About an hour after the Georgia men’s basketball team finishes its SEC tournament opener against Auburn at the Georgia Dome this afternoon, the Bulldogs’ football team will hit the field in Athens for the start of spring practice. I’ll be at the Dome, and Andy Johnston will be covering football practice. There’s much SEC tournament coverage on AJC.com today, but I know some of you might be looking for football fodder on the first day of spring ball. So here, culled from a full preview of Georgia spring practice that ran in Sunday’s paper, are three key issues facing the Bulldogs:
1. Rebuilding the receiver corps: While A.J. Green trains for the NFL draft, Georgia faces the daunting task of replacing arguably the best receiver in school history. The Bulldogs also must replace last season’s second most productive receiver, Kris Durham, who completed his eligibility. Rising junior Tavarres King, the leading returning receiver with 27 catches last season, will line up at flanker “to have an opportunity to do some of the things A.J. was doing,” coach Mark Richt said. Coaches will look for others to emerge this spring from a group that includes Marlon Brown, Rantavious Wooten, Michael Bennett, Israel Troupe and early enrollee Chris Conley. “I think there are plenty of guys who can make plays for us,” Richt said, “and young guys coming in [this summer] who are going to be hungry.”
2. Shoring up the offensive line: Expected to be a pillar of last season’s team, the unit underachieved. With the graduation of starters Clint Boling and Josh Davis, the departure of coach Stacy Searels to Texas and the hiring of Will Friend from UAB as Searels’ replacement, the offensive line bears watching closely this spring. Ben Jones is back for his fourth season as the starting center, and Trinton Sturdivant and converted guard Cordy Glenn are the almost-certain starters at left and right tackle, respectively. “The guard spots are really up for grabs right now,” Richt said. Rising sophomore Kenarious Gates, who started three games last season, is a leading candidate for one of the spots.
3. Filling the holes at linebacker: Georgia must replace three of last season’s four starters at the position — Justin Houston, a possible first-round NFL draft pick who started all 13 games at outside linebacker; Akeem Dent, the team’s leading tackler who started 13 games at inside linebacker; and Darryl Gamble, who started seven games on the outside. The linebacker group also lost a coach with the departure of inside linebackers coach Warren Belin to the Carolina Panthers; he was replaced by Kirk Olivadotti, hired from the Washington Redskins. At inside linebacker, the Bulldogs will count on Christian Robinson, who started 10 games last season, and converted safety Alec Ogletree. At outside linebacker, the leading candidates to start are Cornelius Washington and USC transfer Jarvis Jones. Prized signee Ray Drew will join the OLB competition in August.
– Tim Tucker, AJC