It’s pretty obvious that what’s driving all those very early preseason Top 10 rankings for Mark Richt’s 2013 Bulldogs is the return of almost the entire starting lineup of the explosive, productive offense led by veteran quarterback Aaron Murray.
It’s just as clear that what’s tempering those expectations, keeping Georgia from being an outright pick to battle Alabama again for a spot in the BCS title game, is the almost complete rebuilding job that must be done on defense after losing a dozen players to graduation and early departure for the NFL.
So finding a way to fill the void left by Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and company is Job One for the Georgia coaching staff this offseason, particularly replacing the big beef to help Garrison Smith up front and finding the right combination in the secondary.
Yes, as Richt has noted, there is a lot of talent “waiting in the wings.” The big question, though, is whether Todd Grantham (assuming he doesn’t depart for the NFL) will be able to mold that talent into a cohesive, aggressive unit in time to handle the early-season onslaught of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU. It’s a really tough early schedule so, as Richt has noted, “We better be ready.”
But what are some of the other areas of concern as Richt and his staff prepare for the 2013 season?
Foremost, I think, is solidifying the gains made this past season on special teams. Kick coverage was improved, for the most part, and the Dogs actually blocked some kicks. And Collin Barber appears to be coming along nicely at punter.
But placekicking remains a worrisome area. While he finally got in a groove on PATs, Marshall Morgan was entirely too unreliable when it came to field goals in his freshman season, and with no dedicated special teams coach in the program he’s pretty much been on his own.
Richt has talked about taking over coaching this area himself. If he does indeed decide to do that, he needs to do some traveling (like to Minnesota, where they straightened out Blair Walsh). With the graduation of backup Jamie Lindley, who alternated quite frequently with Morgan on on kickoffs, Rich also needs to think about some invited walk-ons at the placekicking position.
Elsewhere, Georgia needs to continue developing depth on its offensive line. While all the starters of this past season’s young line will be returning and hopefully John Theus will start to become more of a force up front, the Dogs are still very thin on the OL. With starting guard Chris Burnette out for the spring with surgery, the coaches should get a good look at the contenders. And, of course, adding prospect Laremy Tunsil to the mix would be a real coup for the Georgia staff.
Speaking of depth, with the departure of Boo Malcome, work also is needed on building it behind Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall at tailback so that Mike Bobo’s offense doesn’t become one-dimensional (as it was late in the 2011 season) if something happens to those two.
As for the other big concern — avoiding disruptive early-season suspensions resulting from off-the-field misbehavior — I’m not sure what, if anything, Richt and his staff can do about that (other than, possibly, scheduling drug tests before spring break instead of immediately afterward). This is an area where the future team leaders really need to step up and apply some heavy peer pressure if the Dogs are going to break the cycle of offseason problems.
That’s what worries me about the 2013 Bulldogs. What other areas of concern do you have?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg