Checking in with the Georgia Bulldogs

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
6:00
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s football team has the talent to have a very special fall, but the spring has come with unwanted hiccups.

Georgia has dealt with too much suspension and attrition. The most glaring issue for the Bulldogs is that they’ll be without defensive starters Sanders Commings, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and Branden Smith to begin the season due to suspensions.

The losses of key starters, especially Commings, Rambo and Smith, who all patrol a pretty thin secondary, have Georgia players and coaches frustrated, but they’re pushing ahead as the second half of spring football bleeds into the true offseason.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
AP Photo/Stephen MortonSuspensions will leave Mark Richt thin in the secondary to begin the 2012 season.
“It robs some of the momentum that you’re trying to build and trying to create,” coach Mark Richt said. “It doesn’t destroy it unless you let it, but it’s just another thing that needs to be overcome.”

Georgia has had a rash of off-the-field incidents in the past calendar year, and when asked if he thought there was an invincibility complex with some of his players, Richt said he hoped not, but didn’t think that there was a discipline problem with his football team.

“The bottom line is that if there are things that need to be disciplined around here, we’ll discipline them,” he said. “We don’t treat a starter any different than a walk-on. We’ll discipline even if it hurts -- and it hurts sometimes.”

Georgia’s coaches are now having to plug more young players into first-team rotations on defense. While the Bulldogs have a handful of players to use at Ogletree’s middle linebacker spot, the same can’t be said for the secondary.

Georgia had to dip into its offense to get help at cornerback by inserting rising sophomore Malcolm Mitchell, who is coming off a solid SEC debut in 2011. Mitchell has received most of his work on defense this spring, and the consensus is that he’s taking hold of his new position, but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo isn’t ready to totally give Mitchell up to Todd Grantham and Georgia’s defense.

“I don’t plan on losing Malcolm Mitchell,” Bobo said.

In the meantime, Mitchell is looking to help a relatively young secondary in Athens. Coaches and players agreed that two youngsters currently standing out are Corey Moore and Damian Swann.

The depth in the secondary isn’t ideal, but Grantham said he isn’t concerned about numbers, or talent. He’s just looking for the development, and it’s slowly coming.

“The guys that we’ve got here are capable,” Grantham said.

Mitchell’s absence on offense also means that Bobo and quarterback Aaron Murray are both looking for more from younger wide receivers. Murray gushed about rising seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, who Murray said finally looks like he’s putting things together and is actually healthy. Bobo and Murray both stated that sophomores-to-be Michael Bennett and Chris Conley should continue to be reliable targets this fall.

But one player really sticking out to Richt is redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley. Though he sat out last fall and split time between track and throwing sessions before spring practice, Scott-Wesley has really impressed with his speed and athletic ability.

“He’s a track guy, but he’s a big, strong, physical guy,” Richt said. “He’s going to help out a lot this season. There’s no doubt about it.”

Where Georgia would really like to get more consistent this spring is on the offensive line. Bobo sees a lot of bodies there, but he’s still worried about depth. Right now, he likes what he’s seen from Kenarious Gates, Kolton Houston and Chris Burnette, but after that it’s a bit of a mystery.

Bobo said the second half of spring will be crucial to finding capable depth up front.

“We have three guys we feel good about,” he said. “We’re looking to find some depth. We’re actually trying to find five (linemen who can play).”

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