- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Schedule: Georgia begins spring practice March 20 and concludes with the G-Day Game, 2 p.m. ET April 14 at Sanford Stadium.
What's new: For the first time in a long time, the Bulldogs enter spring ball without any coaching changes. Georgia let its coaches know how much the 2011 season meant by giving extensions to head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The Bulldogs also went through mat drills before spring practice, something they didn't do last year. Georgia welcomed three early enrollees in running back Keith Marshall, quarterback Faton Bauta and junior college offensive lineman Mark Beard.
On the mend: Wide receiver Chris Conley could be limited this spring with a wrist injury. Also, outside linebacker/defensive end Sterling Bailey had foot surgery in December and could be limited. Receiver Rantavious Wooten is coming off of a season in which he battled concussion symptoms for most of the year after being in a car accident, but he's expected to be completely recovered this spring.
On the move: One of the biggest moves in the SEC revolves around receiver Malcolm Mitchell. After quite the freshman season, Mitchell will work at cornerback this spring, because Georgia's numbers there are so low. Mitchell was one of the best in the conference at receiver in 2011, but with Georgia needing more help at cornerback, he could see more playing time on defense rather than offense this fall. Bailey was listed as an outside linebacker last season, but there's a chance that he could move to defensive end this spring. Ray Drew will also get more reps at defensive end, after playing outside linebacker last fall. He's likely to get more reps than Bailey, considering he played more and Bailey is recovering from surgery. Richard Samuel, who moved back to running back from linebacker last fall, could get reps at fullback as well.
Questions: The cornerback spot will be very thin heading into the 2012 season. Thanks to attrition, dismissals and suspensions, Mitchell moved to corner. There is starting experience, but depth is an issue, and Sander Commings has been suspended for the first two games. With Commings and Branden Smith the only vets, Georgia will have to rely on youngsters will little experience this spring. Damian Swann, Devin Bowman and Blake Sailors will have to grow up fast. The offensive line lost starters Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson, and returns zero seniors this season. All 14 who will partake in spring practice are underclassmen. The good news is that there is depth, and a lot of players can play different positions, but it's a pretty inexperienced group. Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee all started games last season, but they'll have to coach up a lot of younger players this spring. And you can't forget about the running back spot. Isaiah Crowell has vowed to work harder, and has had the most time since he arrived to be healthy, so a big spring is expected. He'll need it, with Marshall on campus and ready to see a lot some time this fall.
Getting defensive: The Bulldogs return nine defensive starters from a unit that ranked fifth nationally last season. Those returners include the SEC's top sack man in linebacker Jarvis Jones. Complementing Jones on what is arguably the SEC's top linebacking unit are Alec Oglreetree, Cornelius Washington, and Mike Gilliard. The massive John Jenkins is back at nose guard, and Abry Jones, who is coming off a solid 2011, is back at end. There certainly are questions in the secondary, but having starters Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams, Smith, and eventually Commings, will help tremendously
Don't forget about: With defense being in Mitchell's future, Georgia's offense will take a hit, but the Bulldogs aren't without bodies at receiver. Mitchell is easily Georgia's best receiver, but there is still some good talent behind him. Tavarres King hopes his bowl performance is a springboard for this season. He didn't put up stellar numbers, but became a more reliable target in the second half of the season. Then you have Michael Bennett, who really came on as a third option at receiver, catching 32 passes and five touchdowns. Conley will be limited, but proved to be a trusted target last season. Of course, Wooten and Marlon Brown are still looking to put everything together, but time is ticking for these two vets. It's time for them to step up this spring, and the coaches feel both have the physical tools and understand the offense enough to make it happen.
Breaking out: Brown appears to be the healthiest he's been since arriving in Athens. The coaches have been waiting and waiting for him to step up and be a force in the passing game, but he's been so off-and-on during his career. He enters the spring with high expectations from the coaching staff, and his quarterback, Aaron Murray, has a lot of confidence in him. Tight ends Jay Rome and Arthur Lynch are players who could break through this spring, especially with Mitchell working on defense. Rome and Lynch will be looking to replace Orson Charles' production. Running back Ken Malcolme is another player to keep an eye on. His attitude has changed, and he will push to be the second or third running back. Defensively, linebacker Cornelius Washington is another players the coaches hope elevates his play this spring and finally reaches his potential.
All eyes on: Murray is coming off two seasons in which he broke Georgia passing records, but the redshirt junior still hears some criticism. His play in big games has been called into question because of the mistakes he's made. Georgia opened the season with two losses against ranked teams, and ended the season that way. In Murray's past four games, he threw eight touchdowns and six interceptions, including two interceptions in the SEC title-game loss against LSU, and two in the Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State. Improving the little things and trusting those around him more will help Murray tremendously this spring. He'll also have the responsibility of making sure this team is mentally ready for all the hype and the spotlight that will come with a team that will surely be a favorite in the SEC East this fall.
2dSam Khan Jr.
3dSam Khan Jr.