Bulldogs’ spring wunderkinds don’t always become regular season stars

Will J.J. Green's spring success story carry over into the fall? (John Kelley / UGA)

Will J.J. Green's spring success story carry over into the fall? (John Kelley / UGA)

Something that new UGA defensive coordinator (and quote-machine-in-the-making) Jeremy Pruitt said the other day brought home to me the futility in trying to use spring practice storylines to predict regular season fall headlines.

Talking about his resistance to giving out honors this time of the year, Pruitt said about spring defensive MVP Ramik Wilson and Coffee County Hustle Award winner J.J. Green: “To me, those awards are spring awards. Those two guys may end up being starters, leaders or whatever, or they may not play. It’ll be up to them between now and fall camp.”

While I think he was laying out the extreme possibilities just to make a point — the likelihood of either Wilson or Green not playing this fall seem remote — Pruitt’s attitude is in line with what Georgia has experienced in recent years.

Last year, all the spring talk about the big hits freshman safety Tray Matthews was laying on folks at the Woodruff Practice Fields and the way Todd Grantham was talking about building his defense around spring MVP Josh Harvey-Clemons had fans salivating over the prospects of a shutdown secondary.

Well, we all know how that worked out. While Harvey-Clemons had a decent year when he wasn’t being suspended, he never really lived up to expectations, and now he’s no longer on the team. As for Matthews, he couldn’t stay healthy long enough to really develop into a top-notch safety.

Also last year, junior college transfer receiver Jonathon Rumph turned in the standout performance of G-Day, with four receptions for 98 yards, including two touchdowns. Come the regular season, he also had injury trouble, progressed slowly and never really became the difference-maker a lot of folks had hoped he’d become.

Looking back over spring reports the past five years, I see several storylines that never turned into much. In 2012, the word was Isaiah Crowell had matured and was ready to be the dominant running back Georgia’s offense needed. By fall, he was gone. Oh, and that spring the big story was Malcolm Mitchell switching to defense, which didn’t last long thank goodness.

And remember the three-way quarterback battle of 2010, and how all anyone could talk about after the spring game was Zach Mettenberger? He didn’t even make it through the spring as a Bulldog.

And then there was little Carlton Thomas tearing it up at tailback in 2009’s G-Day game. That wound up being more a symptom of Georgia’s offensive anemia at the time than anything positive.

Clay Johnson (No. 38) was a surprise G-Day star. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Clay Johnson (No. 38) was a surprise G-Day star. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Back to this spring. Green made the switch from a crowded tailback corps to the defense and wowed everyone with not just the speed with which he made the transition, but also his effectiveness and aggressive play, especially in the nickel back position. Hopefully, this will be an instance where the spring story carries over, but G-Day was no indication because an injury kept Green out.

The other player who’d been drawing strong notices this spring was last year’s G-Day star, Rumph, but his spring game was not that impressive, hurt by a couple of drops. He’s a big kid and a senior, so I’m hoping that proves to be just a bad day and he does become a contributor in the regular season.

Of course, then there are the feel-good G-Day stories of a couple of walk-ons: wide receiver Clay Johnson, who came out of nowhere to grab five passes, and cornerback Aaron Davis, who started on the first-string defense and had a pretty good day. Of the two, Davis probably stands the better chance of actually getting some playing time in the fall, since Georgia will be pretty well stacked at receiver.

Like Pruitt said, you never know; it’s just spring ball.

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74 comments Add your comment

RiffRaff

April 17th, 2014
11:32 am

Heard Josh Harvey-Clemons is going to hook up again with Grantham.

SimpleDawg

April 17th, 2014
11:45 am

The spring football game is almost like a NFL exhibition game….not insignificant, but sill no true indication of performance in a ‘real’ game. Kinda like military war games.

Having said that…..I think the players showed a lot of talent potential.

Hopefully the ingredients result in fine dining in the fall.

Jason 73

April 17th, 2014
11:45 am

I think the Davis kid will be a keeper. Maybe not a starter, but a valuable piece to the team’s overall success, no doubt. He had SEC potential as a soph in highschool until injuries derailed his career. Not your typical walk on.

Columbus Dawg

April 17th, 2014
11:46 am

“Tailback”. Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are!

WDE

April 17th, 2014
11:46 am

Bill great article and I couldn’t agree more between injuries and guys coming on strong in fall camp its always a fluid situation . Go Dogs !

Jason 73

April 17th, 2014
11:47 am

Also, I like the move of Langley to FS. Could this mean a move by Matthews to SS eventually; that is if he can stay healthy?

gertbeet frobe

April 17th, 2014
12:18 pm

I like what Pruitt is saying but I worry Richt will bring him down. Focusing on fundametals, up-tempo practices, holding guys accountable… What does it say about Richt that this has to be started by a newly hired coordinator? If JP turns things around, he’ll be gone in a year or two from being sick of Richt or getting a head coach job and we’ll continue to be stuck with Richt.

CHDawg

April 17th, 2014
12:23 pm

I like Pruitt’s focus on performance in-season. Hyping players in Spring leads to false expectations and possible head problems, as Bill illustrated well from the recent past. The time to get excited is when somebody starts making great plays against SC or AU.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
12:48 pm

Mettenberger’s outstanding GDay proved to be an accurate rendering of his future performances as he went on to lead his JUCO team to the National Championship game, then went on to win 80% of his starts at LSU, and will likely go in the first round of the NFL draft. Richt looks stupid for his overreaction to Mettenberger now, especially after not allowing Nick Marshall to compete with Murray either last Spring, and wait until you see how high Mettenberger gets drafted, and how low Murray gets drafted, will make Richt look stupid, I mean REALLY stupid.

Aaron Murray’s play on GDays in front of 40,000 fans, he averaged 125 yards passing in 4 GDays (Bauta & Mason threw for over 235 each on GDay 2014), was an indication how he’d perform in big games, went 5-15 vs ranked teams over his career, 2-10 vs teams that ended up in the top 10.

As far as how Richt does with first time Qb’s, his history indicates a tough year. Richt struggled with Greene, Terishinski/Stafford, Cox, and Murray. Won 6-8 regular season games with those 4 tries. I know Richt struck oil once with dual threat Qb DJ, but the other 4 times, he struck out.

GDay tells you a lot about how a Qb will play in big games.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
12:58 pm

Pruitt is walking that line to where his comments are so 100% negative, that he’s starting to look scripted, and like the boy who cried wolf, not sure anyone believes anything that comes out of his mouth anymore, doesn’t seem genuine, coaches who only see the negative, have an imbalance. His negative attitude will start spreading from the defense to the offense, to the other coaches, I don’t like him at all. For example, the defense forced 5 turnovers on GDay, but you never heard one positive word about that from Jeremy “The world is coming to an end” Pruitt.

If you say it’s gonna rain, and it never does, you start to look dumb.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
1:13 pm

If Pruitt’s right, that every single thing about the defense is negative, then he has no hope of fixing anything, because he doesn’t know what the real priorities are to fix. I thought defense did a good job with almost everything: good pressure on the Qb, forcing turnovers, good tackling–few missed tackles, good run defense, and so on. Sure, the secondary got torched, which makes you wonder what he’s been doing since Jan, they were missing 2 key starters, but what else was truly negative defensively?

Bill King

April 17th, 2014
1:38 pm

Milledgeville:
I’d say Richt reacted exactly the way he should have reacted to Mettenberger’s arrest. This wasn’t just some simple violation of team rules.

P-Man

April 17th, 2014
1:48 pm

My problem with the comments is that if Pruitt disagrees with giving out spring awards, he needs to take that up with Richt, not with the press. If I were Richt, I wouldn’t be happy with the comments. Unless that’s what Richt wanted him to say…

Nothing wrong with Spring Awards, as long as they motivate players to improve. Most of these awards are about effort and improvement antway, and not accomplishments.

TXBaller

April 17th, 2014
1:59 pm

MilledgevilleMonk – I agree with most everything you write dude. With one exception…giving up 550 yards passing to Mason and three knuckleheads is far from a good job. JP has a tough job ahead of him until “HIS” talent from recruiting shows up. The current talent on D is just not there….especially in the secondary. Excuses of youth, injury, blah, blah, blah….the talent just ain’t there! I respect JP for calling a spade a spade!

WDE

April 17th, 2014
2:19 pm

If I remember correctly in the only college match up between UGA/Murry vs LSU/Mett ….UGA won.How that roll into the “spring” performance BS ?

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

April 17th, 2014
2:21 pm

Funny how Saban seems more negative about where his team is and needs to be all the time and he wins big

Funny how every year there is so much hype coming from UGA practices the past 30 years only to transition into yet another 3 or more loss season with a warm bowl somewhere in FL

Funny how Pruitt isnt hyping up anything as we have continued to see year after year for the last 30 years; he calls it like it is and some fans seem to be upset

Now Im beginning to see why programs like Auburn with less talent than UGA; have had 3 undefeated seasons; 2 National title appearances (should have had a 3rd) 1 National Title in the last 20 years and UGA hasnt done much of nothing

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
2:27 pm

In hindsight, a 2-4 game suspension would have been more fitting as a punishment for Mettenberger. I do think Richt missed on Mettenberger, naming Murray the starter after GDAY, before Mett’s incident. richt also missed on Nick Marshall.

But, my point was, GDAY has been right on as an indicator of Qb big game performance, Cox struggled on 2009 GDay, and struggled in big games, Murray struggled on GDay in 2010-2012, and performed poorly in big games those 3 years. Murray did well on GDay 2013, performed well in big games in 2013. Mettenberger performed well on GDay, did excellent in big games his career.

So, at Qb, GDay wunderkinds, do become big game stars in the regular season, if you can’t do in front of 40,000 at Qb, when the pressures on, you probably won’t do well later either.

Mett outplayed Murray in every head to head matchup, at UGA or at LSU, check the stats===yards, td’s accuracy, qbr, whatever, Mett wins.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
2:28 pm

Saban’s been very positive about his team this Spring.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

April 17th, 2014
2:33 pm

This spring

Unfortunately that wasnt the case when winning his national titles

WDE

April 17th, 2014
2:38 pm

Sorry all I hear is that Murray didn’t play well in big games…didn’t matter his STATS if UGA lost it was Murray’s fault no matter his STATS…now I hear Mett was better head to head vs Murray in a game Murray’s team won….color me confused.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
3:52 pm

Ok, if you want to go to the past, can’t get more positive as a coach than Pete Carroll, he won 2 Natl Championships at USC, and just won the SuperBowl. So you win big without beating your players down all the time like Jeremy “The Cup is half empty” Pruitt does. Pruitt’s a leaking faucet whiner. I don’t see any players speaking well of his Mr Negativity game he’s playing. If he’s such a great coach, how comes his secondary got torched for 500 yards passing on GDay? That was his unit, he’s the secondary coach. Never happened under Scott Lakatos never got torched for 500 yards passing on GDay or any other game. Fans didn’t get what they paid for on GDay from HIM. His effort was LACKING.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
4:05 pm

GDAY 2010-2012, Murray struggled, it predicted he would in big game sin those years, and he did.

His passer rating 2012:
No 21 was ranked teams
2011
No 39 vs ranked teams
2010
No 24 vs ranked teams

Murray had a good GDay in 2013, and finished No 12 vs ranked teams in passer effic vs ranked teams.

Alabama was top 10 vs ranked teams 3 out of 4 years in passer effic.

South Carolina was top 20 vs ranked teams 3 out of 4 seasons in passer effic.

Mett had a great spring game, and finished No 4 in the nation vs ranked teams in passer effic in 2013.

Cox had a poor GDay in 2009 and finished No 37 vs ranked teams in passer effic.

It’s been right on the money at predicting how Qb’s will perform in big games.

NoAxeToGrind

April 17th, 2014
4:15 pm

Thus speaks “Company Man” King in all his wisdom. There are several ways Richt could have handled the Mettenbeger case other then the way he did. For example: He could have snatched M’s scholarship and kicked him off the team for a year with the proviso that if M walked the straight and narrow for the next academic year, he could be reinstated with a full scholarship. Any transgretion in the future , however, no matter how trivial, would result in his being kicked off the team permanently. Guess your boy Richt never thought of that, “Company Man”? Richt evidently doesn’t believe in second chances like the “Mad Hatter”.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
4:22 pm

Best news out of GDay was Hutson Mason.

Mettenberger finished No 4 nationally vs ranked teams in passer effic.

LSU 2013 Spring game vs UGA 2014 Spring game:
Mettenberger: 237 yards
Mason 241

Mettenberger: 63% accurate
Mason 67%

Seems to indicate Hutson will be money (top 5 nationally) in 2014 vs ranked teams in passer effic.

GDay, when it comes to predicting how QB’s perform in big games, has been dead on for 5 years.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

April 17th, 2014
4:23 pm

wow we are going to use the past defensive coaching staff as an example

that was really good; they really did a good job giving up 30+ to almost every ranked team we played

and they ranked 58th in passing

I really like that last minute pass in the Auburn game you know the one Lakatos should have been telling his secondary to bat the ball down

Great examples

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
4:43 pm

What in the world has Jeremy Pruitt done since he’s been at UGA? He didn’t recruit a high ranked secondary player, so he’s not going to be bailed out. And his secondary just got torched for nearly 600 passing yards. He is absolutely HORRIBLE and gets a F- for effort so far, he needs to step up his game. He’s had all Spring to get ready for GDay and our impression of him is his secondary gives up nearly 600 yards passing?

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
4:46 pm

I think his approach of being negative Johnny all Spring flopped on GDay when he got torched for 600 passing yards. His secondary unit he coaches didn’t perform well for him.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

April 17th, 2014
5:02 pm

Pruitt has been here less than 4 months with Granthams players and he gets an F for effort

ok

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

April 17th, 2014
5:02 pm

Bill King

April 17th, 2014
5:40 pm

I thought Murray put that can’t-win-a-big-game thing to rest with three in a row over Florida and this past season’s very big wins over South Carolina and LSU. And if it hadn’t been for a poor play from the defense on a hail Mary pass, you would have had to add Auburn to that list.

bham dawg

April 17th, 2014
5:51 pm

Milledge… you are an idiot in every meaning of the word.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
5:56 pm

Murray played well in big games vs South Carolina and LSU in 2013 I agree.

He didn’t do well vs Florida normally, threw at least 3 interceptions a game a couple of times lately. I’d attribute Muschamp as the key factor to the recent wins.

I am not convinced that Murray put to rest his other past 3 years of tape, I wouldn’t get near him if I were drafting a Qb looking at his overall 4 year record vs ranked teams, 5-15, and vs top 10 teams, 2-10, and now his 2 leg injuries, 1 in high school, 1 in college, from what I’ve read, teams havn’t even had him out for looks, where all kinds of teams are asking Mettenberger to come out for a look.

But we will see when the NFL draft comes around who’s right.

I predict Mettenberger will go much higher than Murray and have a much better NFL career than Murray (if Murray ever even starts a game).

I’d pick Connor Shaw over Murray, anyday, based on how he played in the big games and his post-season wins. Murray was 1-4 in the postseason, and threw a ton of interceptions in those 5 career defining games.

Charleston Dawg

April 17th, 2014
6:11 pm

^^^ best comment so far. Milledge, you clearly don’t get it at all. If you really think Pruitt was going to show any type of scheme for other colleges to get film on our NEW defense, then you are an idiot. There may be film of FSU’s and UGA’s 2013 defenses, but nobody but UGA and Pruitt knows what we’ll run this year. By being having an extremely basic/base defense the entire time, I hope our QBs would pick it apart (including your lock for Top 5 nationally ranked Mason). Take a step back and think before you continually post comments that don’t deserve reading.

Charleston Dawg

April 17th, 2014
6:12 pm

the “^^^ best comment so far” remark was aimed at bham dawg by the way.

Jason 73

April 17th, 2014
6:53 pm

MilledgevilleMonk

I agree with a alot of what you say. Mason also did this with alot of weapons on the bench dealing with injury. No Rome, Mitchell, or Scott-Wesley. Murray was a good QB. Gun-slinger, and yes he was turnover prone, but do not underestimate the pressure to perform beside a D that gives up a ton of points and big plays. Not to mention a substandard OL.

Gunner

April 17th, 2014
6:58 pm

I would think AMurray’s sacks, and intercptions, and height would be big concerns to NFL execs, apart from his injuries and big game recrod.. He also never had that big come from behind win, Mason already had one against Tech.

SECFAN

April 17th, 2014
7:10 pm

It is funny you use the word “stupid” Stupid!

twelveofthirteen

April 17th, 2014
7:42 pm

@Monk; you have the right to express your opinion and do not seem to have a problem doing it. Doesn’t mean you are right. Pretty stupid spring game performance comparison. You are obviously a grass is always greener person. Ask LSU fans how they felt about Mett and if you think Marshall could run our offense you are dumber than you already appear.

Love how all the games you reference only had one player on the UGA team participating and determining if UGA won (Murray). Do you think maybe it is possible there were other players, coaches, factors that led to UGA winning or losing? Really?

Pruitt coached one spring game and you have already determined he isn’t any good either. You see and know so much more than the rest of us. Maybe UGA should just replace the entire staff and team with you and only you since it is a one man show each week according to you.

dawgfan

April 17th, 2014
8:05 pm

Kudos to Pruitt for not blowing smoke up the rears of the Kool Aid crowd. We need a coach that isn’t afraid to tell them things they don’t want to hear. I’m tired of all the Richtspeak.

It makes me ill.

PhotoDawg

April 17th, 2014
8:19 pm

a few thoughts:
a) if murray couldn’t play well in big games because of a weak oline, that’s a red flag to an NFL guy unless they have a great oline, high drafts usually don’t have good olines
b) yes, pruitt’s alarmist scare tactics did not inspire the unit he is responsible for, 586 yards later, he needs to go back to the well and try something new, dismal failure in attempt #1. Let’s hope he adapts.
c) hutson mason looked impressive. to think he didn’t have 6 of his starters in k marshall, michel, chubb, scott-wesley, mitchell, or rome. how in the word did he complete 70% for 242 yards?
d) all the garbage about simplifying the defense, made it too easy for hutson & bauta to pick apart, little scary thinking about what spurrier or debo might have done to pruitt’s schemes if one of the back up qb’s threw for 238 yards.
e) pruitt;s secondary committed a lot of pass interference penalties or mason would have thrown for 400 yards on him.
f) one thing I like to hutson mason has thrown 0 interceptions in the spring games. wow, against the coach that had the top scoring defense last year? the kid might win some games if he keeps that streak going.

Charleston Dawg

April 17th, 2014
8:52 pm

Just gonna throw this out there PhotoDawg but if we start 4 running backs, we’re in trouble (Gurley, Marshall, Michel, and Chubb). If that’s the case, then I guess we’ll be playing with 5 OLine, Mason, either a TE or WR and 4 RBs so it makes your “c)” point moot.

About our back up QB throwing for 200+ yards, keep in mind it’s his 3rd spring in Bobo’s offensive scheme vs. our entire defense’s first spring in Pruitt’s new scheme. I’d hope he’d be a bit more comfortable in his role.

And again, it’s been a well-known point that Pruitt is going to focus on fundamentals, tackling, and ball pursuit more so than schematics. You must truly underestimate the value of schemes and trying to confuse offenses with coverages.

I think it’s completely foolish to judge Pruitt and his defense before a game that actually counts occurs. As mentioned before, how many times has a spring star flamed out before the chance to perform during the Fall when it really counts?

CHDawg

April 17th, 2014
9:46 pm

WDE, sound logic…color me a Murray fan, too. To the Pruitt detractors: he has been pretty successful, so why don’t we wait and see what he produces. If he gives up 30+ points a game and the D looks out of position and confused then maybe our talent is defective, but you never know, he could usher in some improvement. Richt hired Pruitt, so maybe Richt saw something in him that would help the team. That is what Coaches do–put together a staff and team to win football games the right way. I like the moves, and I like what I am hearing out of the new staff members–lose weight, more muscle, more hustle, prove yourself on the field. Just what we need imo.

CHDawg

April 17th, 2014
9:53 pm

One other point on GDay: remember the coaches control some of the outcome to achieve their objectives. Reducing the stunts puts more pressure on the D backfield and it gives the QBs more time. There were several times when QBs would have been sacked and had the D cut loose they would have made it harder on the O. I wouldn’t read too much into GDay. Pruitt might have designed the day to put a lot of pressure on his boys.

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
10:24 pm

CHDawg, are you suggesting Pruitt would intentionally not put his players in position to excel, but to fail, in order to put more pressure on them? Really? Keep in mind Bauta was “live”, and he hung 230+ yards on Pruitt.

I think some feel Pruitt’s done nothing yet as a DC in the SEC, his only track record as DC vs an SEC quality opponent, was Auburn, and they scored over 30+ points, and ran for over 200 yards on him.

I don’t know if his ACC success will work over here in the SEC.

It’s like Hutson Mason and Faton Bauta were saying “Welcome to the SEC Coach Pruitt”

Why don’t we judge him on giving up all those yards, it was his unit, who else is responsible for the defensive secondary’s pass defense numbers?

MilledgevilleMonk

April 17th, 2014
10:36 pm

I really question Pruitt’s strategy here. I understand he doesn’t want to name a starter, hoping that 3rd grade tactic will trick the players, who all know right now who the starting 11 will be on defense, into trying harder.

He’s giving 3 guys equal reps in practice to keep his starters guessing? Is this smart, repping a 3rd string guy, who will never play a down, equally as much as your starter? I say, name the starters, start reppping them, and if they don’t work hard to keep their position, start reppping the depth chart.

But these childish games, are stupid, not working to inspire his players, and wasting valuable time for the starters.

Bill King

April 17th, 2014
10:37 pm

Gunner:
Murray led Georgia to a come-from-behind win over LSU.

RJ

April 18th, 2014
5:45 am

How many times did Murray bring the team back to only see the defense give up big plays and eventually lose the game Auburn and Alabama to name just a few. He played great for UGA period . As far as where he will get drafted compared to others who cares the college game is different and many times great college players aren’t as suited for the NFL and vice versa. I could care less about that side of it if they play great for UGA. Murray may surprise some as he is very talented and is Pro ready because of the offense he ran at UGA but regardless this has little to do with his or any college kids performance at the college level.

CHDawg

April 18th, 2014
6:57 am

Monk, yep that is exactly what happens in a football practice. Coaches place players in varied situations to see how they will react. For instance, they go seven on seven to isolate the passing game completely. They put QBs in black jerseys. I’m sure that even Tech coaches use such tactics! You can watch a copy of the GDay tape and hear CMR and the CSS folks discussing what goes on at a football practice if you want. You may think football is a “childish” and “stupid” game, but it is a pretty successful enterprise.

Jason 73

April 18th, 2014
8:22 am

Pruitt will form the depth chart when they begin practice for the season. He said all players would get even number of reps in the spring to see the talent he had on the team. he is installing his D, and he needs to find out who he has that can run his scheme. The D was so bad last year that he has to start over from the foundation. I tend to believe the talent is not there in the secondary. I know JJ is a talented athlete but to come straight over to the D from the O and rep first team D the whole spring speaks volumes, as does the walk on Davis.

Buzz-Off

April 18th, 2014
9:07 am

@milledgeville,

I love how you keep using the word “stupid” to describe CMR….especially at 12:48 yesterday. There is no question in my mind that Mettenberger and Marshall would not have started ahead of Murray if they had not been kicked-out for their horrendous behavior. Also, Marshall will never play QB at the next level. He was a great DB and would be recruited in the first round THIS year had he stayed at UGa.
I sincerely believe YOU are the stupid one!!!