ATHENS, Ga. — This is the most anticipated Georgia spring game since … well, last year. In that it’s not all that widely anticipated. Someone stopped me at the store this week to ask if freshman quarterback Ryan Puglisi was playing Saturday, and that qualified as the most discussion I’ve had with anyone, including fellow media members, about G-Day.

It’s been a quiet five weeks of practice, at least on the field. That’s reflected in this week’s questions, which did include some about Georgia’s actual team. We’ll address some of them, like whether there will be more deep balls this year, what the defensive line rotation will look like and the impact of the assistant coaching changes.

But we lead with a question that reflects the changing times:

(Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

I’ve been following UGA recruiting since my freshman year in 1997. I’ve loved following high school recruits through the process from naming a top 10, unofficial and official visits and ultimately committing to a school. … It’s a reality show but one I enjoyed. With NIL, my desire to follow recruiting is gone. While I fully support athletes getting paid … I feel like why follow them if at the last minute they’re going to the biggest NIL offer. … Am I alone in this feeling or am I just getting old? Is the fun of following college football recruiting gone? — Jason B.

You’re allowed to feel however you want to feel. I can’t order you to feel any certain way. What I’ll do is write some context points:

• While name, image and likeness and collectives have certainly made the dollar figures higher and more omnipresent, it’s naive to think some form of under-the-table money wasn’t involved before.

• The old system, where the players weren’t allowed to be paid (over the table), was ruled illegal. There’s no going back. And as romantic as the old notions were of players deciding on schools for other reasons, and then of playing for schools out of love and not money, it was inconsistent with all the other people in the game — coaches, administrators, television executives, media members — raking in the money. Everyone should have access to the same market.

• But if we get to a point of contracts and collectively bargained rules, there can be reasonable limitations, whether it’s recruiting caps or transfer rules, which can restore some stability to the process. And that could lead to more of the way it used to be in recruiting.

For instance, let’s say every school is limited to spending a certain amount on each recruiting class — the same way Major League Baseball teams are limited to how much they spend on international free agents every year. (Thanks to a collectively bargained rule with the players association.) Could there be under-the-table payments? Yes, but in the old system when no one could be paid, breaking those NCAA rules came to be seen as a victimless crime. But in MLB exceeding the international signing limit is so taboo that it cost former Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella his job. There was a real price. Let’s say you had such a system in place in college football: Yes, the recruits would be paid, some more than others, but the other reasons for choosing a school and a team could come back into play.

Just an idea, anyway.

Hey Seth, with the makeup of the wide receivers/tights being significantly different from the past couple of years with some key departures, what do you think the passing attack looks like? Kirby (Smart) seems to have all of the confidence in the world in Carson Beck, so do we see the deep ball come into play more? Beck seemed to struggle with it at the start of the season last year, but Arian Smith is still on the team and we added some large portal guys. — Ryan E.

The first instinct is to pooh-pooh the need to throw deep. Georgia ranked in the top 10 nationally last year in pass plays of 40-plus yards, 12th in passes of 30-plus yards and sixth in passes of 20-plus yards. But how much of that was relying on tight end Brock Bowers and company for yards-after-catch? A decent amount, actually. Let’s go to the advanced stats:

Per TruMedia, 53.7 percent of Beck’s passing yards came via yards-after-catch, the 27th-most in the nation.

Beck averaged 8.1 yards through the air — as in before the catch was or wasn’t made — which ranked 87th among the 133 quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts.

Per Pro Football Focus — look away, Kirby, noted PFF skeptic — 12.9 percent of Beck’s attempts were thrown with 20-plus air yards downfield, which ranked 107th. On those passes, he was 22-for-52 for 729 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

The takeaway being that Beck was pretty solid throwing the deep ball, but didn’t need to as much, and could do it more this year with the receivers at his disposal. But just throwing the deep ball more isn’t the right way to look at it, as Nick Saban would tell you. Recall, if you can bear it, how Saban decided after the first possession of the SEC championship to go two-high safety, essentially taking away the deep ball and forcing Georgia to win over the middle of the field and the run game. Saban correctly judged that Bowers and Ladd McConkey were too hobbled to make him pay. And Georgia’s run game and blocking also weren’t good enough.

The lesson is that having dynamic, deep receiving threats is only part of it. Georgia does have those guys. But will it have the running game to force defenses to respect it and play closer to the line? That’s a big question for me. Less of a question is whether Beck can do the other thing that Alabama took away in that game, the outside, intermediate passes. Colbie Young’s presence and emergence this spring offer some hope. Rara Thomas being healthy should help too, and London Humphreys could be that guy, too. Oscar Delp and the other tight ends are also good enough to make the kind of plays in the middle to move the sticks.

And yes, Smith being a consistent deep threat would be huge, and he’s had a big spring. Fellow receiver Cole Speer, asked about Smith this week, just started smiling and threw his hands up: “He’s a dog, there’s not really much all you can say about it.”

We haven’t even mentioned Dillon Bell, Anthony Evans III, Michael Jackson III, freshman Nitro Tuggle and Sacovie White. … This is a dynamic and deep receiving corps. The question will be the running game, but it doesn’t need to be great. It just needs to be good enough to complement — and not hold back — the passing game.

Frequent assistant turnover doesn’t necessarily hamstring a program’s national title hopes (it didn’t for Saban, anyway), but there’s no denying there’s been quite a bit of churn in the Georgia football offices over the past year or so. Of all the staff changes, which is the one we as Bulldogs fans should be most excited about, and are there any developments you view as potentially worrying? — Doug G.

Georgia has been to three national championship games under Smart, and there were only two on-field assistants who had been with him for all three: Glenn Schumann, the current defensive coordinator, and Dell McGee, who is now head coach at Georgia State. McGee was definitely key, not only in recruiting and coaching, but in personal relationships with players and people in the community. Schumann, because of his recruiting and coaching, will also be a key loss whenever he eventually lands a promotion.

But of all the assistants Smart has lost, the one who should offer the most important lesson is Sam Pittman. His departure for the head coaching job at Arkansas was probably seen as the biggest loss when it happened because of his recruiting and the performance of the offensive line. But since he left, Georgia has won two national championships under two different offensive line coaches. And it’s been four recruiting cycles since he left, and Georgia’s line is still on paper one of the strengths of the team. That’s not all to denigrate Pittman, who deserved all the accolades he got. It’s just to show that, based on all apparent evidence, as long as Smart is running the program, and as long as he’s as invested in the job as he has been, Georgia should be fine.

Can you take a stab at handicapping who will be in the D-line rotation and their pecking order by most to least number of snaps? — Gordon S.

First, let’s look at the snap counts for the 2023 side, players returning in bold, along with notes when necessary.

399 — NT Nazir Stackhouse, Jr.
369 — DE Mykel Williams, Soph. (has moved to outside linebacker)
339 — NT Zion Logue, Sr.
320— DT Warren Brinson, Sr.
264 — DE Tramel Walthour, Sr.
203 — DE Christen Miller, R-Fr.
175 — DT Jordan Hall, Fr.
138 — DE Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins, Soph. (missed six games because of injury)
105 — DE Gabe Harris, Fr. (also played outside linebacker)
65 —DE Jonathan Jefferson, Soph. (transferred)
57 — DT Jamaal Jarrett, Fr.
49 — DE C.J. Madden, Soph.

This year they add South Carolina transfer Xzavier McLeod and Joseph Jonah-Ajonye, Jordan Thomas, Nnamdi Ogboko, Nasir Johnson and Justin Greene, all freshmen. (The latter two are the only ones who haven’t enrolled yet.)

Williams moving should open up defensive end for Ingram-Dawkins on a starting basis. Stackhouse and Brinson are the likely other two starters, but the younger players behind them — especially Miller, Hall and Jonah-Ajonye — will make pushes. Also keep in mind that the nose and tackle positions are often interchangeable, especially depending on the package. Given all that, and assuming full health for everyone, this would be the guess:

350 — NT Nazir Stackhouse
300 — DE Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins
300 — DT Warren Brinson
275 — DT/NT Christen Miller
250 — DT/NT Jordan Hall
200 — DT/NT Xzavier McLeod
175 — DE Joseph Jonah-Ajonye
175 — DE Gabe Harris
125 — DT Jamaal Jarrett
100 — DT Jordan Thomas
75 — NT Nnamdi Ogboko
75 — DT Nasir Johnson
75 — DE Justin Greene

Overall, it looks a lot like last year: deep but without a game-changing star. Whether a star is necessary depends on how the players behind them perform. (And don’t rule out someone becoming a star.)

What’s up with the grassroots/message board/every fan approach to NIL donations this month? Obviously they need more cash. But the rush of all the messaging seems like they were caught on their back foot — which is very unlike how Kirby runs most other areas. — Ben F.

There’s just more of an emphasis on it, and a realization that Georgia’s collective at least needs enough in its coffers to keep competing in a world where a lot of other programs are ahead. But those programs tend to be ahead because they’re more desperate. As I’ve written, donor fatigue is real all over the college landscape. And at Georgia, you throw in donor skepticism: Why would the Classic City Collective need more money with Georgia again pulling in the No. 1 recruiting class?

But Smart and others at Georgia know they’ve missed out on some recruits because of NIL and have probably had to ante up to keep some players. So they’re making this push more to stave off being in a worse situation, or at least to be ready. In a pinch, you can always make a call to Jason Aldean or some other well-heeled donor. But having a good base keeps those panic calls to a minimum.

Do you know why Stetson Bennett has not publicly confronted his absences from football? He means so much to so many people. He may be shocked at how much support he would receive. — Glenn C.

Eventually I’m guessing Bennett will do so, but he was under no obligation to do so to anyone except the Los Angeles Rams, who appear okay with the circumstances. I’m not surprised Bennett has been publicly quiet, based on the end of his Georgia career. He made clear he was tired of everything. But when he came back and was honored during last year’s Missouri game, he seemed genuinely touched. So I think with a little more time he’ll be ready to be involved again at Georgia, but for now he’s back in training, trying to restart his NFL career.

Why (what seems like) less coverage of spring practice this year from all outlets? Not a criticism, just curious if it feels the same to those covering the team. — Jason E.

Some of it is access. Georgia had only one day of player interviews each week — four players each day — whereas it used to be three days per week. There were only a handful of media practice viewings.

But a lot of it is just a lack of drama. The starting quarterback is known. No new coordinators. There are blue-chip freshmen, but that’s the case every year. There hasn’t been a whole lot to write about, frankly.

That may change after Saturday. More likely it will ramp up the closer things get to the season, where you have a real opener, a difficult schedule and a changed SEC and national landscape. This spring, when you think of it that way, has been the calm before the fun that awaits.

(Photo of Kirby Smart: Sam Navarro / USA Today)