SEC: Dallas Lee

Georgia Bulldogs season preview

August, 8, 2014
8/08/14
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Bulldogs

2013 record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC). Lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Key losses: QB Aaron Murray, TE Arthur Lynch, DL Garrison Smith, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, S Tray Matthews, CB Shaq Wiggins, OT Kenarious Gates, OG Chris Burnette, OG Dallas Lee, DL Jonathan Taylor.

Key returnees: RB Todd Gurley, LB Ramik Wilson, LB Amarlo Herrera, OLB Leonard Floyd, OLB Jordan Jenkins, OT John Theus, CB Damian Swann, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Chris Conley, DE Ray Drew, C David Andrews, PK Marshall Morgan, WR Justin Scott-Wesley.

Instant impact newcomers: OLB Lorenzo Carter, RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, CB Malkom Parrish, DT Lamont Gaillard, DB Shattle Fenteng, TE Jeb Blazevich.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIAfter leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks as a freshman last season, big things are expected of Leonard Floyd in 2014.
Breakout player: Floyd. The lanky outside linebacker led Georgia with 6.5 sacks in 2013 and added 9.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. He’ll benefit from having a full year in Georgia’s conditioning program and could become a star in his second season.

Most important game: Sept. 13 at South Carolina. Two of the favorites in the SEC East will meet early in the season in Columbia, where the Gamecocks haven’t lost since 2011. They’ve beaten Georgia in their last two trips to Williams-Brice Stadium, including a 35-7 thrashing in 2012. The margin for error is typically narrow within the division, so the winner of this one will be the early team in the East driver’s seat.

Biggest question mark: The secondary is easily Georgia’s biggest area of concern. The Bulldogs’ pass defense was spotty at best in 2013, and the offseason departures of three regulars has left plenty of personnel questions. Coach Mark Richt kicked two starting safeties -- Harvey-Clemons and Matthews -- off the team, and cornerback Wiggins transferred to Louisville, so there is plenty of playing time available. Swann’s presence is big at cornerback, and converted running back J.J. Green was impressive in the spring, but junior college transfer Fenteng and Parrish will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in August.

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Missouri. This could be a tricky game that might not get as much attention as it deserves with matchups against Clemson, South Carolina, Florida and Auburn also on Georgia’s schedule. The defending SEC East champs lost a ton of firepower, so Mizzou seems likely to take a step backward. But it’s a long road trip that kicks off a stretch of more than a month when the Bulldogs won’t play at home once -- and it could easily become a loss if Georgia doesn’t have its act together.

Key stat: 36.7. The average score of a Georgia game was 36.7 to 29.0 in 2013. Even if what was an inexperienced defense improves this fall, the Bulldogs will still likely rely on their star-studded offense. They might need to keep scoring at that prolific clip, which is somewhat uncertain with three longtime starting offensive linemen to replace, to allow time for the defense and their new set of coaches to develop some continuity.

Team’s top Twitter follows: The Bulldogs have some good choices here. Seeing as how he’s never started a game, it might seem surprising that senior offensive lineman Watts Dantzler (@WattsDantzler) has 12,000 Twitter followers. But he’s a natural-born entertainer who has a nationwide following that grew substantially when he live tweeted a harrowing spring break trip back to Athens on a bus. Another good pick is tight ends coach John Lilly (@JohnLillyUGA), who is a much more creative on Twitter than the typical coach. Lastly, Conley (@_Flight_31) regularly updates his 27,400 followers on his latest film exploits; he produced and starred in a well-received “Star Wars” tribute film over the summer and has started work on a new movie in recent weeks.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Info: 9.06 wins

Bovada over-under: 9.5 wins

Our take: Georgia was better than an eight-win team last season, but the Bulldogs were absolutely decimated by injuries to key players like Mitchell, Gurley, Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and eventually Murray. If new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt can get things straight on his side of the ball, the ceiling is extremely high for this team. The offense has an impressive array of talent surrounding senior quarterback Hutson Mason and should be difficult to contain. If the Bulldogs open with a win against Clemson at Sanford Stadium, this could easily become a 10-2 or 9-3 season where Georgia is once again in the thick of the East race.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Like former Georgia teammate Zach Mettenberger a week before him, Aaron Murray wanted to prove that he’s close to full health at the Bulldogs’ pro day on Wednesday -- his first public passing session since tearing his left ACL last November.

Although he didn’t attempt more than 100 throws like Mettenberger did at LSU’s pro day last week, Murray’s battery of agility drills and a wide range of drops, rollouts and throws showed that he should be physically ready to compete when his future team opens rookie camp.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/John BazemoreAt Wednesday's pro day, Aaron Murray didn't show ill affects from his November ACL injury.
“I think I’ve shown everyone that they don’t have to worry about my injury, that it’s not going to stop me from being able to compete this year,” Murray said. “Now it’s just a matter of what teams like me, what teams don’t and is one going to draft me.”

Murray completed 48 of 54 throws with three drops in Wednesday’s passing session, which was directed by quarterback guru and former NFL assistant Terry Shea. Among Shea’s previous pre-draft clients are No. 1 overall picks Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford and No. 2 pick Robert Griffin III.

“I thought it went very well,” Shea said. “In four weeks that we’ve been together, I’ve never seen him favor that knee or anything. So I’m really excited that he’s healthy.”

In fact, Murray is apparently ahead of schedule in his recovery. Trevor Moawad, vice president at the EXOS/Athletes’ Performance facilities where Murray conducted his offseason workouts, said the training staff followed a similar rehab schedule as they did with Bradford, who was also coming off an injury when preparing for the 2010 draft.

“I think he’s ahead of probably where he should be at this time and I think come May 8 after the draft, I think he’s going to be able to show up at a team and be right where he needs to be,” Moawad said.

Murray was the featured attraction at Wednesday’s sparsely attended pro day, which represented a significant change from last year, when the Bulldogs had eight players drafted -- four in the first 85 picks -- and three more who made NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.

Murray (No. 129) is the only Bulldog listed among ESPN’s top 150 draft prospects, and only he and tight end Arthur Lynch received invitations to the NFL combine. Nonetheless, 15 former Bulldogs worked out Wednesday before the 23 NFL teams that had representatives on hand -- many of whom still harbor hopes of becoming late-round selections or undrafted free agents.

That group included offensive guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, both of whom snapped to the quarterbacks during passing drills, showing off what they hope teams will view as positional versatility.

“I feel like you get to the next level, they want to have a guy who’s a swingman, who can play multiple positions,” said Burnette, rated by ESPN as the draft’s No. 19 guard prospect. “I don’t want to limit myself to guard. I’ve had a little bit of experience playing center, so I tried to focus on my snaps and stuff like that during this time off. I think it was good for me to be able to do that.”

Another player hoping to catch an NFL club’s eye was defensive lineman Garrison Smith, who ranked fourth on the team with 63 tackles and added six sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Smith is hardly a flashy player, but said scouts who pay close attention to his performances on film will see an NFL-caliber player.

“I can do it all. I can look good in a T-shirt, I can look good in the birthday suit, it don’t matter. But I’m a football player,” joked Smith, rated by ESPN as the No. 34 defensive tackle prospect. “When them pads get on, it gets real serious. In them trenches, ask about me down there. I’ve got a lot of respect down there and I made a lot of plays.

“Look at game film, look at my stats. I had good games against good teams this year. I didn’t have no amazing games against teams that they say were less of opponents. I had good games against Florida, LSU, Tennessee. They’re supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Watch the film. That’s all I want people to see: I’m a good player.”

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt agreed with his former player’s assessment, noting that he would not be surprised to see Smith find a way to stick on an NFL roster like the three undrafted Bulldogs -- receiver Marlon Brown and defensive linemen Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones -- did a year ago.

“People will see his film. They’ll see his productivity,” Richt said. “From what I’m hearing, if he doesn’t get drafted, he’s going to get into a camp and get a chance to make it. We had Geathers last year didn’t get drafted and made a team. We had Abry Jones, I don’t think he was drafted [and] he made a team. I’m hoping he gets drafted, but if he doesn’t, he’ll get in camp and I think he’ll find a way to stick.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's win on Nov. 9 against Appalachian State wasn't just one of the last times we'll see this senior-laden version of the Bulldogs offense, it also served as a sneak preview of what lies ahead.

Following Saturday's date with Kentucky -- the final game at Sanford Stadium this season -- the Bulldogs will look entirely different on offense the next time they take the field before a home crowd. And many of the players who will take over for the likes of Aaron Murray and his fellow seniors next fall also filled their spots in the fourth quarter of Georgia's 45-6 win over the Mountaineers two weekends ago.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNBackup quarterback Hutson Mason is the frontrunner to start for the Bulldogs in 2014.
“I think the thing you can't get in practice is just that 95,000 [fans] with the atmosphere,” said junior Hutson Mason, Georgia's presumptive starting quarterback next season, who went 11-for-16 for 160 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State. “Really you can get everything [else] in practice. Our coaches, they believe in putting a lot of pressure on you so when it comes to the game, you're used to that feeling. But it's definitely a different atmosphere, different jitters.”

Assuming he wins the quarterback job, Mason will be in a convenient position next season. Georgia loses seven seniors -- Murray, tight end Arthur Lynch, receivers Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan and offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee -- who started on offense against Auburn. And yet the returning skill-position talent surrounding the Bulldogs' next quarterback will be as impressive as that of nearly any offense in the country.

Not only will tailback Todd Gurley return for his junior season, the Bulldogs expect to get receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall back from season-ending knee injuries that crippled the offense at points this fall. That's in addition to other returning weapons like receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph, tight end Jay Rome and tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and 2014 commitments Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among ESPN's top eight prospects at running back.

Not a bad situation for a first-time starting quarterback who must replace the most distinguished passer in SEC history.

“We've got a lot of weapons,” redshirt freshman receiver Blake Tibbs said. “And Hutson, he don't care who's open. If they put a dog in a helmet and some equipment out there, if he was open, Hutson would throw it to him. That's one thing about Hutson: He don't care. If you're open, he's going to trust you to make the play and he's going to keep throwing to you.”

Mason certainly proved that in his lone opportunity for significant playing time this season. He hit his first eight pass attempts, connecting with the likes of Rumph, Green, freshman Reggie Davis and walk-on Kenneth Towns on his first drive. Then came further completions to Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Douglas and Rumph again before his first incomplete pass.

The common bond there? Those are mostly the players with whom Mason has regularly worked on the Bulldogs' second-team offense, so chemistry was not an issue when they hit the field.

“That group's kind of been playing together -- besides Rumph -- for a long time and a lot of when our twos go against the ones, they always seem to do well and I think there's a chemistry between those guys kind of like Aaron and Bennett and other guys,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

There's a long time between now and the reserves' time to shine. Heck, there are three games remaining this season.

That means there is plenty of time for the stars in waiting to continue to develop before the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson on Aug. 30 -- which is exactly the mentality Rumph says he's developing.

“That's what young players have got to understand,” said Rumph, who has six catches in the last three games after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring ailment. “This is your job, so every time you go to school or go to practice, you've got to work to get better. That's all I'm trying to do is keep adding stuff to my game. I've got the feel for the game, I know what I'm capable of. I'm just trying to keep adding stuff to my game.”

Mason echoed those thoughts, pointing out that while even coach Mark Richt has declared Mason as the frontrunner to win the job next season, he still must make good use of this opportunity and not just assume the job is his from the get-go.

He has the opportunity to work with what could be an extremely productive offense next season -- if he stakes a claim on the job.

“I'm not going to be na´ve. I hear about that stuff and I read some of it and stuff like that. I've always been the first to say that I believe they're just being nice,” Mason said. “I believe that I've done a good job of performing when my opportunity comes, but I've never stepped on the field in front of 90,000 and like I was saying earlier, that's different from playing in practice.

“So I enjoy the comments and I enjoy the people that have faith in me, but really myself, I just take it day-by-day and say, 'You know what, what have I proven?' because in reality I haven't proven a lot. So when that opportunity comes, hopefully I'll show up.”

UGA, Kentucky both look to bounce back

November, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Given the way they finished in their most recent outings, it would be understandable if both Georgia and Kentucky have difficulty getting up for Saturday's game in Athens. Because at this point, neither team has much to play for aside from pride.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Louis
Shanna LockwoodRicardo Louis' catch deprived Georgia of any chance at winning the SEC East. Can the Dawgs rebound and play well against Kentucky?
“We need to be able to bounce back,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team's dramatic fourth-quarter rally went for naught when No. 6 Auburn completed a 73-yard Hail Mary in the final minute to win 43-38. “Kentucky had a tough loss, too, so both teams have to shake it off and get back ready to compete. That's the nature of the business and the nature of the game of football or competitive sports, period. You lose and you've got a game the next week or the next day, depending on the sport, and you've got to shake it off and get back to work.”

Kentucky (2-8, 0-6 SEC) did indeed suffer a difficult defeat, falling 22-6 at Vanderbilt to drop its 14th consecutive conference game. The Wildcats outgained the Commodores 246-172 through three quarters, but Vandy dominated the fourth, enjoying a 141-16 yardage advantage and scoring 13 unanswered points to earn the victory.

But that was just a run-of-the-mill loss compared to the gut-wrenching circumstances by which Georgia lost. The Bulldogs were on the verge of getting blown out early, only to slowly creep back into the game. Then Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense caught fire late, scoring three straight touchdowns and rolling up 216 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone, only to have Ricardo Louis grab a deflected pass and score the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-down, desperation heave by Nick Marshall.

The loss eliminated Georgia (6-4 overall, 4-3 SEC) from contention in the SEC East and forced the Bulldogs to focus on lesser goals instead of representing the division for a third straight season in the SEC championship game.

“The season isn't over with. We will approach it just like any other game,” said Rantavious Wooten, one of seven seniors who started against Auburn, along with fellow receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray, offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee, and tight end Arthur Lynch. “It's going to be my last game in Sanford Stadium, so we will have to talk to the young guys and tell them to keep the faith and keep fighting.”

There is also the matter of reaching the best bowl possible. Although Georgia's options aren't particularly promising -- the majority of Sunday's bowl projections favor the Bulldogs to play in either the Gator or Music City bowls -- that possibility was off the table for Kentucky weeks ago.

The Wildcats, however, have given Georgia fits in recent years, so the Bulldogs likely can't afford a flat effort. Georgia is 5-2 against Kentucky dating back to a 24-20 loss in Lexington in 2006 -- one of four times in that seven-game stretch where the outcome has been decided by seven points or less.

Considering how Georgia has struggled to finish off opponents -- Saturday was only the most recent heart-stopper for a Bulldogs team that is setting an historically bad pace on defense -- that has to be a cause for concern.

In fact, Georgia's defensive shortcomings were the subject of multiple questions Richt faced on his Sunday teleconference, as Todd Grantham's defense is on pace to set new program marks for most points allowed and most yards allowed.

The 2009 team surrendered 337 points, which is a program high for a season of 12-plus games. This year's team, which is surrendering 30.2 points per game, has already allowed 302 points with three games to play (Kentucky, Georgia Tech and a bowl game). Likewise, the 2013 Bulldogs are on pace to surrender 5,029.7 yards -- potentially just the second time in school history that Georgia allowed 5,000-plus yards after last season's bunch surrendered 5,009 in 14 games.

“Here's what I say: I say we're a team here at Georgia and we're going to keep coaching and keep trying to make improvements and corrections on everything we do, in all phases of the game,” Richt said when asked to rate his level of satisfaction with the defensive coaching staff's performance.

Such a response is common under these circumstances for Richt, who is rarely willing to discuss his concerns publicly. Grantham's defense is preparing to face teams that rank 104th (Kentucky, 349.2 yards per game) and 53rd (Georgia Tech, 432.2) nationally in total offense, so the Bulldogs should have an opportunity to improve their underwhelming defensive stats before the season ends.

It would be much easier to focus on such necessary improvements had safeties Tray Matthews or Josh Harvey-Clemons managed to knock down Auburn's last-gasp touchdown pass to preserve Georgia's comeback win. The Bulldogs would still be alive in the East race and would have a third win against a top-10 opponent this season instead of grasping at less-appealing methods to motivate themselves for their home finale against Kentucky.

That's Richt and company's unique challenge this week after a defeat that could naturally cause lingering dejection -- and the coach said he plans to focus on the positive as best he can.

“We've got to do a good job of, again, pointing out all the positive things that happened and building on those types of things, because there were a lot of tremendous things that happened in the game,” Richt said. “And then make sure we learn from whatever mistakes we had, correct them, have a plan for that, and then we have to get the new game plan in.”

DawgNation links: True freshman OLs

August, 16, 2012
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David Ching writes: Learning on the fly and overcoming high school flaws can be a tall order for a college freshman, but Georgia's John Theus has the grit, confidence and talent to have earned a starting spot, while fellow frosh Greg Pyke is earning similar praise.

Radi Nabulsi (video): DawgNation spends an offbeat minute or two with Olympic bronze medalist and UGA alum Reese Hoffa, who can’t wait to finish his season so he can get in some Bulldogs football.

Ching writes Insider: A UGA coach’s putdown angered Ray Drew enough for the player to go too hard during a practice rep 10 days ago -- ironically leading to the sophomore defensive end sustaining a concussion.

Ching writes Insider: Georgia coach Mark Richt was pleased at a few things during the Bulldogs’ Wednesday scrimmage, but overall he was not impressed with what he said looked like an 8-4 team.

Ching writes Insider: Players had plenty to say about their second preseason scrimmage, too, and Aaron Murray doesn’t like seeing the offense fall into lulls of so-so play between good series.

Nabulsi (video): Dallas Lee interview

Nabulsi (video): Blake Tibbs interview
Barrett JonesNed Dishman/Getty ImagesA move to center shouldn't slow Alabama's Barrett Jones, last season's Outland Trophy winner.
Our preseason SEC position rankings continue with the big uglies. The real muscle down in the trenches. Offensive lines are crucial in every level of football, but teams seriously do live and die by the play of their offensive lines in the SEC.

Past rankings:
On to the SEC's offensive line groups:

1. Alabama: Four starters return (with 95 combined starts), there's size, there's athleticism and this line just screams first-round NFL talent, starting with mammoth tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack. Reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones is moving to center, but with his versatility he should excel there. Add former top recruit Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and this is arguably the country's top offensive line.

2. LSU: Like Alabama, this line is full of experience, as four starters return and so does Josh Dworaczyk, who was granted a sixth-year after a knee injury caused him to miss all of 2011. Some think he was LSU's best lineman before last season began. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst are two of the best in the league and center P.J. Lonergan is tough to beat. Former highly-touted recruit La'El Collins should also contend for time this fall, too.

3. Texas A&M: This could be the strength of the team. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is a future first-rounder, while right tackle Jake Mathews has All-SEC potential. Senior center Patrick Lewis provides a very sturdy anchor in the middle. Guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi are young, but both got good experience last year, as Harrison started five games and Ogbuehi started six. Depth could be an issue, as most reserves are younger.

4. Arkansas: The Hogs have one of the better center-guard combos in the league in Travis Swanson and Alvin Bailey. Both have received preseason accolades and should be even better in 2012. Sophomore tackle Brey Cook came in with a lot of hype and if he develops in his second season, this line will be really good. Sophomore Mitch Smothers proved he can play just about anywhere and big left tackle Jason Peacock is back, but is still in the doghouse after his arrest this spring.

5. South Carolina: Replacing Rokevious Watkins at left tackle won't be easy, but the staff feels like redshirt freshman Brandon Shell might be the man for the job. He's incredibly talented and athletic and improved his blocking ability during his redshirt year. Center T.J. Johnson and guard A.J. Cann are coming off of solid seasons, but the right side has questions. Right tackle Mike Matulis started five games last year, but missed spring while recovering from shoulder surgery and right guard Ronald Patrick recorded zero starts last year.

6. Tennessee: The good news is that everyone is back. The bad news is this is the same line that was incredibly inconsistent last year in the run game, as Tennessee ranked 116th in rushing offense. However, the staff feels it has a better lineup with the emergence of sophomore Antonio Richardson at left tackle. Stud Dallas Thomas moves to left guard and Ja'Wuan James, who has started 25 games at right tackle, provides some good stability. The line has 99 combined starts and allowed just 18 sacks last year, but the proving ground with this group is establishing that it can come off the ball and be a better running team.

7. Missouri: The Tigers lost three starters from last year, but that doesn't mean Mizzou is without experience. Old man Elvis Fisher was granted a sixth year after last year's season-ending knee injury and will provide a major boost at left tackle. And three other linemen return with starting experience from last year: tackle Justin Britt, who took over Fisher's spot last year, and guards Jack Meiners and Travis Ruth. One thing to keep an eye on is the line's durability. The average weight of this group is roughly 295 pounds.

8. Auburn: Three starters return to a line that has a ton of young depth. Center Reese Dismukes is the anchor and one of the top centers in the league. Guard John Sullen and tackle Chad Slade combined for 21 starts last year. The staff really likes redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at left tackle and former top recruit Christian Westerman will compete for time after sitting out last year. Guard Eric Mack made strides this spring before he was shot near the hip during the tragic shooting that occurred near Auburn's campus in June.

9. Mississippi State: Injuries and constant reshuffling along the line caused the Bulldogs' offense to struggle for most of last season. Three starters are gone, but junior guard Gabe Jackson, who is one of the league's best, is back and so is right guard Tobias Smith. If Smith, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early last year, is healthy, this line should be very strong along the interior. Dillon Day started six games last year and returns at center, while junior college transfers Charles Siddoway and Dylan Holley are pushing for time.

10. Florida: The Gators return four starters to a line that struggled all last season. Will Muschamp said he saw vast improvement up front this spring, but tackles Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan must show more consistency and leadership. Jonotthan Harrison is solid at center and guard Jon Halapio has improved each year. Sophomore tackle Chaz Green and impressive early enrollee D.J. Humphries will compete for time as well.

[+] EnlargeKenarious Gates
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.com Georgia may have O-line questions, but likely none concerning junior Kenarious Gates.
11. Georgia: Yet again the Bulldogs have questions up front. Junior Kenarious Gates is very versatile and athletic and is Georgia's most reliable lineman. The staff was pleased with guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette coming out of spring, but a lot is riding on sophomore David Andrews making it at center. If he has to move, Burnette will have to move to center and more reshuffling will come. Inexperience is worrisome and true freshman John Theus should get plenty of chances to take one of the tackle spots.

12. Vanderbilt: Thanks to offensive line coach Herb Hand, this group was one of the most improved in the league last year. He'll have a tall task again with a lot of youth and inexperience. Left tackle Wesley Johnson is one of the most underrated linemen out there, while Ryan Seymour has been solid up front. The right side has issues and the depth is a concern. Injuries made it tough for this line to get through spring practice, and six freshmen are coming in to compete for spots during fall camp.

13. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost three starters from a line that struggled throughout 2011, but vets Larry Warford and Matt Smith are back to provide a solid center-guard combo. However, they'll be asked to help a cluster of youngsters. The left side is gone and will be replaced by youngsters Zach West (redshirt freshman) and Darrian Miller (sophomore). Right tackle Kevin Mitchell started just one game last year. Any sort of injury up front would be devastating for the Cats.

14. Ole Miss: This is arguably the Rebels' weakest position. Hugh Freeze wasn't thrilled with the line this spring, continuing to say it didn't handle the offense's tempo well. Guard Matt Hall, who had double-digit starts last year, left the team this spring. Center Evan Swindall was Ole Miss' most consistent lineman this spring, while senior A.J. Hawkins moved to guard. Comfort was an issue for everyone, and the tackle spots were filled this spring by Emmanuel McCray, who missed all of last season, and JUCO transfer Pierce Burton.

Georgia spring wrap

May, 15, 2012
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2011 overall record: 10-4
2011 conference record: 7-1 (T-1st)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:

QB Aaron Murray, OLB Jarvis Jones, S Bacarri Rambo, S Shawn Williams, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Tavarres King, N John Jenkins, CB Sanders Commings, DE Abry Jones

Key losses:

OT Cordy Glenn, C Ben Jones, CB Brandon Boykin, TE Orson Charles, K Blair Walsh, P Drew Butler, OT Justin Anderson, DE DeAngelo Tyson

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Isaiah Crowell* (850 yards)
Passing: Aaron Murray* (3,149 yards)
Receiving: Tavarres King* (705 yards)
Tackles: Shawn Williams* (72)
Sacks: Jarvis Jones* (13.5)
Interceptions: Bacarri Rambo* (8)

Spring answers

1. Mitchell joins defense: Georgia’s coaching staff planned to experiment with receiver Malcolm Mitchell as a two-way player even before several members of the Bulldogs’ secondary ran into disciplinary trouble. Now Mitchell’s services are a necessity on defense rather than a luxury. He will probably play defense almost exclusively in the first few games and convinced his coaches that he should fare well there after becoming one of the Bulldogs’ breakout offensive stars last year as a freshman.

2. Washington, Drew shift to end: Georgia’s depth was a bit thin at defensive end, but outside linebackers Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew cross-trained there during spring practice, which should also bolster the Bulldogs’ pass rush off the edge. Washington lamented that he was picking up the position slowly during the spring, but he had worked his way into a starting position and earned widespread praise for his work at end by the G-Day game.

3. Tight end turnover: With Orson Charles leaving Georgia after his junior year and Aron White and Bruce Figgins exhausting their eligibility, one of the Bulldogs’ least experienced positions is tight end. However, Arthur Lynch and redshirt freshman Jay Rome made it clear that the position is still in good hands. Rome, ESPN’s top-rated tight end in the 2011 signing class, caught a 66-yard touchdown in the final minute of the G-Day game.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: Coach Will Friend began determining a pecking order on his rebuilt line this spring, but the competition will likely carry over into the season. When the Bulldogs closed spring practice, Kenarious Gates and Kolton Houston manned the tackle spots with Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee at guard and David Andrews at center. That lineup is subject to change, particularly with stud offensive line signee John Theus set to join the competition when he arrives this summer. Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Austin Long are also worth watching.

2. Special teams: Not only was Georgia’s kick coverage incompetent last season -- the Bulldogs were 116th nationally in punt return yardage defense and 88th against kickoffs -- but the Bulldogs must replace longtime starting kicker and punter Blair Walsh and Drew Butler. The Bulldogs signed Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber to take over for the departed kickers and Coach Mark Richt promised that the Bulldogs will work more on live kicking situations in preseason camp than perhaps any previous time in his tenure.

3. Secondary: This appears to be a temporary problem, with starters Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo and Branden Smith facing possible disciplinary suspensions to open the season. Mitchell’s shift to cornerback will help Damian Swann and Devin Bowman hold down the position until Commings and Smith return. Depth will also be an early issue at safety without Rambo. Commings, who will sit out the first two games, has safety experience, but few other Bulldogs have played significant downs at the position besides Rambo and Shawn Williams. Corey Moore is a player to watch here.
At first glance, it appears that Georgia has all the parts needed to make another title run in the SEC this fall.

A quality quarterback is assisted by some talented skill players on the offensive side of the ball. And the defense is loaded with just about everyone who was a part of the nation’s fifth-ranked defense last year.

But upon closer examination, there is a glaring issue on the offensive line. Well, maybe there was.

Entering the spring, Georgia was down three starters up front, including potential NFL first-round draft pick Cordy Glenn at left tackle and All-SEC center Ben Jones.

The Bulldogs had the bodies, but not the experience, and it showed early. Georgia coach Mark Richt said he spent the first part of spring just trying to find the right pieces to plug in. He was constantly rolling different players in at center and experimenting with putting players in different places along the line.

The result: a lot of mistakes and some pretty good defensive highlights.

Richt said all of the stunts and different looks that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham threw at the Bulldogs’ line of young pups confused and frustrated the line. Things didn’t move smoothly on offense at first because the offensive line wasn’t comfortable.

“The bottom line was we just weren’t blocking very good and we weren’t handling our mature defensive line,” Richt said Tuesday.

But like good things, even bad things come to an end. And they did for Georgia’s line.

As the spring continued, players started to get more settled up front. By the midpoint of the spring, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said he found three reliable linemen in tackles Kenarious Gates and Kolton Houston, and guard Chris Burnette. Leaving spring, the staff found five that it could call starters, with the additions of rising sophomore David Andrews at center and Dallas Lee, who started seven games last season before breaking his right leg against Florida, at guard

Gates might be the best of the bunch because of his athleticism and smarts. Richt said he has the option of moving Gates around on the line because he has the ability to play just about every position up there.

But the player who really stuck out to Richt and his staff was Houston. Richt said Houston was always viewed as either a guard or a center prospect until this spring when they threw him in at tackle and watched him excel.

“He held up pretty good, especially in the pass protection area,” Richt said. “I don’t know if you can sell the big mauler out there in the run game, but a big part of being able to play tackle is being able to pass [protect] and he did a nice job.”

While Richt saw improvement as spring continued, he’ll also get some more talent in two incoming freshmen, including top tackle prospect John Theus, so Georgia’s depth will look a little better this fall. Getting guys more reps and game ready is the main goal in fall camp.

DawgNation links: New & improved Crowell

March, 26, 2012
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David Ching writes Insider: Georgia fans will be happy to know -- or will they? -- that mercurial freshman star Isaiah Crowell is earning kudos in spring practice for being a stand-up guy and dependable teammate.

Ching: Breaking down Georgia’s RB race.

Kipp Adams writes Insider: The Bulldogs hoped top OL target Josh Cardiello would give himself a big birthday present by committing this past weekend while visiting Athens.

Adams Insider: WR target DeMarcus Robinson makes a return trip to see the Georgia Bulldogs.

Radi Nabulsi writes Insider: Georgia offers sophomore DB Nick Glass.

Ching: Brandon Boykin sets a date for pro day.

DawgNation links: Roundtable

March, 21, 2012
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DawgNation Roundtable Insider: Malcolm Mitchell's position switch from receiver to cornerback -- the right move?

David Ching Insider: Isaiah Crowell Q&A. The star RB has set the bar early and high, aiming for a Heisman and a national championship.

Ching: O is for opportunity on an O-line that has a lot of immediate needs that must be addressed this spring.

Radi Nabulsi photo gallery: UGA practice, Day 1

DawgNation links: OL spring outlook

March, 16, 2012
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DawgNation has more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs:

David Ching writes Insider: Georgia's shaky offensive line might be helped greatly with the addition of junior college tackle Mark Beard.

Spring OL outlook: With the Bulldogs losing three starters from the offensive line, no other position will be as scrutinized this spring.

Brent Benedict leaves Georgia

June, 27, 2011
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Before the spring, Georgia would have put its offensive line up against just about anyone's in the SEC.

There was size, strength, experience, and most importantly, there was depth.

Now, as the season slowly draws near, the Bulldogs said goodbye to yet another lineman when redshirt freshman tackle Brent Benedict decided to leave the program Sunday for what coach Mark Richt said were personal reasons.

Benedict arrived at Georgia as a highly touted recruit, but he suffered a devastating knee injury during his season year of high school. Benedict not only tore his ACL but had nerve damage as well.

The injury cost Benedict his first season on campus, but he returned this spring expecting to push for time on Georgia's line. While Benedict had the potential to be a star for the Bulldogs, he struggled to move ahead in his playing progression this spring. He arrived as a tackle, but left spring as the backup right guard.

The 6-foot-5, 301-pound Benedict is the third offensive lineman that won't make it through the season for the Bulldogs. Senior tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down this spring after suffering his third ACL-related knee injury. Sturdivant, who started seven games last season, was battling converted guard Cordy Glenn for one of the tackle spots before his season-ending injury.

In May, junior tackle A.J. Harmon also transferred for personal reasons. Harmon competed for time at tackle during his first two years, playing in just seven career games.

The Bulldogs are left with a crippled offensive line. Heading into preseason, converted defensive lineman Justin Anderson is to start at right tackle opposite Glenn. Center Ben Jones is arguably the most reliable lineman the Bulldogs have, and Kenarious Gates, who started three games in 2010, is listed as the starting left guard. The young and inexperienced Chris Burnette is the starter at right guard.

Behind them, things don’t look much better. Offensive line coach Will Friend will have to accelerate the development of a handful of freshmen during preseason camp. One other option will be taking a look at moving Gates around to help with depth at tackle. This spring, Richt said that with Gates' athleticism, he could cross-train at tackle.

Kolton Houston and Dallas Lee are also options at guard, but Houston was a member of the scout team last season, while Lee played in just three games.

Sophomore Austin Long is listed as a tackle, but injuries have hurt his progression. Long had back surgery and missed the 2009 season. He was a member of the scout team last season and missed this spring after tearing a pectoral muscle in practice.

The Bulldogs signed six offensive linemen in the 2011 recruiting class and the staff will have to push these youngsters even more heading into the season. Three players that could come in and compete for time immediately are Watts Dantzler, Zach DeBell and Xzavier Ward, who are all expected to play tackle.

Even with the talent the Bulldogs possess on both sides of the ball, they are an offensive lineman injury away from having a rough 2011.
Georgia has released a post-spring depth chart and there were few surprises on it.

One interesting move is that redshirt freshman Ken Malcome is listed as the fourth-string tailback. Senior Caleb King is the starter, followed by Carlton Thomas and Brandon Harton. Malcome had a decent spring game, and though he dealt with injuries this spring, it seemed as though he was making strides. He was not the best option at the position, but his fall is a bit of a surprise.

Malcome could fall even farther down the pecking order after incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell gets on campus.

Where you can really see where the Bulldogs will have trouble is on the offensive line. Senior tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down this spring with his this third ACL-related injury, while junior A.J. Harmon transferred for personal reasons, leaving some holes to fill.

Senior Cordy Glenn took the spot at left tackle and will be backed up by redshirt freshman Hugh Williams. Sophomore Kenarious Gates is the starter at left guard, Ben Jones is at center, Chris Burnette is at right guard and Justin Anderson is at right tackle.

Redshirt freshman Brent Benedict has moved from tackle and is behind Burnette. Kolton Houston and Dallas Lee are both behind Gates and Austin Long is behind Anderson.

Staying healthy on the offensive line will be critical for the Bulldogs.

At wide receiver, junior Marlon Brown will start opposite flanker Tavarres King. Brown showed signs this spring that he's ready to be a major contributor to the offense and will need to take some pressure off of King, who should be quarterback Aaron Murray's primary target. Junior Rantavious Wooten is listed behind King.

The defense looks steady, especially up front.

Abry Jones, Kwame Geathers and DeAngelo Tyson are the three down linemen. Once junior college transfer John Jenkins arrives, the battle between him and Geathers for the noseguard spot should be exciting to follow.

Jarvis Jones is the starting Sam linebacker, Cornelius Washington is at Will, Christian Robinson is the Mike and Alec Ogletree is inside at the Mo. This is sure to be one of the fastest linebacker groups in the SEC.

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