ATHENS – Georgia wrapped up its spring practice with a surprisingly exciting G-Day Game on April 14, won by the offense-oriented Red team 32-31 over the Black.
But, truthfully, there is really not much anyone can take out of a spring scrimmage. Did the offense look good or was the defense bad, etc.? Georgia coach Mark Richt probably put it all in perspective the best when he talked this week about the Bulldogs’ spring accomplishments.
“The most exciting thing for me might have been the fact that no one had an injury that would last more than a week or two after spring ball,” Richt said. “Right now the entire team should be healthy beginning in June to go through the entire off-season program. So if we don’t have any setbacks this summer, when we roll into camp it might be the first time since I’ve been at Georgia that we don’t have somebody in the red cross area. So that’s good.”
Cornerback/wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring), freshman tailback Keith Marshall (hamstring) and safety Shawn Williams (knee) all missed the spring game with minor injuries, while offensive linemen Zach DeBell (ankle) and Xzavier Ward (knee) and defensive end Sterling Bailey (foot) sat out while recovering from preexisting injuries.
But there were a few tangible conclusions we could make from the 15-practice spring period:
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER(S)
The good news for Georgia is there were several candidates in this area. But for the sheer expanse of improvement made, Justin Scott-Wesley has to be at the top of the list.
The redshirt freshman wide receiver was completely raw as a skill player when he arrived from Camilla as a true freshman last summer. And despite splitting his time with the track team – he’s a multiple state championship sprinter – this 6-foot, 220-pound athlete showed great promise and turned a lot of heads both in the practices and the spring game. Scott-Wesley led the Red team with three catches for 46 yards, including a 21-yarder for a first down on third and long that required him to go up high and haul in a pass over his outside shoulder with senior cornerback Branden Smith on his inside hip in tight coverage. Scott-Wesley competed his way into the playing rotation for this fall.
Honorable mentions: Offensive lineman Kolton Houston, linebacker Ramik Wilson, tailback Ken Malcome and tight end Jay Rome.
POSITION BATTLE RESULTS
Georgia was left with three major voids on the offensive line due to the graduation left tackle Cordy Glenn, center Ben Jones and right tackle Justin Anderson. The most important of these position battles ended up not being one as junior Kenarious Gates (6-foot-5, 328 pounds) grabbed the left tackle job by the throat and never let go.
Meanwhile, Houston (6-5, 291) turned out to be the unexpected winner of the sweepstakes at right tackle. After missing all last season with NCAA “eligibility issues,” Houston was expected to earn playing time at one of the guard positions. But midway through camp, line coach Will Friend decided to give him a look out wide and the former Under Armour All-American from Buford out-performed Watts Dantzler and Austin Long at the position and came out as the starter.
Sophomore David Andrews (6-2, 280) appears to have held onto the center job. But Friend continues to experiment by working larger players in there such as Chris Burnette (6-2, 313) and Dallas Lee (6-4, 303) in the hopes of eventually settling on the five best overall players. Also, 5-star signee John Theus will be thrown into the mix in August.
“There’s no question we made a lot of progress up front,” Richt said. “As the spring went on, we got a little more settled in the top five. . . . We have other guys fighting for spots, and we have freshmen who can come in and fight for a position as well.”
Georgia enjoys more quality depth on the defensive line – followed closely by linebackers — than at any other position on the field and it’s for that reason that the Bulldogs have to be in the SEC championship conversation.
Georgia features a pair of 350-pound noseguards in John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers that are the envy of any of the top programs in college football, much less the SEC. Meanwhile, under-appreciated end/tackle Abry Jones is back, Cornelius Washington proved to be a beast in his move to defensive end from outside linebacker and Garrison Smith, who played a lot of quality snaps late last season, was un-blockable at times.
Combine that with an All-American pass rusher in Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker, seasoned veterans Alec Ogletree, Michael Gillard and Christian Robinson at inside linebacker and versatile up-and-comers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, and the Bulldogs feature one of the most formidable front sevens in football.
AREA OF CONCERN
It didn’t look like it at the end of last season, but Georgia’s defensive secondary is suddenly the biggest question mark. The Bulldogs already knew they would be without Hornung Award winner Brandon Boykin, who will be selected in the early rounds of this week’s NFL draft. But then All-America free safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Smith ran into off-season trouble and face multiple-game suspensions early in the season. So shaky is the situation that UGA’s coaches made the bold decision to move Mitchell, their most explosive offensive play-maker, from wideout to corner to shore up depth.
Meanwhile, Georgia is relying on a pair of freshman signees in Collin Barber and Marshall Morgan to step in punter and place-kicker, respectively. That’s a challenge in itself but especially when replacing such special teams stalwarts as Drew Butler and Blair Walsh.
QUESTION GOING INTO SUMMER
Soon after news leaked of Rambo’s impending suspension due to a failed drug test, there was rampant speculation that several other players were facing disciplinary action due to similar violations of athletic department policy. Georgia has already lost 10 players to transfer, dismissal or suspension, so the Bulldog Nation will be holding its collective breath in hopes that the team remains intact come September.