Guess it’s about time to brush up on the ol’ key strokes and start the process of actually writing again. My offseason tends to mirror the football teams, only without fall practice…and spring practice…and summer workouts. So I basically left this place to its own devices for a while and apparently it doesn’t write itself. So given that we’re under a week until game week that means I better start moving the fingers a bit or I’ll get some nasty hand cramps right out of the gate. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the season. I don’t think I’m going to do a preseason review in the traditional sense because, let’s be honest, most of that would just be the same stuff you’ve read over and over. I’ll just riff a bit I guess. I’ll try to make myself write a few times between now and the opening week’s writeup, which I’m pretty sure comes out on Wednesday evenings, but I honestly never can remember.
Alright, wow, didn’t realize it had been that long since I posted anything on here. Lots of options to go here, so I’ll start with the top stories (in my opinion) of this offseason…
9) Seriously, who’s going to return kicks/punts? I know Logan will apparently be our safe guy still, which is just weird, why wouldn’t teams just max protect whenever they see him out there? Outside of that, who else is there? As good as he is, I don’t really want Boykin returning kickoffs because CB is very, very thin. WR isn’t much better with only 7 on scholarship (not counting Gray) and one of those (Bennett) is likely to redshirt. With the departure of Dontavius Jackson and the position switch of Richard Samuel, RB isn’t exactly the stable it was a year ago either. I imagine Boykin will man the kickoff return duties and I’ll cringe all year. AJ is simply too valuable to risk returning punts. I always thought Carlton Thomas made sense as a punt returner in the mold of UF’s Brandon James. Frankly, if we’re going to have him there, I’d be all for giving Gray the full time duties. Just something to watch.
8) What’s going on at CB? Going back to the spring, seeing Cuff beat out Smith was a surprise opposite Boykin, but it was a good surprise. Smith has all the talent you look for, but at a position that was probably the thinnest on the team (outside of QB), having an upperclassmen like Cuff step up and take a starting spot was huge. Granted, Smith might ultimately beat Cuff out but the praise Cuff was receiving seemed legit and he seemed to be getting a new lease on life in his senior year under a new DB coach. Add in the splash that freshman Derek Owens seems to have made and you’re starting to get some semblance of depth there. I will now try to purge the sight of Cuff trying to cover BayBay Thomas in last year’s GT game from my mind. Not exactly confidence instilling.
7) We lose 2 starters at safety and get…better? Safety play was inconsistent at best last year. Say what you want about Martinez but the guy was a good DB coach. As good as he was, the infusion of a new coach at the position seems to be having a marked effect. We have a stout 2-deep and that’s not counting the true freshman that’s getting as many raves (Ogletree) as anyone on the team. The move of Nick Williams back to safety seems to have really solidified the back 4. Rambo seems poised for a big, big season. Shawn Williams was named most improved defensive player from last season and JUCO Jakar Hamilton has apparently earned every bit of his Hitman nickname. This might be the deepest position on the team. A potential question mark seems to have been turned into a strength.
6) Ealey is quietly set up for a big season. Yes, I know he ended the season on an up note, but everything I’ve heard this offseason is how much his focused offseason has benefited him. He’s apparently in much better shape than he was a year ago and it makes sense, coming in from GA class A, where he wasn’t likely challenged much. Having Caleb King there to motivate him has resulted in two backs that are better than they were a year ago. While I expect both to play well, I really expect a big bump from Ealey after his first offseason in the program. Insert 3-4 offense jokes now. If you didn’t get that, remember that Ealey switched from #24 to #3 (his HS number) this offseason.
5) Aaron Murray, the team is yours. Folks complained about Joe Cox at length last year but what they fail to remember is that he threw for a ton of TDs in addition to all of those INTs. Yes, he had a tendency to turn the ball over in the worst possible time, but something tells me if Cox had been given a defense like David Greene had for much of his tenure, then the Joe Cox Story might have had a decidedly different ending. Either way, the keys to the UGA offense have been handed over to one Aaron Murray. Luckily for Murray, the keys seem to be to the high-end vehicle of your choice. Want a sleek speedster? We have guys like AJ Green and Tavares King. Want a work truck to haul stuff around? We’ve got a big, veteran, deep OL. Want just a solid vehicle to get you where you need to go? How about a pair of super talented RBs in Ealey and King. I guess the TEs would be the nice, big SUV. Seriously, I don’t recall a surrounding offensive cast this good in Athens. I wouldn’t worry too much about Murray struggling a bit in scrimmages this fall. He’s going up against a D that he’s not really preparing for like he would a traditional opponent with tape, etc. It’s a D that has a stated goal of confusing and bringing pain to QBs.
4) The revelation of Gamble at OLB. Lost in the shuffle of people getting shifted around to fit personnel needs was the shift of Gamble to OLB. He toyed with playing some DE last year with mixed results. Once Montez Robinson was removed from the team though, OLB became scary thin. You had Houston at one end and the largely untested Cornelius Washington at the other. Throw in some freshmen and walk-ons and that was your depth chart. Enter Gamble. He provides a little more of a traditional LB skillset to the new OLB position but the early returns have been very, very good. Racking up multiple sacks in both scrimmages so far, he’s shown a knack for getting to the QB and provided some much needed quality depth at a position that was in desperate need.
3) Bean at NG. Wow. When I heard he was moving to NG I thought it made some sense. He’s got the size, strength and quicks to be successful and we were really, really deep at interior OL but the move just seemed desperate. Sure, we needed some more bulk inside after the departure of Owens, Atkins and Weston from our defensive interior, but moving an OL over? Well color me surprised. He seems to be the real deal and could very well be the starter inside come opening day. Add in a developing Geathers and we’ve been able to cross train DeAngelo Tyson outside at DE, allowing us to bring in some beef in more obvious running situations.
2) The Logan Gray Experiment isn’t just lip service. Initially I thought this was just one of those “sure we’ll let you try out some WR” deals and he’d quickly get shuffled back to QB once Fall rolled around. Not so. He’s spent the whole camp at WR, and the early returns are good. While he’s not going to be an every down WR right now (it’s simply asking too much for him to know all the nuances to the position this early) it’s certainly reassuring to read about him making plays. He adds another element to the position and the decoy potential at a minimum is worth something. In both scrimmages so far he’s made an impact. He’s one to root for.
1) This defense could be really fun to watch. Get your popcorn ready. One of those live-by-the-sword things. We’re going to bring pressure. A lot of it. If you’ve watched the Cowboys in recent years at all you know that they bring pressure a lot. Grantham has brought that to Athens. The sheer randomness of the pressure packages we will likely bring is going to be fun to watch. With that of course comes risk and we could potentially have issues stopping the run against balanced teams. If we run as much press man coverage outside as it sounds like we might, we’re going to give up some big plays over the top, but we’re going to rack up sacks in big numbers and should force a LOT more turnovers. Whatever happens, it’s going to be fun to watch, for one of the groups of fans watching.
That’s in for now. Rusty I know but it’ll get better…