UGA football spring wrap-up: Washington a big problem, Wyatt's encore, Ratledge emerges

Marc Weiszer
Athens Banner-Herald
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) looks to throw the ball while guard Tate Ratledge (51) blocks defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (95) during the Georgia G-Day spring football game in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Photo/Joshua L. Jones, Athens Banner-Herald)

JT Daniels was surrounded by the UGA football starting offense at Saturday’s G-Day game, but Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff at least could survey the field and throw to big No. 0.

Darnell Washington, the 6-foot-7 tight end who is somewhere around 280 pounds these days, provided a fresh reminder that Georgia still has some formidable weapons in the passing game even with star wideout George Pickens sidelined with a torn ACL.

Washington reeled in four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, picking up where he left off last season when he had 5 of his 7 catches on the season in the last two games. He averaged 23.7 yards per catch last season as a freshman.

“In terms of his development physically, he's gotten a lot smoother in terms of getting in and out of breaks,” Daniels said. “He's always had good instincts but it's gotten even better to me in terms of understanding where the ball is going to be thrown and really taking advantage of his size.”

More:UGA football's G-Day a hit with recruits despite dead period, limited crowds and pandemic

Daniels has seen the Las Vegas native’s development continue in Todd Monken’s offense.

“Last year, when you're coming from high school to a real, coach Monken NFL system in college there is a shock that hits you right away just because there is so much to it,” Daniels said. “You see it this year he gets the signal and he knows what he's doing right away. He's not thinking about it like he was last year. Everyone that is new has a lot of mental errors. It's just new.”

Washington lined up outside on a pass play that he turned into a 51-yard gain. He lined up in the slot on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Beck.

Washington missed practice time this spring which kept him from being at the top of his game, coach Kirby Smart said.

“I know his conditioning level is going to be important to him, to make sure he’s really in shape,” Smart said. “He’s a great target, he’s a big target, he’s an athletic guy. He’s a weapon. We’ve got to find ways to be able to utilize him, both in the passing game and in the run game. Because he’s a weapon in both.”

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Wyatt back for more

Nose tackle Jordan Davis’ decision to return for his senior season made a big splash that helped set up Georgia’s defense up front for 2021.

Defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt choosing to take advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility to come back for another senior season was also a big boost that got less attention.

“We all just felt like we could do something this year together, make history, go to the playoff, win the national (title)” Wyatt said. “We both decided to come back together and win it together.”

Wyatt rang up two sacks on G-Day, part of four from the starting unit including one from outside linebacker Nolan Smith and another from defensive end Travon Walker. Smith also had a pressure on an incomplete pass.

Nose guard Jordan Davis applied pressure on JT Daniels on a near interception.

Sophomore defensive lineman Jalen Carter was credited with four tackles. SEC Network sideline reporter Cole Cubelic said that Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning told him that the 6-3, 310-pound Carter will be pushing for a starting job.

Tate Ratledge 'in thick of it' on O-line

These can’t be the most assuring words for an offensive lineman to hear exiting spring practice.

“It’s all up for grabs,” Smart said. “We’ll review the tape and see how they did.”

Georgia’s starting offensive line from the Peach Bowl returned intact, but there was some movement on the unit Saturday.

Redshirt freshman Tate Ratledge started at right guard and saw plenty of action protecting Daniels.

“Tate got way better this spring,” right tackle Warren McClendon said. “It just comes with the reps, getting the repetitions every day.”

You’ve got to figure that Jamaree Salyer, who returned for his senior season, will start somewhere — whether left guard or left tackle. McClendon seems rather secure as a starter. Justin Shaffer should man one of the guard spots.

Ratledge, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound redshirt freshman from Rome, gave up a pair of sacks to Wyatt, but on a 23-yard pass completion blocked Carter and Smith and showed his athleticism by pulling and blocking on a run play.

“Tate’s been in the thick of it, he’s tough, he’s got a physical presence, he’s strong and does a great job in the weight room,” Smart said. “In the SEC, you’ve got to have a firm pocket and you’ve got to be able to move people. You’re going to go against the best defensive lines every year in our conference and you’ve got to have some mass. You’ve got to have some guys who can sustain heavy rushers and we think Tate does a good job with that.”

Coaches went to recruiting tape on freshman WR Mitchell

Adonai “AD” Mitchell wasn’t the lowest ranked recruit in Georgia’s No. 4 in the nation 2021 signing class but he was down the list.

He was 15th out of 20 total. The No. 381 overall prospect nationally.

“It’s not about what they’re ranked, what the media says about them, what the rankings say,” Smart said after Mitchell opened eyes with his 7 catch, 105-yard, 1 TD showing Saturday. “We watch the tape and the tape speaks volumes. It did in the case of Jordan Davis, it spoke volumes in the case of Adonai Mitchell. We thought he was a really good player. We didn’t care what anybody else thought.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Mitchell, a former Ole Miss commitment, spent last fall working out back home in Missouri City, Texas after graduating in the spring of 2020 from Cane Ridge High in Antioch, Tenn, according to The Tennessean.

“We evaluated him, kept recruiting him,” Smart said. “He came in but we didn’t get to see him in the bowl practice, he actually got sick when he first got here and never got to have bowl practice with us. It was very unfortunate that he was with us like eight days and never got to practice once. … He worked out well. He’s gotten himself in decent shape; he needs to get in better shape, but he made plays.” 

More tests to come for unproven DBs 

Georgia gave up big yardage in the passing game last season to Alabama and Florida even with a couple of cornerbacks in Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell who could go in the first two rounds of the NFL draft next week.

“This game’s about skill,” Smart said. “So if you’ve got skill level out on the perimeter, it’s hard to stop people. I don’t care who your corners are, how good your corners are, you’re not shutting people down.”

Jalen Kimber and Ameer Speed, Georgia’s top cornerbacks entering the G-Day game, had mixed results Saturday on a day where passing reigned supreme.

Kimber, a redshirt sophomore, had two pass breakups including a throw over the middle intended for Mitchell and showed his speed on a corner blitz. He also contested another pass to the freshman that was incomplete. He also was in coverage on a couple of passes completed to Mitchell.

Speed, a fifth-year senior, was in coverage on a play before the half where a pass to Demetris Robertson was incomplete out of bounds and broke up a pass to Mitchell, one of two pass breakups for him. He also slipped on a 59-yard Robertson touchdown catch.

“You could have 25 run plays and they may never be involved in one of them at corner,” Smart said. “And then the more you throw the ball the more you challenge them. You challenge them by what you call. But you also challenge them by putting air in the ball and throwing it around.”

Redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo played on the second-team defense and appeared to have a solid day. True freshman Nyland Green did not play on G-Day for undisclosed reasons.

Nickel back Latavious Brini had five tackles. He was beaten downfield on a 29-yard completion to Kearis Jackson and was called for pass interference on the play. He was in zone coverage on another pass completed near him.

“We’re trying defensively to get better at zone,” Smart said. “We’re a man match. We don’t play a lot of man to man but we play man match. A lot of times your back is turned to the ball. We want to get better at zone, I thought defensively we did a much better job of forcing a check down. Now we’ve got to go physically and make the tackle.”