While Bulldogs fans did come out of G-Day reassured that the defensive front will continue to be a major Georgia strength and that prospects are encouraging at running back, backup quarterback and tight end, most of the major questions hanging over Mark Richt’s 2012 team won’t be answered until the fall.
The biggest of those uncertainties remains the rebuilding of the offensive line, because of the impact that has on other aspects of the game: running, passing, quarterback protection. While I was pleasantly surprised with how well the tentative first-team OL held up against one of the best defensive lines in the nation on G-Day, there still was inconsistency and not much depth — the second-team OL looked pretty woeful. Most observers see true freshman John Theus having a real chance to start come September if he lives up to advance billing.
On the other side of the ball, the linebacking corps looked solid and should be able to sustain a possible suspension of Alec Ogletree, but we didn’t really see anything in the spring game to alleviate the worries about how the secondary will handle Missouri with starters possibly suspended, since designated two-way player Malcolm Mitchell wasn’t able to play because of another hamstring problem.
And while speedster Justin Scott-Wesley showed some potential, we’ll still have to wait and see how the receiving corps handles having Mitchell, its biggest playmaker, spending time on defense.
And, of course, one of the biggest problem areas that needs shoring up — special teams — won’t really be addressed fully until August, when the likely new punter and placekicker join the team. While coaches still have to address who’ll be returning punts and kickoffs, the larger issue that must be resolved is coverage, where Georgia stunk last year, ranking 116th nationally in punt coverage and 88th in kickoff coverage, with a tendency to give up big returns at the worst possible times.
Spring work on special teams was mainly concerned with drills designed to see who’ll be populating the coverage teams come fall, Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald. “The goal in the spring for the special teams was to get a lot of guys involved and do a lot of drill work that will help us. First of all, evaluate, ‘Can a guy do what we’re going to ask him to do. Can he get off a block. Can he tackle in space? Can he protect a kick?’ We were just wanting everybody to understand that everybody and anybody could end up on a special team — a starter, a second-teamer, whatever it is.”
Kirk Olivadotti, who oversees the kickoff-coverage unit, indicated that in terms of approach, it won’t be so much wholesale change as tweaking coverage and changing up personnel.
Hopefully, that’ll be enough, but I’m more encouraged by Richt’s contining emphasis this offseason on the need to up the Dogs’ game in special teams play, which hasn’t always been a high priority during his tenure.
“My guess is, we will have more live kicking reps in the fall than we’ve had in a while,” Richt said, though he allowed that “some of that is because we’re going to be breaking in a new punter and a new kicker. They need to be under pressure as much as possible, and it’s hard to create that pressure unless you’re doing some live situations.”
Offensive line. Secondary depth. Special teams. All three could be make-or-break areas for the Dogs this season and the picture unfortunately remains pretty hazy with all of them. Any other lingering concerns you have coming out of spring practice?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg