has one of the most NFL caliber safeties on their roster, and he led the team in tackles as a sophomore.
Star: Tyrique Stevenson, FR
Call me crazy. But the Star position at Georgia is reserved for the hybrid linebacker/DB/playmaker type of football player. And who fits that bill more than Tyrique Stevenson? I know it's a long shot, but can't a man dream? I want to see this kid early and often because of the rarity of his skill set. Call me selfish.