Athens, GA - The familiar sounds of coach’s whistles and stampeding linemen can be heard around the Butts-Mehre athletic complex in Five Points this afternoon. That’s because football, the lifeblood of the University of Georgia and Athens is back for 2017 Spring Practice.
Year two of head coach Kirby Smart will officially begin today with the first of a series of practices leading up to the April 22nd G-Day game to be held in Sanford Stadium, with no shortage of storylines to watch.
The progression of sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason will likely take the forefront of attention - again - as the heralded signal caller from Washington state will look to show maturity coming on the heels of a successful but otherwise not spectacular freshman season in the Southeastern Conference. And new this year comes legit competition from another five-star quarterback recruit from Houston County, Georgia, Jake Fromm. How the two will complement and push one another through the rigors of practice this spring and into fall will clearly define the success of the 2017 version of the Georgia Bulldogs.
Not to be outdone, plenty of attention will be given to the beloved pair of senior running backs who surprised many by announcing they would indeed spend their senior seasons between the hedges. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both could have declared for the NFL Draft, but instead decided they would rather wash the sour taste of an 8-5 season and a home loss to Georgia Teach in 2016 out their mouths the best way they know how, with the possibility of exacting revenge. Their return not only will cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators throughout the SEC, but will provide invaluable leadership for a young corps of running backs in line behind them preparing to be the future of a program often tabbed “Running Back U.”
Smart’s defense will also be under a microscope as the boys practice under the shadows of bloomed dogwood trees these next few weeks. What was considered the weakness of the program this time last year - an ultra thin and young defensive line - proved to be one of the strongest units in 2016. How they progress and grow together will be examined closely.
And the biggest mystery of them all, the offensive line, will likely not shake out until the leaves start changing this fall, rather than under the fragrance of pollen this spring. What was clearly the most-handicapping aspect of an underwhelming offense last season is now missing a few starters, but also has a lion’s share of top recruits scheduled to arrive on campus this summer. So any observations of struggles in protecting the quarterbacks or opening up holes for the running backs may require an asterisks until we make the same observations five months from now.
It’s a happy time of year for many in this part of the world. It’s often referred to as “stress-free football,” with all the nostalgia of SEC football on the practice field, without the worry of losing to a hated rival on Saturday. And when tens of thousands file into Sanford Stadium for G-Day, there’s a guaranteed Bulldog victory to be seen. And no matter how you view it, or how you want to examine and analyze it, there’s one thing everybody will agree on: football is back. And the Classic City is simply more fun with it.