Big things are expected from Georgia this year, and if history holds up, the Bulldogs may be in trouble because of it. Under Mark Richt, Georgia has rarely lived up to lofty expectations and seem to do its best work when the media is focusing on someone else. Richt was firmly planted on the hot seat heading into 2011, but is once again in UGA’s good graces after leading Georgia to an SEC East title and being competitive – for one half of football, anyway – against LSU. This year, there will be no sneaking up on anyone. If any team other than Georgia wins the SEC East, it will be a major upset, particularly given the amount of talent returning to Athens.
Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (SE, FL, LG, RG, RT, QB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 9 (NT, LDE, ROLB, RILB, LILB, RCB, LCB, FS, SS)
Returning Specialists: 0
Projected Overall Record: 11-1 (USC)
Projected SEC Record: 7-1 (USC)
Projected SEC East Record: 5-1 (USC)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Vg Defensive Line: Vg
Running Backs: Fr Linebackers: Ex
Wide Receivers: Ex Defensive Backs: Ex
Offensive Line: Fr Special Teams: Pr
Georgia wants to be a balanced pro-style team, but that balance wasn’t evident in 2011 thanks to drama at the running back position. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the drama spilled over into 2012, and Georgia isn’t entirely sure what its eventual backfield will look like. On the good side, Georgia is solid at quarterback and receiver. The offensive line needs work thanks to graduation of key individuals. The Bulldogs are one of the few teams still using a fullback full-time.
QUARTERBACKS (rating: Vg; 1st SEC East, 2nd overall)
Aaron Murray had a solid, sometimes spectacular 2011 season, throwing for 35 touchdowns, 3,149 yards and throwing himself into the Heisman Trophy race for the upcoming year. Georgia would prefer not to lean so heavily on Murray’s arm, as an injury to its leader would be extremely difficult to overcome. Murray’s arm strength isn’t to be questioned, but he threw 14 interceptions in 2011 and sometimes doesn’t make the best decisions. Still, in terms of raw talent, few are better. His primary backup will be a redshirt freshman, Christian LeMay, or junior Hutson Mason. LeMay has the brighter future, but neither player looks ready to step in for Murray and Georgia not feel a major bump in the road. Given the uncertainty at running back, this offense will be quarterback-centric no matter who is calling the shots.
RUNNING BACKS (rating: Fr; 7th SEC East, 13th overall)
Isaiah Crowell might not have been the next Herschel Walker, but he was far and away the best option Georgia had coming back for 2012. But Crowell couldn’t steer clear of off-field troubles, and followed the path several recent Bulldog running backs have regrettably chosen. With Crowell off the team, Georgia is scrambling. Richard Samuel was set to start at fullback after spring practice, but might have to move back to running back a year after moving over from linebacker. Sophomore Ken Malcome will start if Samuel doesn’t. Malcome has good size but none of his skills really stand out. Freshman Keith Marshall and scatback Brandon Harton are the only other names on the depth chart likely to see much time there. If Samuel stays at fullback, he’ll be in a fight for that job as well along with Merritt Hall and Zander Ogletree. Freshman Quayvon Hicks is another that could see time there. Until someone steps forward at tailback, though, the nervousness will continue.
WIDE RECEIVERS (rating: Ex; 1st SEC East, 2nd overall)
There is an old axiom in football about playing one’s best athletes on defense, and Georgia chose to do that at the opening of fall camp when it moved Malcolm Mitchell to cornerback after originally saying he’d play both ways. It would be a mild shock if the move sticks, because Mitchell showed signs of being able to dominate SEC cornerbacks in 2011. Assuming he stays on defense, the starters will be Tavarres King and Marlon Brown. King is the team’s leading receiver from 2011, but is most effective when someone else is marked as the bellcow. Brown, at 6’5” and nearly 230 pounds, is the kind of physical freak SEC teams like to have. Both players are seniors. Sophomore Michael Bennett is the primary backup, with Rantavious Wooten and redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley the other names to watch. Chris Conley and Michael Erdman add depth. Tight end is a question mark, as blocking specialist Arthur Lynch is battling redshirt freshman Jay Rome for the job. If Mitchell stays on defense, the rating for this unit gets knocked down a notch.
OFFENSIVE LINE (rating: Fr; 5th SEC East, 10th overall)
One of these years, Georgia is going to run out of magic regarding its offensive line play. The Bulldogs have battled numerous injuries and other drama and still have managed to field a competent offensive line. It will take some work in 2012 to repeat that feat. Rigth tackle Kenarious Gates returns along with guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette. Sophomore David Andrews is set to take over for the departed Ben Jones at center. Left tackle is the position of real focus; it will be either hyped signee John Theus or sophomore Watts Dantzler. There is no depth anywhere else. The Bulldogs have no backup center at all; if Andrews gets hurt or can’t hack the position, either Lee or Burnette will have to move there. Neither Austin Long nor Xzavier Ward have stepped forward at tackle.
Georgia moved to a 3-4 base setup in 2011 and the change worked wonders. The Bulldogs finished with the nation’s 5th-ranked defense, and with nine starters and several key backups returning in 2012, expectations are high. Georgia’s struggles early in Richt’s career almost always had to do with the mental side of the game, as the Bulldogs always had the talent. There should be no weaknesses here in 2012.
DEFENSIVE LINE (rating: Vg; 1st SEC East, 1st overall)
Georgia is massive in the middle with 350-pounders John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers holding down the fort. Senior ends Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones provide experienced bookends, and depth is in good shape with Garrison Smith and Ray Drew coming off the bench. The only real concern is injuries, as the effective depth chart stops at the second team. The third line has virtually no experience, but of more concern is the fact that the size and athleticism both drop off substantially. If Georgia avoids the injury bug, however, this should be one of the best lines in the country.
LINEBACKERS (rating: Ex; 1st SEC East, 1st overall)
Jarvis Jones plays Georgia’s version of the Jack linebacker, and plays it well. He finished 2011 with 13.5 sacks and is poised to be one of the top players taken in next April’s NFL Draft. There’s not much he can’t do, and he’ll have plenty of help from inside starters Alec Ogletree and Mike Gilliard. Christian Robinson and Amarlo Herrera give Georgia uncommon experience and leadership off the bench. There are two areas of concern with this group; Jones’ backup will likely be either a true freshman, Jordan Jenkins, or a pair of juniors who need to step up their games, T.J. Stripling and Reuben Faloughi. The other question mark is the strongside backer position, where sophomore Ramik Wilson and junior Chase Vasser are competing. By and large, though, Georgia should be able to absorb a few injuries and still be deadly, so long as Jarvis Jones isn’t one of them.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (rating: Ex; 1st SEC East, 1st overall)
“Four senior starters” is a rare and pleasing tune in the ears of any college coach, and Georgia is singing the praises of safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams and cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings. Rambo is a vicious hitter, but needs to avoid losing focus off the field. Commings is the largest cornerback in the SEC this year at 6’3”, 220 pounds. As for depth, that’s a question mark. Malcolm Mitchell figures to be the fifth defensive back and primarily a backup corner. Damian Swann is the other, while Connor Norman and Corey Moore offer safety depth.
SPECIAL TEAMS (rating: Pr; 7th SEC East, 14th overall)
Georgia may be forced to use true freshmen at both kicking positions in 2012. Collin Barber is competing with Adam Erickson and Scott Eicher at punter, while Marshall Morgan duels with Jamie Lindley at placekicker. The situation at punter looks better than at kicker at the moment, but it’s hard to project how freshman kickers will do until gameday pressure sets in. The return game will fall mostly to Branden Smith initially, although Malcolm Mitchell will have something to say about as well.
Comment now using your Facebook login!
Powered by Facebook Comments