Well, the Ray Drew affair has reinforced one thing for us. Just as the rule in nutrition is that if it tastes great, it’s usually bad for you, the same goes for college football: If it’s something that would make a fan smile and say, “That’s great,” then it probably violates some NCAA rule.
So now we know: A recruit isn’t free to have whoever they want at their signing ceremony. Next thing we’ll hear is that the bulldog puppy Isaiah Crowell held up has been declared a “representative of the university’s athletic interests.”
But enough of that. Drew and the rest of the 2011 recruits who didn’t enroll early won’t be around yet, but Mark Richt’s Dogs begin spring practice Thursday, followed by an 11-day break before the sessions pick up again, finally culminating in the G-Day game on April 16. And while the ultimate answers to some of the compelling questions looming over the state of the program won’t be answered until the incoming freshmen join the team, we should know more after the spring about these areas:
The defense, and how key personnel changes will shake out. We’ve already discussed last week how the recent move of Alec Ogletree from safety to inside linebacker leaves the secondary unsettled. Will the erstwhile “Hitman,” Jakar Hamilton, reclaim the other safety spot opposite Bacarri Rambo? Spring drills should provide a good indicator. Meanwhile, the reworking of the linebacking corps under new coach Kirk Olivadotti is a major project, with Justin Houston, Darryl Gamble, Akeem Dent and Marcus Dowtin all gone. The lone returning starter, Christian Robinson, will call the signals and the coaches are expecting big things from Ogletree and transfer Jarvis Jones. Cornelius Washington will get a chance to lay claim to the other outside linebacker spot before Drew joins the competition. And it’ll be interesting to see if converted tailback Richard Samuel is able to garner much playing time at linebacker. Meanwhile, Kwame Geathers will be keeping the nose guard position warm for big JUCO transfer John Jenkins, who’ll need a reliable backup. The end result of all this won’t be evident until well into the fall but will have a lot to say about how successful the Dogs are in 2011.
The tailbacks, and who’ll emerge as either the main challenger to Isaiah Crowell taking over the starting spot or, more likely, be Crowell’s main backup. Junior Washaun Ealey, recently reinstated from a suspension, was up and down last year and Caleb King had trouble staying in the lineup between injuries and suspensions. If those two falter, Ken Malcome, who drew a lot of praise in practice during his redshirt year last season, might make a move. Let’s hope little Carlton Thomas gets more use catching screen passes rather than futilely trying to run up the middle. Richt has said he just wants to see the returning backs “compete” and “prove they can hold off the young pup coming in.” Who knows, maybe the competition will give Georgia a fearsome two- or three-back attack. Most of us would settle for one consistently reliable back, however.
Will the offensive line finally live up to expectations under new coach Will Friend? The Dogs have experience here, as Trinton Sturdivant, Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones return, senior Justin Anderson is back on the OL and sophomore Kenarious Gates showed promise starting three games last year. There’s not a lot of playing time on the bench, however. Hopefully the change in leadership and a new strength and conditioning regimen will put an end to the Dogs’ offensive front getting pushed around late in games the way it did last year.
Who’ll replace A.J. Green and Kris Durham in the receiving corps? We know Tavarres King is pretty much a given to take over Green’s spot at flanker, but will Marlon Brown finally step up as the other wide-out? Will Rantavious Wooten and Israel Troupe remain forgotten men? What about Michael Bennett, who redshirted last year? Or early enrollee Chris Conley? A lot of folks are betting incoming freshman Malcolm Mitchell will be hard to keep out of the lineup once he learns the routes. But with so little experienced depth at wide receiver, will the Dogs split out hybrid tight end Orson Charles more? Will Aaron Murray throw to the fullback more with former tight end Bruce Figgins at that position? Mike Bobo needs some answers to keep his offense balanced. And speaking of Murray …
Who’ll end up as as Murray’s backup at quarterback? Last year’s backup, sophomore Hutson Mason, and highly touted early enrollee Christian LeMay will get a chance to show their stuff this spring, but this is a question that likely won’t be resolved until the end of preseason drills in August and perhaps beyond that. LeMay has a lot of talent but hasn’t played football in more than a year, so this could prove to be one of the more interesting competitions on the team. The loser likely will redshirt unless needed.
Because of the pressure for the Dogs to bounce back from their first losing season in many years, this is likely to be the most important spring practice of the Richt era. Here’s hoping the head coach gets the answers he needs.
UPDATE: The situation at tailback already is looking a little intense. On Thursday, Mark Richt again summed up the challenge facing Washaun Ealey and Caleb King this fall when Isaiah Crowell joins the competition for playing time. “Isaiah is a very talented guy,” Richt said. “He’ll get a chance to show what he can do, and these other guys need to just solidify as much playing time as they can before he shows up, because we’re going to see what he can do.” [Emphasis added.]
Ealey didn’t talk to reporters after Georgia’s first spring practice, but King did and he doesn’t appear to be blinking at all in the glare of the spotlight Crowell is bringing to the position. Obviously referring to Richt’s comments about Crowell possibly “running that rock in the Dome” against Boise State, King said, “I understand what’s happening right now. Of course they are — I’m not going to say ‘boost it up,’ because he’ll probably come in here and be a great player — but I think it’s more for the fans, so they can be excited for next season. He’s still got to come in and work hard, because I know the rest of us are working hard.”
And that can only be a good thing for the Dogs in the long run.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg