UGA fans hope preseason camp eliminates question marks

Preseason expectations for the Dawgs are running high.

Preseason expectations for the Dawgs are running high.

The SEC media have anointed Mark Richt’s 2013 Bulldogs as the favorite to threepeat in the East, Georgia is likely to be a Top 10 team in most national polls and Mike Bobo’s offense is expected to be among the most productive in the country, but as preseason camp gets under way at the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens, an awful lot of question marks still hang over this team.

Not the least among them is the almost total rebuilding job on defense necessitated by graduation and players leaving early for the NFL. As a friend put it back at the end of last season, this year Todd Grantham is really going to have to earn those big bucks. Last year, he came into the season with what was supposed to be one of the nation’s top defenses, loaded with talent worthy of playing on Sunday, and yet the defensive Dawgs proved decidedly ordinary. What can he do this year with a roster that’s loaded with talent but extremely short on experience?

Meanwhile, Georgia fans hope the sort of read-too-many-clippings complacency that seemed to affect last year’s defense doesn’t infect the explosive offense that returns all but one starter from last year’s record-setting bunch.

One thing college football fans always can do is fret, and having talked Georgia football pretty much nonstop this summer, here are some of the most important questions that the Bulldog Nation hopes to see answers to before the Dogs and Tigers line it up in Clemson on Aug. 31:

Who will wind up being the starters on the defensive line and how quickly will the secondary come along?

As Chris Wilson takes over from Rodney Garner coaching the DL, Georgia won’t be as big up front as last year but will have more depth, which sounds like a great idea if you remember the defensive front wearing down against Bama’s running game in the second half of the SEC Championship Game. Mike Thornton, who might barely reach the 300-pound mark, starts out the preseason as the presumed starter at the important nose guard position, but some larger players, including Chris Mayes and John Atkins, could press him for playing time, and Grantham has indicated defensive ends Toby Johnson and Johnathan Taylor could wind up playing some nose.

Starting safety/nickel back Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for the Clemson game. (University of Georgia)

Starting safety/nickel back Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for the Clemson game. (University of Georgia)

Meanwhile, Georgia looks in pretty good shape at linebacker, where Jordan Jenkins is expected to take up the playmaker’s banner from the departed Jarvis Jones, but the secondary is wide open, particularly with designated safety/nickel “star” back Josh Harvey Clemons suspended for the first game. The sole returnee, Damian Swann, has one cornerback position locked down, and sophomore Sheldon Dawson looks like the leading contender at the other corner with Reggie Wilkerson out for the season with an injury, while hard-hitting Tray Matthews is likely to be the free safety. The experienced Connor Norman, Devin Bowman and Corey Moore also will be in the mix, especially with Harvey-Clemons out, as will newcomers Quincy Mauger, Shaq Fluker, Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins. Special teams ace Blake Sailors also could be a factor.

Whoever is out on the field, this group will get a real baptism by fire from Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

How will all this shuffling of the veteran offensive line shake out?

Despite all five starters from last season returning on the OL, generally, it’s considered that only center David Andrews and right guard Chris Burnette have starting spots guaranteed. Will highly touted John Theus remain behind Xzavier Ward at right tackle, as he was at the end of spring, or will he end up at left tackle? Where will Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee settle? Will Mark Beard crack the starting lineup? And what about Kolton Houston, once a presumed starter before getting stalled in NCAA pergatory? Now that he’s back, he definitely could push for playing time.

Hopefully Will Friend will figure out his best five pretty quickly, as the OL is the one element of Georgia’s high-powered offense that looked a bit shaky at times last season.

Will Georgia improve its spotty special teams play? Who will start out the season at placekicker while Marshall Morgan is suspended, and who will the kick returners be? Will the Dogs even seriously try to return punts?

Former kicker Blair Walsh thinks backup punter Adam Erickson is the answer to spell Morgan, but walk-ons Patrick Beless and Thomas Pritchard probably will get a look in preseason, too. All three made field goals in the G-Day game. As for the other end of the kicking game, fans are hoping maybe Todd Gurley will get more chances to return kickoffs, like at the start of last season. And will Malcolm Mitchell settle down at punt returner or will the coaches stick with Rhett McGowan, who makes better decisions, even if mostly that means a fair catch. Who else could get a shot at returning kicks? Justin Scott-Wesley? Swann?

Who will wind up as Georgia’s third tailback?

The tandem of Gurley and Keith Marshall will get the bulk of the carries, but past experience has proved the need for a reliable third option at tailback in the SEC wars. J.J. Green played there in the spring, but he’s a little undersized and might be more effective at flanker. Freshmen Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman are bigger and could wind up battling for the spot.

Fans are hoping Michael Bennett will be at full speed early in the season. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Fans are hoping Michael Bennett will be at full speed early in the season. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

How quickly will receiver Michael Bennett get back to his old form?

The Dogs are pretty stacked at receiver this year, what with Mitchell, Chris Conley and Rantavious Wooten all back, but injuries have a way of thinning that group out pretty quickly. Bennett was the go-to guy last year before getting hurt, and if he’s able to open the season at full speed it’ll be a big plus for Aaron Murray and company. Transfer Jonathan Rumph, who turned heads on G-Day, could get a shot here, too.

If Georgia’s coaching staff answers these questions quickly and satisfactorily, 2013 could indeed wind up being a special season for the Dawgs.

What else are you going to be watching during preseason camp?

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

78 comments Add your comment

Desert Fox

August 1st, 2013
9:57 am

Good questions. Gotta hope these incoming frosh can fill the voids on D. Maybe find a kick returner in the group. Don’t want to see our stars returning kicks unless necessary (we’re losing!). the O line didn’t do too bad last season once they got rolling. hope it doesn’t get too reworked. Key is no injuries and stupid suspensions. Go Dawgs.

old junkyard DAWG

August 1st, 2013
10:02 am

HUNKER…… DOWN EVERY GAME AND WE WILL BE FINE! GO DAWGS

AltamahaDawg

August 1st, 2013
10:07 am

I think you pretty much covered it.

AltamahaDawg

August 1st, 2013
10:09 am

I’ve always thought Corey Moore deserves more than an also mention. I’d look for him to be fairly important.

Water Dawg

August 1st, 2013
10:17 am

Hey Bill – what’s the story on Ray Drew? He was right there with Clowney coming out of high school, but has barely been on radar as a Dawg.

AltamahaDawg

August 1st, 2013
10:24 am

I hope Mason gets to start over Murray. His completion % 2 yrs. ago at G-day was better.

I thought I’d go ahead and get that one out here.

Bill King

August 1st, 2013
10:55 am

Altamaha:
Very funny.

Buzz-off

August 1st, 2013
11:30 am

Don’t we also have several really big and tough fullbacks? I’ve heard one of them is a spectacular blocker and as big as the clownman from SC. That would be a fun collision to watch!!!

dawgfan

August 1st, 2013
11:33 am

I’d like to go ahead and get this one out of the way:

“I’m really nervous about all these high expectations. I’d rather ‘fly under the radar’ and surprise people.”

We’ll know we’ve truly arrived when nobody says weak crap like this anymore.

Thanks.

Buzz-off

August 1st, 2013
11:35 am

Glad you got that one out of the way AltamahaDawg, but I’m sure some bozo will still bring it up!

ViningsDawg

August 1st, 2013
11:56 am

SOLID question Bill! As far as kick returns I’d much rather see JSW up there than Gurley. Talk about holding your breath. Man he’s tough, but that’s just too dangerous of a scenario for me.

AltamahaDawg

August 1st, 2013
12:19 pm

is Russ going to give it a go this season? DGD getting a bit long in the tooth for another one isn’t he?

AltamahaDawg

August 1st, 2013
12:23 pm

I thought I’d stay away from the pop culture jokes on this one, BK.

Truthiness

August 1st, 2013
12:31 pm

Bill, you definitely hit the mark on special teams. That’s the one area where I think the Dawgs will be at a decisive disadvantage entering each big game. It may not be decisive enough to turn a win into a loss, but it may very well be enough to keep a win out of reach.

AltamahaDawg

August 1st, 2013
12:53 pm

Kickers will be fine. We’ll figure out the return guys. We typically do. Ended up with pretty average numbers in the return game last year. Just had some brain cramps.

piermontdawgny

August 1st, 2013
2:29 pm

it is time for the Dawgs to gel…to become a “team” during summer camp…to believe in themselves…to practice hard and with a team focus purpose…and then when it is time, to be ready for Clemson…stay focused…one game at a time…GO DAWGS!

whiskeybreath

August 1st, 2013
2:47 pm

Come on Bill, BrotherRicht believes defense is something to take up time until the offense gets out there. You know it better than I do. Since when has Ga not had had big preseason expectations?
I would say about 35 plus years. It’s the actual backing up the preseason expectations that seem to be lacking.

Cuz

August 1st, 2013
2:59 pm

Brendon Douglas is from here in Augusta. I have heard some awesome strength numbers from this guy in pre season drills. He could really push for playing time as the number three back.

Bulldawg35

August 1st, 2013
3:34 pm

Gee…we have really let those to buckeyes take over the boards….just sad I tell you…just plain pathetic! Clemson radio were talking today about how Clemson plays better as a under dog at home. I’m really afraid they beat us up in a street fight!

SC Dog fan

August 1st, 2013
3:41 pm

Special teams play was a decisive element in some of our past successes: Kevin Butler, Scott Woerner, etc. That needs to come together again for us to win the squeekers against great teams. Not hearing much talk about progress there worries me.

Ga Boi

August 1st, 2013
3:43 pm

Bill, when will the new players get their jersey numbers??? I like to know who the players are once pics start getting posted……

Pago Pago Dawg

August 1st, 2013
3:45 pm

There is a very good chance that Ohio can run a table this year.

SC Dog fan

August 1st, 2013
3:47 pm

Also, I’d like to second the earlier question about Ray Drew. I understand he was still growing/gaining weight as a freshman and thus between positions, but surely he is ready to contribute somewhere along the defensive line by now.

Bulldawg35

August 1st, 2013
3:49 pm

First day of practice….I figured the UGA radio stations would be talking more about football. But heck no they are still talking about golf and baseball…the 2 worst sports in the world!!!! Seems like Clemson is more fired up about the game….they r talking about all day long…. Clemson 42 dawgs24….sad but true

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 1st, 2013
3:58 pm

Bulldawg35……. a Yeller Jacket in DRAG?

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 1st, 2013
4:07 pm

Dawgs need Lorenzo Carter (DE) to commit and every thing else will fall in to place. Mama Nkemdiche got offended that UGA didn’t offer her older son even if he was not academically qualified. Ole Miss was willing to over look that little problem and ended up getting her younger son as the grand prize. Some say cash exchanged hands – but not me. There is no evidence of that – as you would expect.

Bulldawg35

August 1st, 2013
4:11 pm

Flo-duh

Let me tell u something…is that best u have…to try and insult me with a poor verbal attack! Man these boards are weak now! I stand by my opinion…this game is more important to Clemson…..the feeling is real

Bulldawg35

August 1st, 2013
4:13 pm

Sorry carter will go to flo ri duh…he has them in the lead! I’m a realist dawg fan. Some of u are stuck in delusionalvile

GTBob

August 1st, 2013
4:31 pm

what’s the story on Ray Drew?

Like most 5 star players who go to UGA, Ray Drew is a bust.

Bulldawg35

August 1st, 2013
4:45 pm

Yeah ray drew is a bust…but he would be a star at GT…

dawgfan

August 1st, 2013
4:45 pm

Too bad that Tech is such a sad and pathetic joke that it can’t take advantage of it, eh Bob?

Granthams The Man!

August 1st, 2013
5:30 pm

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 1st, 2013
6:10 pm

Bob

Do any 5 stars ever want to go to Tech?

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

August 1st, 2013
6:12 pm

Hopefully Grantham is working on improving the defense this year instead of working on his resume and interviewing skills ;)

Bill King

August 1st, 2013
6:16 pm

Chip Towers reports these jersey numbers from the first practice today:
1 Tramel Terry
3 Paris Bostick
4 Brendan Langley
6 Shaq Wiggins
8 Shaun McGee
10 Kennar Johnson
17 Davin Bellamy
29 Uriah LeMay
35 A.J. Turman
42 Tim Kimbrough
50 Johnny O’Neal
54 Brandon Kublanow
57 De’Andre Johnson
60 Josh Cardiello
69 Trent Frix
81 Reggie Davis
85 Jordan Davis
88 Toby Johnson
93 Chris Mayes

Bulldawg35

August 1st, 2013
8:09 pm

I’m telling u now this season reminds me of 2009! When all the players were saying after Moreno and Stafford left! We are more of a team now instead of superstars! Just like then I think we open on the road with a loss. It’s hard to replace a Jarvis jones….he was basically our whole defense!

Bama Fan#2

August 1st, 2013
9:53 pm

Carter is visiting Alabama this weekend!! Georgia picked 5th is
about right to me!! The offense for Georgia is going to very very
GOOD!!! Alabama starts practice Friday and hope no body get
hurts in practice for Georgia and Alabama RTR

RED DOG 77

August 2nd, 2013
12:02 am

Few if any of the questions posed will be answered sooner than the end of September. Georgia does however seem to have the gravel in their gut to do some real damage this year……..voluntary workouts went well, things were pretty tame with the police, not a lot of potheads…………I think Georgia is about tired of the same old thing and is hungry for that crystal football………at least it looks that way………….I know for one thing for sure, whatever happens this season………..at the end I will be proud to be a DAWG………………RED

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:09 am

you do realize that Moreno was a RB, and Stafford was a QB?

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:12 am

Actually I haven’t heard any of the players saying, we are better now that all those superstars are gone. That’s been the fans bantering that about.

What the players have said, is that they are working real hard to fill their shoes.

SimpleDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:20 am

From a Dawg in Upstate SC……

Clemson will be electric for the Dawg invasion. Game Day, high expectations, and a rabid fan base will make for a pressure-packed environment for Georgia players – young and old.

The Dawgs need a fast start to the game…..no turnovers, score on the first drive, and shut down Clem’s first series. Clemson will try to wear the Dawgs down by running plays at break-neck speed, which may present Georgia with some opportunities to take advantage of mistakes. The young defense will be tested early, often, and relentlessly…..if they’re ready, calm, and focused their talent can set the tone for the rest of the game.

But, don’t sell the Tigers short. They survived LSU’s blunt force attack, and then wore them down in the end. Granted, if LSU had possessed a consistent passing attack, the outcome may have been different, but they didn’t….and it wasn’t.

So, be ready Dawgs…..GATA and stay on ‘em. A couple of early TDs could deflate the crowd….and Clem and Son.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:25 am

There’s been about 15) 5-stars recruits, depending on which service you use, in the mark Richt era.

I can count ONE that was an absolute “bust”. And probably 2-3 more than had just merely a decent college career. Half of them had (or will have) outstanding college careers, and are/were NFL players, a few of them stars.

not sure how they define “most” over in BOB world.

Anybody predicting Ray Drew as a bust, is just exhibiting a lack of football knowledge.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:48 am

I don’t think that a lack of reports about special teams progress………over the summer….is really cause for concern.

We do know that S&C went well, and we know we are a deeper team, that about all we can hope for in a offseason report about ST.

As I recall, Barber had a good spring. He really had a pretty solid freshman season. Good placement Several good games (long bombs). I think he was punter of the week once. Had a great SECCG.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:52 am

My personal belief if that Morgan will end up as one of our better PK. He just had the odd situation where we tried so few FG, and mostly long.

Attempting half as many short ones as the rest of the league, but more 45+ attempts than anybody else….is not a good stat builder, for a senior, much less a freshman.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
7:55 am

Come to think of it, that “bust” was SEC freshman of the year, while AT Georgia.

corkylovesbeer

August 2nd, 2013
8:13 am

altamaha, are you a coffee drinker

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 2nd, 2013
8:39 am

I guess you could say Richard Samuel did not live up to his 5 star hype.
The coaches never realized that he was a LB and not a RB. Loved his attitude and determination but not a great RB.

Drew is a tweener in a 3-4 defense but is growing in to a DE. It took Charles Johnson (DE and NFL All Pro) three years but he developed in to an outstanding DE. This may be Drew’s year.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 2nd, 2013
8:42 am

Bull35 – You are no Dawg fan so quit lying……. you are a termite in sheep’s clothing. Crawl back in your mama’s basement.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
8:44 am

I did count Samuel one of those with just a decent college career. Certainly not a bust (as I know you would agree). I too thoug

ARdawg

August 2nd, 2013
8:46 am

It is great to be a Georgia Bulldawg