Football is a team sport. Everyone who has ever played the sport (or watched very much of it for that matter) has heard this. Like a lot of cliches it’s so oft repeated because there’s some truth in it. The best executed play can fall apart if one player doesn’t do his job. Air tight defense from ten players is pointless if one guy is out of position.
Be that as it may, it’s possible to pinpoint a handful of Georgia Bulldogs whose performance in 2023 could have an outsized effect on the team’s success or failure. A couple of them are obvious. But some others are players you may not have given a lot of thought.
- Carson Beck (QB). This one pretty much goes without saying. Beck is tasked with replacing arguably the most successful quarterback in UGA history, a fan favorite who led the Red and Black to back-to-back national titles. If Georgia is to become the first team since the 1936 Minnesota Golden Gophers to three-peat as national champions Beck doesn’t have to be Stetson Bennett.
But he does need to be the best he can be, and live up to the recruiting buzz that surrounded him as the #5 pro style signal caller in the class of 2020. Beck has all the tangibles. He has the size, the arm talent, and time both on campus and in the offense. The one thing I wonder about is how he’ll react to the pressure of leading a national title contender. Some guys (like Bennett) seem to thrive on that. Others (Joe Cox springs to mind) seemed to press when they sensed they were in the midst of getting their one and only shot. If Beck is able to stay focused and cool under pressure, he has all the tools to lead the ‘Dawgs to another historic season.
2. Earnest Greene, III (OT). Just as Beck is replacing the Mailman, Greene is looking to replace the guy who kept an eye on Bennett’s blind side. Broderick Jones played in all 30 games of the 2021-22 title run, and started every game of the 2022 season at left tackle. Replacing him is going to be a challenge, but one that I think Greene is up to. The 6’4, 320 pound redshirt freshman earned rave reviews from both Jones and fellow former Bulldog/NFL rookie Warren McClendon. Greene looked like a candidate for playing time as a true freshman before missing the season first with a hamstring injury then a back injury which required surgery. While he was slowed a bit in camp by an ankle sprain and is still battling with Austin Blaske for the starting left tackle spot, I’d expect Greene to ultimately win this very important gig.
3. Arian Smith (WR). Georgia is absolutely loaded with pass catchers, returning among others second leading receiver Ladd McConkey, clutch goal line and 3rd down specialist Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, and some guy named Brock Bowers. Why is Smith key among them? He’s the player on a lightning fast Georgia roster who’s been most successful at taking the top off defenses. A Bulldog unit that is looking thin at tailback needs defenses to stay loose and defend the deep ball, and Smith may be the only guy on the team who requires defenders to bail out immediately when he comes off the line. Smith averaged an eye-watering 28.3 yards per catch in 2022, and came up huge (3 catches for 129 yards and a key touchdown) against Ohio State. After missing chunks of each of his first three seasons in Athens due to injury, this feels like Smith’s chance to truly show what he can do.
4. Nazir Stackhouse (DT). You don’t really replace a guy like Jalen Carter. The current Philadelphia Eagle rookie was a force of nature over the course of his Bulldog career, with an impact that went far beyond the stat sheet. Carter affected the play on nearly every snap when he was on the field, and the Bulldog defense was significantly less disruptive when he was off it.
Again, replacing the first team All-American simply isn’t possible. But coming as close as possible falls to a veteran group of defensive tackles, including Stackhouse. The senior started all 15 games of the 2022 season, tallying 32 tackles and 3 TFL. Now stepping out of Carter’s shadow, the 6’3, 320 pound Stackhouse has a chance to burnish his own first round credentials.
5. The Kicker. Whoever that is. Which is sort of the issue. As recently as last week Kirby Smart declared that the competition between Jared Zirkel and Peyton Woodring is ongoing. Whoever wins that battle is going to be the focal point for some of the most important plays of the 2023 season. Whoever he is, I hope he’s ready.
Feel free to drop your own key players in the comments, and…