Welcome back to Death Valley: Things to look for in the spring game


by - Senior Writer -
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looks to finish his spring on a high note.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looks to finish his spring on a high note.

It won’t have the same flavor as a nighttime, primetime, top-10 matchup, but it’s football in front of fans in Death Valley. And it’s glorious.

The Tigers hold the annual Orange and White Game Saturday in Memorial Stadium in front of just under 19,000 fans. With so many players out (injuries or other reasons) and with head coach Dabo Swinney hoping to keep everyone healthy, no is expecting it to be fantastic football. It’s probably also true that Swinney and the coaches don’t want to show anything new to the Georgia coaching staff because the two programs open the season on Sept. 4th in Charlotte.

This game will be all about taking a long look at the players the coaches want to see. This is a game where guys like running backs Lyn-J Dixon and Kobe Pace can make their mark heading into the summer. It’s the kind of game where someone needs to step forward at backup quarterback. Some of those younger defensive players need to catch the eye of the coaches. Let’s take a look at what we will be looking at when the game kicks off at 1 pm (ACC Network).

Injuries/not available

Here is a list of the players who aren’t expected to play:

LB James Skalski (held out this spring)

LB Baylon Spector (injured)

S Nolan Turner (held out this spring)

CB Mario Goodrich (funeral)

CB Andrew Booth (injured)

CB Malcom Greene (injured)

LG Matt Bockhorst (injured)

TE Sage Ennis (injured)

TE Braden Galloway (injured)

WR Justyn Ross (no contact)

DE KJ Henry (injured)

DT Etinosa Reuben (injured)

WR Frank Ladson (injured)

Quarterbacks

DJ Uiagalelei had a fantastic start to his career, but Swinney said that Uiagalelei has struggled in the red zone during the scrimmages. He needs to finish on a high note. Backup Taisun Phommachanh struggled at times last season and missed a lot of the spring under COVID protocols. He struggled in a recent scrimmage and needs to gain some confidence. We’ve heard that walk-on Hunter Helms has been impressive and has thrown seven touchdown passes in the scrimmages. Helms isn’t backing down from the challenge and will get the chance to play for both teams Saturday.

Running backs

Dixon missed the final scrimmage and has been pushed by Pace all spring. They are on separate teams and just might be battling for the lead spot coming out of the spring. Chez Mellusi is also in the mix, and freshmen Will Shipley and Phil Mafah are on separate teams. The running game should be fun to watch. Who stands out?

Wide receivers and tight ends

This is a young but talented group, from Joseph Ngata to Ajou Ajou to the freshmen. Someone is gonna have a big game. Could it be EJ Williams, who has flourished late in the spring? Could it be Ngata? Will Beaux Collins or Dacari Collins make a big play? At tight end, Davis Allen gets the first look with Galloway out, but all eyes will be on freshman Jake Briningstool. It will also be interesting to see the progress made by sophomore Jaelyn Lay, who seems to be a forgotten man these days.

Offensive line

No one has a job set in stone except maybe left tackle Jordan McFadden. Everyone else has something to prove. That gives guys like center Hunter Rayburn, right tackle Walker Parks, right guard Will Putnam, and youngsters like Marcus Tate, Paul Tchio, and Mitchell Mayes the chance to shine.

Defensive line

Sure, I want to watch all of the youngsters. I want to see how far everyone has progressed. But what I really want to see are guys like Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, and Tyler Davis wreak havoc for two or three series and then remove their pads and cheer their teammates from the sidelines.

Linebacker

LaVonta Bentley needs to gain more consistency, but he’s had a good spring and will be hard to keep off the field. Rookie Jeremiah Trotter has been praised all through camp, as has Trenton Simpson. With starters like Spector and Skalski out, this is the time for guys like Bentley and Simpson to shine. Kane Patterson and Keith Maguire and Sergio Allen are all coming on, and Jake Venables is coming back from a broken arm. Both sides will be fun to watch.

Secondary

No one is safe. No one. Several guys need to have good games and carry that momentum into the summer. Fred Davis and Sheridan Jones will get long looks with all of the injuries and missing players, and the safety spot has several guys competing like RJ Mickens, Tyler Venables, Jalyn Phillips, Ray Thornton, Joseph Charleston, and others.

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