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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78 comments Add your comment

Bulldawg35

August 2nd, 2013
8:56 am

Duhhh

Your opinion of me not being a dawg fan is ludicrous! I’m keeping real! While u are dreaming about Lorenzo committing. I’ve already prepared for the worst…fla is his number one. How many signees have we flipped on nsd?? Lill being wating….old timer

WDE

August 2nd, 2013
9:00 am

Well well well…fall camp has started it is just times like these that I thank the Lord I’m a Georgia Bull Dog !! GATA !!

Bulldawg35

August 2nd, 2013
9:01 am

Atlanta

Thanks for clarifying! Not.lolololol….Shawn Williams is still running his mouth saying our defense will be good.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
10:07 am

why would Shawn Williams, who has graduated, be running his mouth that this years defense is better off without him and the other guys?

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
11:16 am

You state that you don’t believe the talk that we will be better without (Shawn Williams and others) and to back that up you call Shawn Williams just all talk.

did ya just forget your point there?

Bulldawg35

August 2nd, 2013
12:05 pm

My point was last year…he ran his mouth before the seccg! Then got ran over by Lacey! Now as a Bengal…he got asked how the UGA defense will do…and he said they were going to be a good defense!!!!! It’s just bad karma for him to say that. Atlanta go play in the downtown traffic..gee

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
1:01 pm

yea, I GOT why you’re down on Williams.
What does that have to do with your point?
are you just randomly complaining about everything.
How about try to have a consistent train of thought every now and then..

also learn to read names.

AltamahaDawg

August 2nd, 2013
1:06 pm

Somewhere between 8:09 and now, you stated flailing around

Bulldawg35

August 2nd, 2013
2:36 pm

I will call u Atlanta…because I think you live there. Let me tell u this…I will stop complaing when we are able to keep the very best in-state….no excuse for Lorenzo carter being a gator….u probably think we can flip him..lol..lol…..you certainly live in delusion vile. Richt is not a good a closer in recruiting!

Bulldawg35

August 2nd, 2013
2:38 pm

Espn still calling them gurshall…gee nobody cares about anybody these days! Smh

PigIron

August 2nd, 2013
3:52 pm

Are gurshall the only two decent running backs that Georgia has this year?

Bulldawg35

August 2nd, 2013
5:01 pm

Pig iron

Yeah they are….the rest are freshmen….they won’t be ready to help us beat Clemson

rondawg

August 2nd, 2013
6:11 pm

We had 2 freshman at rb last year that i think helped us win some games

RED DOG 77

August 2nd, 2013
11:39 pm

Someone made mention of Richard Samuels several posts ago, either the coaches couldn’t figure him out or he was an anomaly…………….Something tells me he missed the boat [to the NFL] but he damn sure ran up Florida’s backside late in that classic game……….dude had heart…………..Now that’s what Im looking for this year!

ZinoDawg

August 3rd, 2013
4:44 am

Man I am ready to tee this thing off! Sick of watching last years games on YouTube.

Go Dawgs! GATA!

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
7:30 am

Zinodawg,

Why r you watching those games….we underachieved again…especially on defense

Buzz-off

August 3rd, 2013
8:02 am

35,
We only have 4 weeks before life begins again. Dang, I love UGa football and hopefully we can work some magic this year. It takes talent, confidence and lots of luck to win it all. Today I want you to have positive thoughts. Believe that our defense will be faster and hungrier than last year. Our offense will keep the bad guys off the field. I actually hope we will grind it out a lot on the ground and keep other teams off the field. For the next 4 weeks I need for you to post blogs like you would like our team to be talking in the locker room. Be positive and you can “will” our DAWGS to a championship.

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
8:09 am

Vegas has us favoured in every game…but has us winning only 9.5 games. We will be 0-2 to start the season…. Clemson will be up on us 21-0…in the 1st quarter before we rally to come up short by a TD. Clemson will ice the game in the 4th with a qb sneak for ten yards…..we will lead SC for the whole game….but just like 2009 when they marched down the field and got to the 5 yard line…but this time they will score on a Connor shaw td pass to beat us by 3…thanks everybody!

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
8:27 am

Buzz- off,

I tried being positive about UGA football…but it’s hard! Lol. I’m so sick of spurrier….I was at the 2009 game and almost had a heart attack when they came flying down the field and almost scored! It’s time for us to stomp SC! It’s long over due….last year our defense was supposed to be great and they were just average! You know I don’t buy into that notion that just because our defense is young that they won’t be any good! We have the athletes to have a good defense this year. It’s all about CTG and what he has to prove to the dawg nation! Once again I will take your advice to be more positive. I will try not to let u and myself down again.lol

I-DOG

August 3rd, 2013
9:03 am

NFL Pre-season has been dominated by negative stories about Florida players during Urban Meyer’s tenure there. Yesterday an entire page of USA today was dedicated to stories about the problems of Cooper Riley and A. Hernandez. Buckeyes and Gators must be very proud.

I-DOG

August 3rd, 2013
9:27 am

I’m excited to see the offensive line play. We haven’t had that kind of depth and experience in a while. A lot has to go right defensively as pointed out by BK above. To me, the jury is still out on Swann and Dawson at corner. Certainly a lot of ability and they had flashes of great play last year, but that is different from being the guy that needs to be counted on. Hope they both grow into that role as they are probably the most important piece of the defensive puzzle this year.

Would love to see Grantham sub a little more, particularly in the secondary where he seems to want them to play just about every snap. That could be a problem in those first two early games with the H&H.

Boyd scares me with his mobility. I am picturing a few 3rd and 8’s where he scampers for 9 yards and some very important first downs to keep their drives going. That can frustrate and exhaust a young defense in the heat. We certainly have a lot of time to prepare for that, but these mobile QB’s really seem to hurt us.

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
9:37 am

I’m hearing the Same old excuses….people saying we gonna lose 2-3 games because our defense is young…I just don’t believe tha…look at last year we were supposed to be all world defense but we whereby just average with veterans. I think it comes down to Grantham having his best coaching year. Plus Aaron Murray starting games better…cutting down on his turnovers. If those to things happen…then I see us making it back to Atlanta!

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 3rd, 2013
9:51 am

Punk35 – We all know you aren’t a bulldog fan or why would you constantly attack the DAWGS with your petty negative childish comments? You smell like a BUG to me.

Flo-Ri-Duh

August 3rd, 2013
10:04 am

Clempson is still ACC – Dawgs by 10.

S.C. is still S.C. – Dawgs by 10.

Florida ain’t Florida no more – Dawgs by 10.

LSU “led” by Mettenbubba – Dawgs by 10.

Tick Hounds in disarray – Dawgs by more than 10.

Vandy is still Vandy – Dawgs by 10.

This is the year of the Dawg!

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
10:11 am

Duh

You sure are delusional. I’m a negative lunatic dawg…so deal with it! I listened to larry Munson for years! That how I became a pessimist!

I-DOG

August 3rd, 2013
11:03 am

Bulldawg 35. Now that is a well reasoned post. It will be very tough to replace Jarvis Jones. On the the other side of the argument, while the defense played well at times, it didn’t live up to expectations with all that experience and all that NFL talent. Some say it was the early season suspensions, others a lack of passion for the college game while looking forward to the NFL draft. We probably won’t be as good defensively, especially early on, but there might not be as big a dropoff from last year as some of us fear.

However, the offense was good last year and there is absolutely no reason why it won’t be better. Same QB with another year of experience, all the OL back and another year to improve plus the addition of Kolton which I think will be pretty significant. Coaches have even more confidence in Gurley and Marshall than they did going into last season when all they could point to was that they looked good in practice. Now we know they are gamers. There is also a deep and talented receiving core and tight end should be a strength as well.

My biggest concern offensively is that we won’t be committed to running the ball with authority. Last year, we had it first and goal at the Missouri 2 and we threw two passes on first and second down. Now, we did score on the 2nd pass so it worked out, but the mindset of not even trying to run against Missouri first and goal at the 2 (not exactly the 85 Bears) to me showed a lack of confidence and commitment to the running game. That has to change.

Don’t think we can win too many 13-10, but we will have to see how it plays out. Kicking game is pretty scary. Hopefully, that solidifies.

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
12:57 pm

You’re right…the kicking game is scary….In my opinion experience is overrated….I think it’s more about how talented and Hungry the young players are! Grantham will have to get better….this should be his best year…if not then I’m really going doubt he is worth his salary

Bulldawg35

August 3rd, 2013
1:00 pm

Jenkins and deloach will be enough will be enough to replace Jarvis jones. If the guys are hungry like I think they are…we will be just as good as last year