Previews 2015: Georgia Bulldogs
Returning Offensive Starters: 7 (SE, LT, LG, RG, RT, TE, RB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (ROLB, LOLB, LCB, FS, SS)
Returning Specialists: 2 (PK, P)
Projected Overall Record: 12-0
Projected SEC Record: 8-0
Projected SEC East Record: 6-0
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Av Defensive Line: Fr
Running Backs: Ex Linebackers: Vg
Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Vg
Offensive Line: Ex Special Teams: Ex
One of these years, Georgia is finally going to find a way to put it all together. It just might have to require a change in head coaches, though. The Bulldogs have underachieved consistently under Mark Richt, and being out front in the preseason is a dangerous place to be for Georgia. That’s where the Bulldogs again find themselves, picked by some – including this service – to run the table in the SEC. The schedule sets up nicely for Georgia, with back-to-back games against Alabama and Tennessee being the real challenge. On the field, Georgia must find a quarterback and solidify its defensive line.
The Bulldogs have a new offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer, but they won’t be changing their offensive philosophy. Richt dictates an I-formation, pro-style attack and that’s what Georgia will run. Georgia is in a similar predicament as Alabama, in that there is experience in the offensive backfield and along the line of scrimmage, but there are some holes at wideout and a completely unknown situation developing at quarterback. The Bulldogs may have to double down on the running game in 2015, but the Bulldogs’ backs can probably handle the load.
The big question is whether Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert wins the job. He has by far the most experience of any quarterback competing for the job, and he’s got decent athleticism. But he threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year at UVA and he doesn’t yet have a full season under his belt. Virginia hasn’t been known for quarterback development lately, but Georgia fans expecting a miracle out of Lambert need to pump the brakes a little anyway. If Lambert can’t handle the job, it will most likely go to either Brice Ramsey or Faton Bauta. Ramsey was Hutson Mason’s backup in 2014; Bauta is green despite being a junior. There are other names on the roster but they’re walk-ons or not really part of the mix. Lambert’s experience, as checkered as it is, gives him the edge. Arm strength and the ability to convert intermediate routes will decide his ultimate fate.
Nick Chubb went from being Todd Gurley’s backup last year to overshadowing him after Gurley got banged up. Now, Chubb is drawing Heisman interest. He’s a power back, so typical of Georgia running backs, with good speed to go with his 230-pound frame. Chubb is the kind of running back that can dictate gameplans, and having him onboard will certainly help settle the hoopla surrounding the quarterback battle. Georgia’s depth is almost illegal. Keith Marshall, Brendan Douglas and Sony Michel are all battle-tested, and if Georgia doesn’t lead the league in rushing in 2015, something is wrong with the gameplan. Georgia also has A.J. Turman available. Georgia is one of the few teams that uses a traditional fullback, and they’ve got a good one in massive Quayvon Hicks, who is 6’2”, 255 and can hurt defenses on multiple fronts. Christian Payne and Cameron Faulkner will be the likely backups there. The injury bug has been unkind to Georgia in recent years at this position, but with so much depth in 2015, it’s hard to see Georgia struggling in the running game.
Malcolm Mitchell has starting experience and has proven himself in years past, but he’s suffered multiple injuries and isn’t the same guy that he was when he first reported to Athens. More importantly, Georgia has struggled to find consistency elsewhere in the receiving corps. Isaiah McKenzie held the other starting job coming out of the spring, but it’s likely that Justin Scott-Wesley will end up the starter once games begin. McKenzie will be useful in the slot, but his short stature and small build make him a liability in this offense as an outside receiver. Reggie Davis and Kenneth Towns add depth behind the starters, with true freshman Terry Godwin, another smaller receiver who needs to add some weight, chipping in. Shakenneth Williams and signee Jayson Stanley round out the top group. Where Georgia makes up for a lot is at tight end, where the combo of Jeb Blazevich and Jay Rome is the best in the conference and perhaps all of Division-IA. In addition, Jordan Davis and signee Jackson Harris give Georgia a bright future at the position. Georgia always seems to have top-flight fullbacks and tight ends, and 2015 will be no exception. The key to this unit is Scott-Wesley, who could make the Bulldogs dangerous if he ever puts it all together.
If Georgia can solidify the center position, this line could be special. John Theus and Kolton Houston will start at the tackles, with Brandon Kublanow and Greg Pyke getting the call at the guard slots. Isaiah Wynn led the center competition after spring practice was over. Hunter Long gives Georgia another option there. There is a chance that Kublanow could slide over from guard to center, which would elevate either Dyshon Sims or Aulden Bynum to a starting guard job. The only questionable spot for Georgia at the moment is the reserve tackle positions. Redshirt freshman Kendall Baker may be responsible for both sides. Billy Seward, who is also in the mix at guard, or true freshman Patrick Allen could wind up being pressed into service. Lamont Gaillard adds depth at guard, while Sage Hardin, a signee, bolsters the numbers at tackle. If Georgia can keep its starting tackles healthy, there’s no limit to how good this unit could be.
Despite having gobs of talent each year, Georgia’s defenses have often been pedestrian during the Mark Richt era. In 2014, Georgia got stingy against the pass, ranking 5th in pass defense, 16th in scoring defense and 17th in total defense. But the Bulldogs struggled against the run, ranking 61st. Continued softness in the front seven is something the Bulldogs have fought for years, and it will get worse before it gets better thanks to a defensive line that is green. The Bulldogs will run a 3-4 defense that has some elements of Nick Saban’s 3-4 over/under, thanks to Jeremy Pruitt’s Alabama days. But this is the most traditional of the 3-4 sets, overall, still in use in the SEC.
Senior Sterling Bailey will start at one of the two defensive end positions; outside of that, it’s all wide-open. Josh Dawson, Jonathan Ledbetter and true freshman Chauncey Rivers are the main competitors for the other end position. The real question mark here is the nose tackle position, where holdovers John Atkins and Chris Mayes will be pushed by signee Trent Thompson for the starting job. James DeLoach and signee DaQuan Hawkins will provide depth both to Bailey and up the middle. While Bailey has been a key player before and there is experience at tackle, Georgia is in need of a true playmaker to step up. Hence the hopes that Thompson or one of the other young players (Rivers, Ledbetter, Hawkins) can step forward. Otherwise the Bulldogs will be long on effort but short on star power.
The outside linebacker combo of Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins is without peer in the SEC; the situation at inside linebacker, though, is a little scary. Floyd and Jenkins can play from a standing position, with their hands down or as roving Jack linebackers behind the defensive line. What they can’t do is play two positions each at once, which is why Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough need to come through. Neither Carter nor Kimbrough are particularly big players; both are smaller than average for SEC inside linebackers. Depth outside is in great shape with Devin Bellamy, Chuks Amaechi and Lorenzo Carter. Depth inside, however, falls to UAB transfer Jake Ganus or freshman Natrez Patrick. Signee D’Andre Walker might find a role somewhere. With the Bulldogs needing improvement in run defense already, the idea of playing two undersized inside linebackers may not excite UGA fans, but Floyd and Jenkins help cover up a lot of holes.
Georgia’s improvement could be traced, on the field at least, to the emergence of Damian Swann in 2014. With Swann graduating, it will be up to Malkom Parrish or Aaron Davis to take over his old role. Swann played corner, Star safety and was a force all over the field. The other three returning starters – cornerback Devin Bowman and safeties Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders – were solid players in 2014 but lacked the top-level punch that Swann brought to this unit. Bowman probably has the best chance of breaking out in 2015. Depth may be an issue. Only combo back Reggie Wilkerson has the combination of experience and top-end talent. The rest are either upperclassman overachievers (Kennar Daniels-Johnson, Shattle Fenteng) or true freshmen without a track record yet (Johnathan Abram, Jarvis Wilson, Deandre Baker).
Placekicker Marshall Morgan is one of the most talented kickers in the SEC, but he does have bouts of wildness. The question mark heading into 2015 is at punter, where Collin Barber is much more talented than his 2014 numbers suggest. The return game is in capable hands with receiver Isaiah McKenzie, whose speed and elusiveness in the open field makes him a threat to score every time he fields a kick.
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