Georgia’s top five priorities heading into preseason football camp are . . .

Georgia coach Mark Richt, here flanked by All-Americans Bacarri Rambo (L) and Jarvis Jones at the Atlanta Sports Awards this past February, will be leaning hard on his defense in 2012.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, here flanked by All-Americans Bacarri Rambo (L) and Jarvis Jones at the Atlanta Sports Awards this past February, will be leaning hard on his defense in 2012.

ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs will take their first steps toward becoming the team they will be in 2012 when 105 players jog onto Woodruff Practice Fields on Thursday for the first of 28 practices.

Despite a tumultuous offseason, there is an underlying optimism. The Bulldogs, 10-4 last season, are favored to repeat as SEC Eastern Division champions largely because they return 15 of the top 17 tacklers from a top-5, nationally-ranked defense and an All-SEC quarterback in Aaron Murray.

But for Georgia to realize its goal of returning to the SEC Championship game — and winning it this time — several issues have to be resolved during preseason camp. Here are the top five priorities going in:

1. IDENTIFY OFFENSIVE LINE

Nothing is more crucial to the Bulldogs’ success this season than being able piece together a competitive offensive line. It’s hard enough to replace three starters that totaled 19 feet, 2 inches in height and 983 pounds of mass and will all play in the NFL this season. But then you add the uncertainty surrounding the lineup and therein lay the possibility of disaster.

Heading into Tuesday night’s team meeting, nobody was sure whether Kolton Houston was going to be available this season or not. That’s a big deal considering the Bulldogs determined in the spring he is their best option at right tackle. Houston was suspended for a year by the NCAA for violating one of their policies and must be cleared by the college football’s governing body for his eligibility to be restored.

Richt’s last word on the subject was, “I wish I had an answer for that. I still don’t have an answer on whether he’ll be eligible.”

With Houston, the Bulldogs appear set at right tackle and could possibly move an experienced player to center. Without Houston, undersized and rarely-used sophomore David Andrews will have to get the job done at center and true freshman John Theus may be the next best option at right tackle. Whatever combination Georgia goes with it needs to get established quickly and because continuity is often key to consistent offensive line play.

“They’re a little bit of a focal point as far as needing to prove they can do it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “In offensive line play, just coordinating five guys to hit the right guy is big. But these guys are very sharp. If we can get five guys that will fight like mad and put the right hat on every guy we can function pretty well; if you have the right skill people at quarterback, which we do.”

2. ESTABLISH CHEMISTRY

Perhaps number 1-A as far priorities preseason camp is establishing good team chemistry and positive momentum for the season. The Bulldogs encountered a tumultuous offseason that saw players arrested, dismissed or suspended. Some transferred and some left and came back. As a result, the program has been questioned about the character of the players it recruits.

Such scrutiny can tear teams apart or it forge them together in an unbreakable bond. Obviously Georgia players believe the latter will be the case.

“As a team, we’re going to lose individuals,” All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “But we’ve got to stay focused on what we have. We’ve got some leaders on this team, myself, Abry [Jones], Aaron [Murray], T.K. [Tavarres King]. All of us have stood up and had words. We told the guys, ‘y’all know what we have here; y’all know why we came back; y’all know what the goal is.’ We have one of the best [coaching] staffs in the nation and we’ve got the whole Bulldog Nation behind us. So the more we stick together and the more things we do right, the more we can pave our way to where we want to go.”

3. RESOLVE SECONDARY SITUATION

With the exception of announcing a two-game suspension for cornerback Sanders Commings, who pleaded guilty in a misdemeanor domestic violence case this past February, Georgia has never acknowledged reportedly-imminent suspensions for three other defensive starters. Two of those players – All-America free safety Bacarri Rambo and senior cornerback Branden Smith – also play in the defensive backfield.

Based on personnel moves made in the spring, the Bulldogs clearly expect something to come down. They moved Malcolm Mitchell, arguably their most explosive wide receiver, over to cornerback. And while he’s expected to eventually play both sides of the ball, he’ll be concentrating on defense in camp. That’s a risky proposition that has to work for Georgia to get past pass-happy Missouri in Game 2.

“The main reason for [moving Mitchell to defense full time] is we want him to be able to function on any given down, distance or situation,” Richt said. “I’m not saying he’s going to play every single down on defense. I don’t know if anybody plays every down any more. But I want him to be able to understand our scheme will enough where coach [Todd] Grantham will have every opportunity to do whatever what he might want to do or call in the game. So we’re getting him ready to play as much defense as he can.”

Less discussed and just as critical is having little-used sophomores Corey Moore and Connor Norman come through at safety.

4. DETERMINE PECKING ORDER IN BACKFIELD

Of course, the most publicized departure for Georgia in the offseason was the dismissal of tailback Isaiah Crowell after his summer arrest on weapons charges. All the talk of losing a bad apple aside, the fact is the Bulldogs lost their most talented and proven rushing threat. In fact, coupled with the transfer of rising senior Carlton Thomas, Georgia lost 1,221 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns off last year’s team.

The Bulldogs have somewhat of a known commodity in redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome, who enters camp as the No. 1 tailbacl. But to address depth concerns, they will again depend on Richard Samuel to ride to the rescue. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound senior was their best option at fullback before Crowell left. Now he’ll move back to tailback fulltime and, early on at least, be counted on as the dependable back who knows every assignment and can be on the field in any situation.

Meanwhile, Georgia inked a player in Keith Marshall that many recruiting services rated the No. 1 tailback prospect in America. The Bulldogs signed four-star back Todd Gurley, too. But since Marshall was able to enroll early and participate in spring practice, he stands as the most likely newcomer to be able to step in and contribute early. Georgia needs him to come through.

“Keith is the only one I could say how ready I think he’ll be,” Richt said. “He certainly has been diligent about learning what to do and that’s more than half the battle. He’s lived through a spring now, even though he had a hamstring injury. So he’s got a pretty good idea of what’s coming.”

That doesn’t even address the situation at fullback. Walk-on Merritt Hall enters camp atop the depth chart but everyone is eager to get a look at freshman Quayvon Hicks in action. He reportedly is a “rock-solid” physical specimen who now carries 265 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.

5. DEVELOP THE KICKING GAME

Georgia was supposed to have one of the most formidable kicking games in the nation this past season with punter Drew Butler and place-kicker Blair Walsh at the helm. Though it didn’t actually materialize that way, both players were snapped up by NFL teams and are gone now.

The Bulldogs will learn their true worth quickly as they break in freshmen at those respective positions. Punter Collin Barber of Cartersville and place-kicker Marshall Morgan were both rated among the best in the nation in high school. But being able to come through before 90,000 fans and national-television cameras as NFL wannabes bear down at full speed is a proposition nobody can prepare them for until they go through it

“It’ll be interesting,” Richt said. “I’m sure they will be nervous. Kickers and punters, maybe more than any other position, the better fundamentals they have and the more reps they can accumulate will help them. . . . They have powerful legs. There’s no question in my mind they have all the tools to get it done. But the first time you do anything I’m sure they’ll be nervous. I’m sure they’ll be nervous in practice. Certainly they’ll be nervous in ballgames if in fact they win the jobs. They have a good chance.”

None of the walk-on candidates distinguished themselves in the spring, so the Bulldogs need the newbies to come through.

155 comments Add your comment

McDawg

August 1st, 2012
11:44 am

OL and kicking game-i think the secondary will hold out thru suspensions-

Dawg Pound

August 1st, 2012
11:49 am

I’m really nervous about the Mizzou game, UGA always seems to be slow out of the gate.

Spike 80DF

August 1st, 2012
11:59 am

Agreed Dawg pound, Mizzou will be a huge test. I think their QB may still be hurt, anyone know if that’s the case?

Paddy

August 1st, 2012
12:00 pm

Chip……..Do you think that those suspensions will really happen?

Henne

August 1st, 2012
12:05 pm

I think they’ll do OK.

piermontdawgny

August 1st, 2012
12:06 pm

time to strap it on boys!

Ben

August 1st, 2012
12:10 pm

Chip, why do you use the adjective “little used” to describe sophomores?? Arent almost all sophomores little used? Doesnt this go without saying?

BankerDawg

August 1st, 2012
12:14 pm

Spike – I read somehwere that he had surgeryy in the offseason. But there are no reports that he wont be ready to go. I just dont see Missouri having an answer for our front 7. Yes, they are an explosive offense when given the time to throw it. But consider the fact that he is not going to have time and that he is depending on an incoming (highly touted) freshman to make plays. I say good luck with that. I dont think they score more than 20 on us and they dont have an answer for all of our offensive threats. The key is how much emphasis is on the running game. Yes, we can beat them by airing it out. But, it will let us know the offensive philosophy for the rest of the year. We will not beat SC. FLA, or even TN if we cant run the ball.

DGD!

August 1st, 2012
12:25 pm

Whats the deal with alexander ogletree. he seemed like he did a fair job a fb last year when called upon but has not been metioned and does not even appear on some depth charts. I think the sec will be fine. The o-line as is always is a huge concern. But i remember the last time the o-line was this big of a question mark they faired pretty well protecting DJ for the season and we won the SEC. Only time will tell. Get after it boys, its that time. yall shut these fools on these blogs the hell up!

Stiffneck

August 1st, 2012
12:33 pm

Mizzou’s dual threat QB should be at 100% for the game. He’s pretty good too. Got to keep him off the field with long drives and scores. Which means we have to have a running game. Forget the no huddle. Clock management is the key to the crowd and winning this thing.

Dawg-Gawn

August 1st, 2012
12:35 pm

Time to knock some heads… strap on the G. In the words of Raekwon McMillan… “down south Georgia Dawg’s baby, it’s how we get down”

Paddy

August 1st, 2012
12:40 pm

I guess I will have to admit it, I am the only Dawg fan that is not that concerned about our O-Line We had all those beefy stars the last 2 seasons and could not get it done I think this group will make us all proud with their consistent play.

Big Albany Dawg

August 1st, 2012
12:40 pm

@spencaman

August 1st, 2012
12:42 pm

Definitely weird that we have not heard any more info on the secondary suspensions at this point? I wonder hat they are?

David Granger

August 1st, 2012
12:45 pm

Georgia’s top 5 needs:

1. Stay out of legal trouble. Slap a damn curfew on the team, Coach Richt, if you have to. But we need you to ride herd on them, not be one of those “hands-off” coaches. Yes, I know they’re all over 18 and should be old enough to show some maturity…but they DON’T. So crack down…we need you to be a Charley Badass.

2. Have the team ready to play hard from the opening kickoff until the final gun. We’ve lost too many games over the past few years because it took us the entire first half to get going.

3. No STUPID penalties. There are always going to be some penalties if a team plays hard. But we’ve committed way too many dumbass penalties at critical moments of the game before. Let’s not help the other team keep a drive going.

4. Play to WIN the game…don’t just play not to lose. A draw play off-tackle on third and long is a smart call on occasion…but not five times in a row.

5. Continue to stress defense and kicking coverage.

It would be nice to see the team actually ACHIEVE to the level of its talent.

PMC

August 1st, 2012
12:45 pm

1 Health 2 Health 3 Staying Eligible 4 Protecting the Football 5 Scoring Enough Points

sic em DOODY

August 1st, 2012
12:50 pm

Whats the hold up on the new Uga? It’s kind of embarrassing! We need new BREEDERS!!!

Doobie Bros

August 1st, 2012
12:52 pm

1. No smokin weed. 2 Fire Bobo 3. the D needs to be nastier.

7576DAWG

August 1st, 2012
12:54 pm

The kicking game was a big problem for us last year but with the rule changes of kicking off at the 35 yard line I think most of our kick offs will be in the end zone. I also think most coaches will chose to down the ball and start on the 25 yard line instead of running it out. The extra five yards will allow our defense to get down the field faster and will make the 25 yard line look pretty good to our opponent.

Doobie Bros

August 1st, 2012
12:54 pm

4. beat gater 5. beat south carolina

Mark (another one)

August 1st, 2012
12:58 pm

1. Team first.
2. Ignore outsiders including bloggers and the press.
3. Learn to execute all assignments to the best of your abilities.
4. Attend all classes, tudoring sessions, and other academic or team appointments and functions.
5. Enjoy practicing, playing and representing the University of Georgia.

7576DAWG

August 1st, 2012
12:59 pm

The main priority will be to cut back on turnovers. Murray has got to limit big plays for the other teams defense.
The Offensive line is a concern but I think they will do better than everybody thinks. How quick our Tailbacks hit the line and Murray’s release will help more than anything.

chilidawg

August 1st, 2012
1:07 pm

The elusive “jelling of the offensive line” should be priority #1.

ARdawg

August 1st, 2012
1:12 pm

Chip

What is the deal on Zander Ogletree?

collegeballfan

August 1st, 2012
1:13 pm

The offense always depends on the OL.

Mobile Dawg

August 1st, 2012
1:16 pm

In no particular order, they are all equal ingredients IMO.
OL
Aaron Murray to develop into the reliable QB he’s “rated” to be.
Special Teams must improve
Improved game day coaching
Team Chemistry

Dawg Haus

August 1st, 2012
1:18 pm

Hurry up, September!!

Steamer Lane Bulldog

August 1st, 2012
1:22 pm

Glad we start out with Buffalo, so the kickers, young O line, and DB’s can get their feet wet.

idiotsavant

August 1st, 2012
1:29 pm

Wow. From the sound of this report, we’re going to lose every game. Buffalo is making me VERRRRRY nervous!

Grantham's The Man!

August 1st, 2012
1:31 pm

The NCAA needs to get off their whatchamacallit’s and clear Kolton Houston. It’s been a year! They really seem to like holding Ga hostage in these situations.

To bad they can’t treat Ga atleast as well as they do the teams that are really breaking the rules.

kingdaddy

August 1st, 2012
1:32 pm

Great blog so far, lots of very good insight. I have one that Mr. Granger touched on.
COACH MIKE BOBO IS THE KEY**** Making proper adjustments this year will keep UGA in all the games. He has to find ways to get the ball out on the edge better. Two tight-end sets, screens, swing passes, fullback out of the flats. These are the things that will “spread” the defense and open up the middle. Can Coach Bobo use his imagination this year? If the O-line is being manhandled, then bring in the T.E.s and fullbacks. Giving Murry time or not calling plays that take too long to develope. COACH BOBO MUST ADJUST TO KEEP THE DEFENSE OFF-BALANCE. If he does this and we can hold on to the ball, keeping turnovers to a min., then our Defense will take care of the rest…

north georgia fan

August 1st, 2012
1:34 pm

I’m surprised improvement of special teams play overall is not on the list, we are statistically on the bottom of the SEC and not so much punting and kicking as the poor coverage teams and being duped by trick plays.

kingdaddy

August 1st, 2012
1:41 pm

Special Teams learning to tackle and better communications with punter and gunners going after the right area’s and returners. No more kicking to anyone named Honey Badger or Jitter-Bug or Pocket-Rocket or Bottle-Rocket, lol…

Bubbatavious

August 1st, 2012
1:42 pm

1. Being outcoached, 2. getting burnt on trick plays.

kingdaddy

August 1st, 2012
1:44 pm

Kick it to Sweet-potato-pie or Pork-chop or anybody named after food…

Dawg Haus

August 1st, 2012
1:45 pm

Is Pocket-Rocket Mettenberger’s new name, kingdaddy? ;)

BigdaddyJ

August 1st, 2012
1:48 pm

Let us pray…

RHall55

August 1st, 2012
1:49 pm

UGA has the Bobo Factor (poor play calling)….the Will Friend Factor (lack of OL depth)….the VanHalenger Factor (keeping players on the field)…..the Rodney Garner Factor (poor management of roster depth)…..the Joe Tereshinski Factor (lasting all four quarters)…..time will tell if these these issues can be turned around….if not, cut bait and find another….ie: Willie Martinez!!!

kingdaddy

August 1st, 2012
1:52 pm

Be prepared to ADJUST in the second-half!!!
Never, ever go into a prevent Defense our “Safe” offense, I keep hearing The Red-Hot Chilli Peppers sing “Give it away now”, lol…

Steveo

August 1st, 2012
1:54 pm

I think the offense will struggle the 1st 3 or 4 games….Big D gotta carry us……after that if the Oline isnt set and we can’t find a running game, it’s gonna be a tough season…..and keep your fingers crossed on those young kickers!!

Keith

August 1st, 2012
1:56 pm

2012……9-3 (Missouri, Carolina and Florida). Not down on this team- just have learned from the past not to have high expectations. I think there has been still way to much drama in Athens coupled with a QB that has a tendancy to play bad in big games and there you have it.

kingdaddy

August 1st, 2012
1:57 pm

We also have The RHall Factor (Fans that give up and do little but complain about pretty much everything everytime they post) You forgot that one 55…

dawgfan

August 1st, 2012
1:58 pm

According to Tech fans we UGA fans always predict national titles for ourselves every single year. Did you guys know that? It was news to me, but they’re the smart ones so I guess we have to take their word for it. It would seem then that we have no priorities or concerns for this coming season other than travel arrangements for the BCS Title Game. What a dumb blog Chip. Just go ask a Tech fan what UGA fans think of UGA football. They know better than we do.

Thanks.

Wayne

August 1st, 2012
2:01 pm

9-3 seems about right; but could easily go to 10-2 or 8-4. If Arron Murray plays like he has the past 2 years (8-4); if he shows improvement we could pull out 10-2. My gut tells me of the two it lands at 8-4

G-Dawg

August 1st, 2012
2:02 pm

Conditioning and Sense of Urgency!!

Keith

August 1st, 2012
2:05 pm

Kingdaddy……We also have The RHall Factor (Fans that give up and do little but complain about pretty much everything everytime they post) You forgot that one 55….

tell me kingdaddy….what in the past three years has there been to get giddy about. I am 100 percent Dawg but am becomming tired of the same old crap year in and year out. Maybe if we can find a way to be a team in the top 20????

Carew Rowell

August 1st, 2012
2:05 pm

How bout blocking and tackling better? That’s an idea.

Just my opinion…

mike addington

August 1st, 2012
2:06 pm

first it was time management, then QB choice, then defense,now special teams. guess I’m the old geezer but I’ve yet to see a MR team that is as fundamentally sound all the way around as a VD team. With the exception of HW years, we won by playing fundamentals better than the other guys

Delbert D.

August 1st, 2012
2:08 pm

Mizzou won’t depend entirely on new #1 recruit WR Dorial Green-Beckham. They have the outspoken Mr. Everything TJ Moe returning at H-back. He had over 1,000 yards receiving with Gabbert in 2010 and 649 yds on 54 catches from Franklin last year.

IC

August 1st, 2012
2:11 pm

Yo cuz, i jis wanna wish all my homeboyz good luck dis yar, and wit practif startin tomorow. I be at Bama state totin da rock fo my new coach. yall be good. I jes need to do goood so I can get to da leage and get paid $$$$! Peace!