We are doing something a little bit new this season, tracking the freshman and new player participation for Georgia football on a week by week basis. This should be useful both to establish which members of the 2019 recruiting class are set to make an immediate impact, as well as which players are likely headed for a red shirt.
Traditionally Kirby Smart has played a lot of true freshmen during his time at Georgia. This Saturday was a little different. Only seven true freshmen saw the field and only one (Lewis Cine, who drew the first snap as the Star defensive back) started. That isn’t anywhere close to the eighteen true freshmen who saw action last season against Austin Peay. The list of true freshmen who saw action against the Commodores:
• Lewis Cine, defensive back
• Nakobe Dean, linebacker
• Trezman Marshall, linebacker
• George Pickens, wide receiver
• Nolan Smith, linebacker
• Tyrique Stevenson, defensive back
• Travon Walker, defensive tackle
A few notes:
Several of these saw action only on special teams, which is a perfectly important part of the game. I had to double check at one point to confirm that in fact 6’6, 290 pound Travon Walker was in fact running downfield on the kickoff team. That is terrifying.
A likely reason that more true freshmen did not see action in this one was that it was not really 100% out of reach for the ‘Dores until well into the fourth quarter. Say what you will about what the score should have been after three quarters, the reality is that while Georgia was in control, Vandy was a score and an onside recovery from an uncomfortable momentum shift in a conference contest. Kirby isn’t messing around in that situation just to see how the walk-on linebackers are looking.
Another is that Georgia has finally built enough depth that true freshmen are less likely to come in and be the best or even second best option on the roster in game one. Instead a host of sophomores (Trey Hill, Cade Mays, Tyson Campbell) and redshirt freshmen (Azeez Ojulari, Kearis Jackson, Zamir White) now fill those spots on the two deep. On balance that’s a good sign. Players are sticking around and developing.
Another reason was that graduate transfers and JUCO players are seeing outsized playing time compared to last season. You don’t bring those kind of players in to sit on the bench.
And the Bulldog staff ended up playing both graduate transfers we expected to make the rotation. Tight end Eli Wolf saw action at TE as well as short yardage fullback, Lawrence Cager made a big contribution at wide receiver. Notably when Georgia opened the game in 21 personnel (2 TE, 1 RB), it was redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick who got the start opposite Charlie Woerner. It also also senior Brian Herrien who got the first snap and carry of the season from among the tailbacks, not presumptive starter D’Andre Swift.
The two JUCO signees from the 2019 class, outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson and cornerback DJ Daniel both played significant snaps, and could both end up starting before the season is over.
Finally, with an FCS and a Sun Belt opponent coming up in weeks two and three, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to see what the freshmen can do. I expect you’ll see more young guys, like Dominick Blaylock & Makiya Tongue at receiver, Clay Webb & Xavier Truss on the O line, and Ryland Goede & Brett Seither at tight end get some snaps for evaluation purposes. Until later...