Alright guys, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 8 months since I was staring dumbfounded at the screen trying to figure out what happened and how that first half performance devolved into that 2nd half one. Offseasons are longer following bad bowl losses. I think Hemingway said that originally. Anyway, hope springs eternal and despite a couple of serious questions, we’re looking at a team as good as any in the East and only a notch behind the beasts of the west. If things break our way, who knows…let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Given our first opponent, Buffalo, went 3-9 last year against a schedule featuring no ranked opponents I’d hope we can handle them. As such, I’m going to use this time to go ahead and focus on us for a change. We’ll just look at who we have, what to expect, where we’re likely to struggle and just generally go over the team. Probably won’t be anything super new in here but at this point in the year, if you’re anything like me (and odds are you are if you’re still reading) you’re ready to consume any and all things UGA and I need to knock the cobwebs off before we hit the SEC schedule against…Missouri? That’s going to take some getting used to.
QB – The stats Murray put up last year pretty much shattered every expectation anyone had going in. His 35 TDs easily bested his phenomenal 24 from his first season under center. By most every measurable, his season was a raging success, becoming the first QB since Belue (I think) to knock off UT, AU, UF and GT in the same season. Why then did we hear so many folks clamoring for a look at backup Hutson Mason? Easy. Turnovers. In addition to a few key fumbles, Murray also managed to throw 14 picks, seemingly at the worst possible time (although there’s rarely a good time for those things). Heading into his 4th year on campus, he’s widely regarded as one of the top QBs in the SEC if not all of CFB, and it’s easy to forget he’s still yet to play his junior season. WIth that in mind, I’d expect some improvement, even behind this shaky line. Prediction: I don’t know that he can reasonably improve or match 34 TDs. 2,800 yards again, right at 30 TDs and cutting his INTs to 10 while completing over 60% of his passes is reasonable but I’m betting he actually plays a good bit better this year. I just think the OL will give up a few more sacks and disrupt his game a bit.
RB – The enigma that was Isaiah Crowell is gone. In his wake is a large cloud of pot smoke and some opportunity for a few RBs hungry to prove themselves. You have the two true freshmen friends, explosive and wide-eyed who from everything I’ve read and heard are far more prepared for the spotlight of life as a big-time CFB player than their predecessor. Additionally you have the unlikely hero of the Florida game, Richard Samuel, who showed that running with heart and conviction, if only for one game, can make you a legend. Lastly you have Ken Malcome, who got so frustrated last year he actually quit yet now has played well enough and is back in the good graces of the coaches enough to earn the start. While the lineup would certainly be more formidable with Crowell, this group is probably a little more dependable and with Gurley and Marshall, possibly every bit as explosive. Prediction: Gurley ends up leading the team in both yards and carries but Marshall will have enough runs to make the “who’s better” debate go on all offseason.
WR – For the 2nd straight year we lose our top WR threat although this time it’s a guy in Mitchell who only played there 1 season. King returns and anchors the bunch, but the real danger is the depth as (despite the loss of Mitchell) there’s some legitimate skill that makes the group as deep as any in recent years. There’s no AJ Green caliber guy, but there rarely is. Guys like Conley and Bennett though were tremendously productive as true freshmen, so improvements aren’t unreasonable. The guy getting the most pub in camp has been Marlon Brown, whose size and length could finally pay off although it hasn’t really panned out all that well to date. Wooten returns to add some wiggle and the speed of Justin Scott-Wesley could really stretch the field. I love the fact that Bennett, Brown and Conley are all big-bodied guys that can catch the ball in space as any of them could help become that safety valve that Orson Charles held down so well last year. Prediction: The trio of King, Bennett and Conley becomes so consistent that Mitchell doesn’t need to split much time. King leads the team in TDs, yards and catches and finishes first team All-SEC.
TE – With Orson Charles gone and the OL a little questionable, we’re looking at a situation where good blocking TE would work out well. Coincidentally, Arthur Lynch happens to be a phenomenal blocker. While he’ll never pose the same threat in the passing game as Charles, he’s by no means a stiff and should surprise some folks. Jay Rome is a future star with all the size and athleticism to play at the next level if he keeps progressing. Prediction: Not much. Lynch starts the season but we end up keeping the TE in more in passing situations to help the OL. We’ll have our lowest TE production of the Richt era.
OL – After the loss of 3 key guys last year (both OTs and All-SEC center Ben Jones) the prospects should be pretty bleak, but considering both OTs were playing out of position and were both better suited to OG, it’s possible that these guys could start to gel into something passable. Gates at LT is interesting. He’s super athletic, long-armed and massive but spent all year playing guard. At the opposite side, I’m hoping Theus has the skill to take over the position and isn’t just there by default. The guard spots should be solid as Lee and Burnette anchored those spots last year. David Andrews has the toughest replacement job, taking over for a 4-year starter. While we won’t be nearly as big along the front, we’ll surprisingly be deeper and will be more athletic and mobile. Prediction: I don’t know, it’s an OL. What do you predict? I’ll say that I expect us to have a better, more consistent rushing attack this year than we did last year where for all of our mass, we rarely pushed folks around. We’ll probably give up more sacks though.
DE – In the 3-4, these guys don’t get a lot of pub and Grantham’s Ds move folks all over the place so this is going to be pretty fluid. Abry Jones is a complete stud and if you drew up the ideal 3-4 DE, it’d be big Abry. He won’t blow up the stat sheet, but he’ll hold his ground and allow the LBs to make plays behind him. He’ll be one of those guys in the NFL 8 years from now that you’re surprised is getting all-Pro mentions because you don’t ever remember him “doing much at UGA”…welcome to the DE in a 3-4. Opposite him nominally will be Cornelius Washington, but I’d imagine in running situations, Garrison Smith will come in and after the freshman year he had, I’m totally cool with that. Washington is a physical freak and is an ideal hybrid guy for Grantham to toy with so he should be fun to watch this year. File Ray Drew under that same role as his size and athleticism are perfectly suited for Grantham to have some positional flexibility with. Prediction: Abry Jones gets drafted earlier than most expect. Garrison Smith plays DE more than Washington.
NG – Normally it’s the least noticed position on the field but with guys like Mount Cody getting recognition, more folks are talking about it. Slap a #6 on one and it draws a ton of notice. Big John Jenkins could set himself up for a HUGE NFL payday with a big year and I fully expect one considering he came in pretty out of shape and has had a year to get acclimated. It’s a complete and utter luxury to have a guy like Kwame Geathers to rotate in. With both guys tipping the scales at 350, not only will they wreak havoc on opponents, they’ve likely presented David Andrews with the toughest opposition he’ll face all year. Seriously. Prediction: Unfortunately, Jenkins graduates and Geathers plays well enough to jump a year early and we’re scrambling next year.
ILB – With Ogletree out for at least a week, this is one of the spots where we can actually afford to lose an All-SEC level guy. The trio of Christian Robinson, Michael Gilliard and Amarlo Herrera could start any given week and while none will be as explosive as Tree, they aren’t going to be a liability either. Throw in guys like Ramik Wilson who can slide inside and Brandon Burrows who can’t seem to stay healthy and we’re set up for a pretty solid bunch inside. Playing behind those two behemoths certainly helps. Prediction: If his suspension gets reduced to 1 or 2 games, Tree will push hard for All-SEC. He just has a knack for making big plays…forced fumbles, general disarray, etc. He’s still got that safety closing speed.
OLB – Jarvis Jones was all we could hope for and more. He’s relentless and the kind of guy you want as the emotional heart and soul of a defense. Ramik Wilson is a swing guy that can play in or out and I’m really excited to see these freshmen as Josh Dawson and Jordan Jenkins are the future and everything points to them playing early and often. Chase Vasser will return from suspension in time to see that he’s been Wally Pipped…by someone. Prediction: Jarvis finishes as an All-American and Jordan Jenkins emerges as his heir apparent, to the point that late in the season Grantham is figuring out ways to get them on the field together.
S – Hoo boy. Most everyone talks about our OL being thin, which is intersting because it’s probably deeper than it was a year ago, especially if Kolton Houston can come back from NCAA island. At safety, we’ve got 3 scholarship guys and a walk-on on the 2 deep and one of the scholly guys is suspended for at least 1 week. Shawn Williams really broke out in a big way last year. Rambo got a lot of publicity and somehow made AA but that was largely due to his high INT total. Corey Moore is a big talent but hasn’t shown anything on the field yet. When Sanders Commings comes back from suspension he can play some S as well, but for now we’re scary thin at this spot. Josh Harvey-Clemmons got a ton of print about his emergence at safety as a 6-5 guy recruited to play LB, but I’ve got to think he’s still a ways from being a guy we’d trot out there on every down. I actually love the concept that they’re playing him as a nickel back where he plays close to the line and jams slots, TEs and coverse RBs. Probably perfect for a super athletic guy like him until he fills out and pulls an Ogeltree and drops down a level. Prediction: I’m worried that Rambo is due for a bit of regression as I’m not entirely sure he’s going to get as many fair catch INT opportunities this season. Luckily, I expect Shawn Williams to continue his development into the best safety we’ve had since Sean Jones/Thomas Davis.
CB – One of the most talked about positions of the offseason, everyone wants to know how Malcolm Mitchell does there after coming in as the #1 CB in the country out of HS and spending a year disrupting defenses as a playmaking WR. Everything I’ve heard says he’s the real deal and his place atop the depth chart certainly seems to confirm that. He’s got all the size, speed and quickness you look for to be a lock-down, 1st round type talent. With all of the buzz about Mitchell, the fact that Branden Smith drew steady praise from Grantham seems an afterthought. Sanders Commings provides some serious skill and size when he gets back. Damian Swann had an underrated freshman campaign and could be a breakout guy. Prediction: Mitchell becomes a complete star. He might not make All-SEC this year but the fact that he’ll have started one both sides of the ball in the SEC his first 2 years in the league will get him serious mention for all the lists going into 2013. Assuming of course he can stay on the field. Remember, the guy fought his hamstring all year last year.
ST – We replace two of the best kickers in UGA history (saying something there) with 2 freshmen. Morgan replacing Marshall isn’t nearly as scary as it would’ve been a year ago. Collin Barber has a tougher task, replacing the steady Butler although he struggled at times last year as well, with a few shanks that were totally out of character. Prediction: Morgan improves on Walsh’s 60% connection rate from last year.
5 Key Players that we need to step up…
5. Damian Swann – this one’s kind of an odd pick probably but I think this guy could have a huge year. If he’s able to produce at a high level, it really opens up some options in the back, and honestly on both sides of the ball. If Swann is able to take his game to the next level, you’ve got Smith and Commings (when he gets back) that are already to play at a high level, allowing Mitchell to reasonably play a little more at WR if need be. It also allows Commings to cover at safety as he did last year, giving us 3 experienced guys at the safety spot. Of course, on top of that you have the fact that he’ll already be called on somewhat to cover for 2 games as Commings takes his suspension.
4. Corey Moore – With Commings out and Rambo in limbo, the sophomore has a clear shot at the FS spot opposite Williams. He came in highly lauded and appears to have done everything expected of him but until he does it with the lights on, there will be questions. If he plays well enough early in the season, it gives us that much more flexibility to rotate Williams down on occasion in certain packages. He’s our de facto starter at FS next year so he’s got a great opportunity to set the tone early.
3. Tavares King – He’d be listed higher but frankly our receiving corps is pretty dang deep. Despite that, King is the clear cut number 1 target with the departure of Orson Charles and the position switch of Malcolm Mitchell. King showed flashes of brilliance last year but wasn’t the consistent threat we need him to be to ease the loss of Mitchell. He doesn’t have to be AJ Green, but if he can come close to reproducing those bowl stats, I’ll be happy. He’s got the talent, and the more he can draw focus, the better the games will be for Marlon Brown, Conley, Wooten, Bennett et al.
2. Marshall Morgan – I’d like to thank Blair Walsh’s less than stellar year for allowing us to ease our transition out of the Walsh era without leaving massive expectations of a drop off. As it stands, if we take a step back in kicking this year, it can’t very well be a big one as Walsh was flat out horrible last year. Given how many FG chances we tend to take anyway, and given the nature of our conference and the pretty high likelihood of some close games, Morgan will be called upon to make a big kick and I’m hoping he delivers.
1. Kenarious Gates – Protecting Murray’s blindside is a big deal. Gates has done nothing but produce since he stepped on campus but the splotlight has never been this bright on him. He got some PT as a true freshman, started as a sophomore at guard on our 4 guard lineup but now he kicks out to a position that should allow him 2 years to do what Cordy Glenn did, show that while he’s probably better suited to guard, he’s got the athleticism to slide outside, making him invaluable at the next level. If Gates can anchor the LT spot, all of a sudden our OL has one less huge question mark.
- The new rules should be interesting. That whole helmet coming off means you have to sit a play would’ve meant we only had Crowell for half the year anyway. I’m thinking we might want to duct-tape Jarvis Jones’ lid on as well. I’m not doing it though.
- I can’t imagine the level of love that Herbstreit has for Meyer right now. There was already a major man-crush there but with Urban at his alma mater, it’s going to be hard for Herbie to rein it in.
- How many CFB analysts does ESPN have now? It’s unreal. As much as I hate to say it, Jesse Palmer is pretty darn good. Pollack is getting better. Can’t wait to see him calling some games this year. Same for Stinchcomb.
- I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the uniforms this year, but what they did to the Notre Dame uniforms is absolutely criminal. They are only wearing them against Miami so they still might have the best looking unis on the field but still…awful. The orange, green and white shoes they’re wearing in their opener against Navy in Ireland is going to look horrible too. Why mess with a classy look? Not that anyone has ever accused Wyoming of having a classy look (brown and yellow?) but their uniforms this year look like tee-total hell. Sorry, it’s true.
- I’ll believe that they’ll be playing TV feed replays on the board in Sanford when I see it. You mean they are going to rob me of the super-closeup, can’t see anything going on in the play in house film stuff? The fact that it took this long to approve airing TV replays in stadium is a joke. My question is will the have the officials just watching the big board like everyone else or will they still go through the whole charade of having the booth do the review?
- Feels weird to be rolling into a game without Munson at least around. It’s been a while since he called a game but just hearing him on the air occasionally just felt like football for as long as I can remember, even the dumb local commercials that used him were endearing.
- I think I saw where they’re going to honor our Olympians at the half. That’s one of the cooler things ever. Congrats to Allison Schmidt and the crew.
- Vandy-SC…normally this would be a no-brainer, rooting against SC, but somehow James Franklin has turned Vandy unlikeable. It has nothing to do with the fact they played us closely and everything to do with the fact he’s a pompous self-promoter. I don’t know if you saw the video clip of him awarding a scholarship to a walk-on OL. They clearly filmed it and he made it all dramatic, clearly in an effort to release to the media. Meanwhile, Richt hands out about 5-7 of those every year. I know, I know…cue the undersigning jokes.
- I saw that the NFL is using replacement refs for week 1. Is there any way we can convince Penn Wagers to go on strike. I’m up keeping the rest of them, but a Penn-less season wouldn’t be all bad. Now, a Maxwell Penn-less season would be tough to handle, but that’s a different issue for a different day.
Have a safe weekend,