SEC: John Atkins

Georgia season preview

August, 13, 2013
Although Georgia must replace a big group of defensive standouts -- including first-round NFL picks Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree -- the Bulldogs still enter the season as a favorite to win the SEC East for the third straight season.


Coach: Mark Richt (118-40 career, all at UGA)

2012 record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)

Key losses: OLB Jarvis Jones, ILB Alec Ogletree, N John Jenkins, S Bacarri Rambo, S Shawn Williams, WR Tavarres King, CB Sanders Commings

Key returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, WR Malcolm Mitchell, CB Damian Swann, DE Garrison Smith, OLB Jordan Jenkins, WR Michael Bennett, TE Arthur Lynch

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTray Matthews is one of the new players the Bulldogs expect to play right away in their defense.
Newcomer to watch: True freshman free safety Tray Matthews is the obvious pick here, having arrived in January and claiming a starting role during spring practice. But Matthews is one of a large group of newcomers who will make an impact -- particularly on the Bulldogs’ rebuilding defense. Newcomers are sure to play early in the secondary and at linebacker, but the most new faces might be up front, where Toby Johnson, John Atkins, Chris Mayes and possibly Leonard Floyd are all among the expected contributors.

Biggest games in 2013: Florida is always a big midseason game, but the first month of the season is the make-or-break period for Georgia. The Bulldogs open with a high-profile nonconference matchup at Clemson, host South Carolina -- which owns a three-game winning streak against Georgia -- in Week 2 and close out September with a home game against LSU. That tough slate could easily derail Georgia’s season immediately, but if Georgia makes it to October with a 3-1 or 4-0 record, the Bulldogs might rank among the top contenders for a spot in the BCS championship game.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: With 12 key defensive players gone from last season, Georgia has holes to fill at every defensive position. Todd Grantham’s reconstructed unit is extremely talented, but can it function adequately during the difficult first month of the season? The defense had a good spring and has been solid thus far this preseason, so the group is gaining confidence. If it can be competent early, Murray, Gurley and the Bulldogs’ high-scoring offense should be able to do the rest.

Forecast: Try as they might to change the subject, last season’s near-miss against Alabama in the SEC championship game -- with a spot in the BCS title game at stake -- remains a regular source of conversation between fans/media and the Bulldogs.

Richt and his coaching staff have made the consistent point that last season is over and looking backward can easily breed complacency. The team seemed to take that message to heart, as Murray reported that attendance at summer workouts and passing sessions was the best it has been in his five-year career. Whether that workmanlike attitude will translate to improved consistency early in the season is the factor that might define the season. Georgia hasn’t reached the season’s midway point without a loss since 2005, the last time the Bulldogs won the SEC title, and facing Clemson, South Carolina and LSU early makes ending that trend an enormous challenge.

The good news for Georgia is that it has nearly everyone back from the highest-scoring offense in school history, with Murray returning for his fourth season as the starter, Gurley and Keith Marshall leading the backfield and all five starters on the offensive line. And, yes, the defense has holes to fill, but it’s stocked with breakout candidates like Jordan Jenkins, safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, Matthews and a number of defensive linemen.

We’ll know almost immediately whether this is a team that can actually contend for the conference title -- and perhaps its bigger goals. Its potential is enormous, particularly if it gets off to a fast start.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Chris Wilson needed only about 30 minutes in Georgia’s first preseason practice before he started fiddling with his depth chart.

The new defensive line coach’s face broke into a wide grin when explaining why he loudly informed Sterling Bailey -- who finished spring practice as a starting defensive end -- that Ray Drew was now the starter in Georgia’s base defense and that Bailey would be the first-team end when the Bulldogs play a nickel defense.

“We make on-the-field adjustments,” Wilson cracked.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsNew defensive line coach Chris Wilson isn't afraid to mix and match players such as defensive end Ray Drew to get the perfect fit.
Apparently such a change is nothing new for Wilson’s new charges, who say that if Wilson doesn’t think someone is getting the job done adequately, he’s quick with the hook.

“[It happens on a] daily basis,” Bailey chuckled. “He just loves motivating us. He just wants us to play hard.”

Georgia largely stuck with a small rotation of veteran players along last season’s defensive line, but that practice created fatigue that Alabama obviously exploited in racking up 350 rushing yards against the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff has vowed to rotate more players up front this fall -- and Drew and Bailey are among the seven or eight players that Wilson hopes will figure heavily into that rotation.

But they have to prove to their new position coach that they deserve the opportunity, as neither player has been more than a role player thus far in his college career.

“[Wilson] mentioned it to me one time before that he likes competition within the players because if he puts you in a position and you’re not getting it done, he bumps someone else in there,” Drew said. “He wants you to take enough initiative to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get my stuff together and win my spot back.’ So we look at it as a competition between the two players, but it’s actually just a way to make each other better.”

There should be no shortage of competition for spots in Wilson’s rotation over the next few weeks. Junior college transfer Toby Johnson -- the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 -- is “kicking butt” at defensive end thus far in practice, Wilson said, and other youngsters such as John Taylor, John Atkins and Chris Mayes have impressed him at points.

They have a prime opportunity to solidify those impressions when the Bulldogs hold their first preseason scrimmage at Sanford Stadium on Wednesday -- even if the depth chart will probably remain flexible well into the season.

“We never know what the set depth chart is,” Drew said. “One thing he made perfectly clear to all of us is he does not care who plays. He’s going to put in the guy that is going to play his behind off, do what he’s coached to do and make things happen. So it doesn’t matter if you’re an 18-year senior or if you’re a first-year freshman. If you’re getting it done and you’re doing what you need to do, that’s what matters.”

As of now, the “play his behind off” factor might be the most important element of the competition.

Yes, understanding their assignments and playing with the proper technique will be of utmost importance once the linemen take on the Clemsons and South Carolinas and LSUs that they will face in the first month of the season. But as they enter their first scrimmage, Wilson wants to see them fight for their jobs, viewing competitive fire as perhaps his top means of evaluation.

“Here’s the thing that I would like to see more than anything in our next scrimmage: I would like to see us play extremely hard. I’m talking about with relentless effort,” Wilson said. “And if they are playing that hard, that means they know what to do. And if we will play as hard as we can and know what we’re doing, I think we’ve got a chance to win all the football games that we play.

“And so if we can come away with just those two simple things that sound so simple, we really have become a better football team."

Opening camp: Georgia

July, 30, 2013
Schedule: The Bulldogs begin practice Thursday at 4:20 p.m. ET. Players will be in shorts and helmets for the first two practices (Thursday and Friday) and will add shoulder pads on Saturday. Their first day in full pads will be Thursday, Aug. 8.

On the mend: The Bulldogs are hoping to get a lot out of junior college transfer defensive tackle Toby Johnson, who is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered last fall and he also underwent surgery in early July for a condition not related to football. He should be fully recovered from it for fall camp. Freshmen defensive backs Reggie Wilkerson (ACL) and Paris Bostick (toe) will also miss the 2013 season.

Key battle: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham says he wouldn't mind endless rotation along the defensive line, but it would be nice for the Bulldogs to have a solid man in the middle at nose tackle. Johnson might be the most gifted for the position, so his health is important, but there are a few bodies to work with. Junior Mike Thornton left spring as the starter here, but youngsters Chris Mayes and John Atkins will have every chance to take the No. 1 spot. You could also see someone like Garrison Smith move from end to nose at times, too.

Of note: Quarterback Aaron Murray holds the school record for career touchdown passes (95) and touchdown responsibility (104). He's 19 touchdown passes away from tying Danny Wuerffel's SEC record for most career touchdown passes (114). Last year, Murray set single-season school records for yards (3,893), total yards (3,825) and touchdown passes (36). With his 10,091 career passing yards, he needs just 1,438 yards to become Georgia's all-time leader in career passing yards.

Predicted order of finish at media days: The Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the SEC Eastern Division and to lose to Alabama in the SEC championship game.

They said it: "My goal -- and the reason why I came back -- is to win championships. I'm not even thinking about those records. If I throw five touchdowns and Todd [Gurley] and Keith [Marshall] ran (for) 100 touchdowns each, I'd get happy if it meant we won it all." -- Murray.
The SEC prides itself on having all that talent in the trenches, and the defensive lines in this league just continue set this conference apart from everyone else. Here's how all 14 lines rank in the SEC heading into the 2013 season:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe whole nation may be familiar with Jadeveon Clowney, but there's even more power on the South Carolina defensive line.
1. South Carolina: There's more to South Carolina's defensive front than man-beast Jadeveon Clowney. While his 21 career sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss are great, he gets good help from a solid helping of depth, beginning with starters Kelcy Quarles (defensive tackle) and Chaz Sutton (end). Quarles might be one of the most underrated linemen around and should improve on his 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss from last year. Sutton was a backup last year, but still registered five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Tackle J.T. Surratt saw action in just 10 games last year, but moves into a starting role this year. Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. provide good depth at tackle and end.

2. Florida: Sure, the Gators lost All-American Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter, but Florida rotated enough guys in last year to have good experience coming back across the board. Star lineman Dominique Easley will play at his more natural position at tackle this year, but will move outside at times. He led Florida with four sacks last year and was consistently disruptive all year. Florida is loaded at end with sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard returning. Ronald Powell, who is coming off of two ACL injuries will rotate with Fowler at the hybrid linebacker/end "Buck" position, while Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings will help out at tackle.

3. Arkansas: While Arkansas featured one of the league's worst defenses last year, the Razorbacks were solid up front. Arkansas returns one of the best defensive end combos in senior Chris Smith and junior Trey Flowers. They combined for 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year. Inside, you have seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. Jones has started 29 games in his career and had 52 tackles last year. Thomas steps into a starting role this fall after recording five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. The Hogs have young reserves, the staff is excited about guys like JaMichael Winston, Brandon Lewis, Darius Philon, DeMarcus Hodge and Deatrich Wise Jr.

4. LSU: The Tigers lost a lot up front, but this team is used to reloading along the defensive line. Tackle Anthony Johnson has the meat and ability to be one of the best at his position, and excels as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He'll be helped by junior Ego Ferguson, who has all the talent to be successful but is still looking to reach his full potential. The staff is expecting big things from end Jermauria Rasco, who might be a better pure pass-rusher than Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before him. Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen should do more at end, while incoming freshman Tashawn Bower could see immediate playing time. Also, keep an eye on freshman Christian LaCouture, who played his way into the two-deep this spring at tackle.

5. Ole Miss: There are depth issues at defensive tackle, but the Rebels are stacked on the outside. C.J. Johnson should be back from the broken leg he suffered this spring, and has All-SEC talent at end. Fellow end Cameron Whigham only had 1.5 sacks last year, but started 11 games. Channing Ward got a lot of action this spring with Johnson out and has the chance to have a true breakout season. All eyes will be on freshman Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 recruiting class and is physically ready to play right now. Tackle Issac Gross should be healed from his spring grown injury and will get good help from junior college transfer Lavon Hooks.

6. Alabama: Right now, Alabama is still searching for the elite players it's used to having up front. This unit wasn't as consistent as Nick Saban would have wanted this spring, but there is a lot of potential in the trenches, starting with the versatile Ed Stinson, who can line up inside or out and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last year. Jeoffrey Pagan could be fun to watch at the other end spot. He was a big-time recruit a few years ago and will get a lot more time to shine this fall. Brandon Ivory has to replace Jesse Williams at nose guard, but showed good flashes this spring. LaMichael Fanning will also help at end. Alabama is young here, but will continuously rotate again in order to keep guys fresh.

7. Vanderbilt: End Walker May is the star of this very talented group. He isn't the biggest at his position, but he's a relentless worker and is exception at getting to the quarterback on passing plays. Junior Kyle Woestmann came on very strong during the second half of the 2012 season, registering six sacks in the final five games. Then there's sophomore Caleb Azibuke, who grabbedd 4.5 sacks last year, had a great spring and is extremely athletic. With two starters departing, depth is an issue inside, but tackle Jared Morese, who started six games last year is back after being kicked off this team this spring for violating team rules. Juniors Barron Dixon and Vince Taylor both played in 13 games last year. The Commodores also had to move offensive lineman Adam Butler to defensive tackle this spring.

8. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience, starting with seniors Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson at defensive tackle. Rumph, who is coming off of a spring shoulder injury, is the best of the bunch and recorded six tackles for loss and four sacks last year. Cobble is finally starting to reach his potential, and should improve on his three tackles for loss and two sacks from last year. Johnson started nine straight games to end last season. Alvin "Bud" Dupree has nine sacks in the last two years and is moving from linebacker to end this year. Helping him will be junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith, who had an exceptional spring. Incoming freshman end Jason Hatcher will also get a chance to play immediately.

9. Georgia: The first order of business is finding a suitable nose guard to replace the massive John Jenkins. Right now, it looks like that will happen by committee. Junior Mike Thornton left spring as the starter there, but has just one career tackle. Redshirt sophomore Chris Mayes is next in line, but hasn't recorded any stats during his career. Freshman John Atkins enrolled early this spring and junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who could be the best of them, is recovering from an ACL injury. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham cross-trained all his linemen and was very pleased with Sterling Bailey's improvement, along with senior Garrison Smith, who started eight games last year. Junior Ray Drew is also getting more comfortable up front.

10. Mississippi State: It's not like Mississippi State doesn't have the talent or potential up front, but his group really struggled to get to the quarterback last year. Senior end Denico Autry struggled through the first part of last season, but played strong down the stretch, which is really encouraging to the staff. End Preston Smith was a backup last year, but still led the Bulldogs with 4.5 sacks. The staff seems pretty excited about tackle P.J. Jones, who made some big plays late for this team last year. Of course, having vet Kaleb Eulls back helps and it looks like he's permanently moving inside. End Ryan Brown didn't blow up the stat chart last year, but had a good spring and should see plenty of playing time this fall.

11. Missouri: This unit was probably the Tigers' strongest last year, but it lost its best player in tackle Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou has to replace him by committee, and Gary Pinkel seemed pleased with his tackles this spring. Matt Hoch had a very good spring and while he isn't the same player as Richardson, he figures out ways to get to the ball and started 12 games last year. Lucas Vincent will line up at nose guard, but injuries limited him to just three tackles last year. Redshirt freshman Harold Brantley has a lot of potential at tackle and should see good time this fall. The Tigers are pretty solid outside, with Kony Ealy and Michael Sam returning. Ealy is just waiting to break out, while Sam led the team with 4.5 sacks last fall. Shane Ray provides good depth at end, while tackle Marvin Foster played in 10 games last year.

12. Tennessee: The Vols have to figure out how to move around all those pieces up front with the defense moving back to a traditional 4-3 look. Big-bodied Daniel McCullers is the top player along the line, but he has to be more disruptive up front. He has to be more than just a space eater. Senior Jacques Smith should move down to end from linebacker, while fellow seniors Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood should push for starting time at end and tackle. Senior Maurice Couch is another player with a ton of talent, but has to be more consistent inside. Junior Jordan Williams should also move down after playing a hybrid end/linebacker position last year.

13. Auburn: The Tigers just weren't good enough up front last year, ranking 11th in the SEC in sacks (22) and 12th in tackles for loss (66). Now the best player -- end Corey Lemonier -- is gone. A handful of vets return, but this group has to be tougher and more consistent. Senior ends Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae lead things up front, but only accounted for 8.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. Eguae will have his hands full trying to fend off Kenneth Carter, who moved from tackle to end this spring. Jeffrey Whitaker, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright lead the inside game, but only Blackson had more than five tackles for lass last year (a team-high seven).

14. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost quality starters like Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy and the injury bug devastated this unit during the spring. No one will replace Moore's 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, but A&M needs multiple guys to step up. Julien Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman last year, but has to stay healthy this fall, as he's the key to the entire line. He also has to generate a better pass rush. Tackle Kirby Ennis started 11 games last year, but ran into legal trouble before spring practice and was suspended, but is expected to return. Youngsters Alonzo Williams, Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor will be thrown into the mix this fall, but expect plenty of growing pains. Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams have showed flashes here and there, but will have to much more consistent this fall.
Every year, players come and go in college football. With the turnover teams can either grow or take steps back.

It's time to check out Georgia's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season:

Strongest position: Quarterback and/or running backs

Let's see, the Bulldogs bring back one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, have a wealth of talented depth behind him and own the best running back duo in the country in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. It really is a little unfair, honestly. Murray became the first SEC quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in three seasons last year when he finished with 3,895 yards. He'll likely end 2013 with four straight 3,000-yard seasons and even more Georgia/SEC records. He also has a very capable backup in redshirt junior Hutson Mason, who the coaches feel comfortable leaving the team with if it came to that. Christian LeMay will be in his third year this fall, while freshmen Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey give the Bulldogs even more quality depth.

The Bulldogs will rely on Gurley and Marshall, who combined for 2,144 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry, yet again this season. Depth is an issue behind them, but these two were the stars of the show last year and things went swimmingly. Gurley is the bruiser, who led all SEC backs in rushing last year, while Marshall has more moves and explosion. He's also gained some good weight, so defenders beware.

Weakest position: Defensive tackle

While defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has more bodies to rotate in and out along the defensive line, defensive tackle is still a troublesome area for the Bulldogs. There isn't a John Jenkins to plug in the middle of the line, so the Bulldogs will likely work by committee to fill the void he left, but there just isn't a lot of experience inside. Junior Mike Thornton left spring as the starter at nose guard, but has just one career tackle. Redshirt sophomore Chris Mayes is right behind him on the depth chart, but hasn't recorded any stats for the Dawgs. Freshman John Atkins enrolled early this spring, but he has no experience at the college level. The good news is that Grantham is cross-training guys, so defensive ends Sterling Bailey, who was Grantham's best cross-trainer this spring, and redshirt freshman John Taylor will get a chance to help out at tackle. The staff hopes to get a lot out of junior college transfer Toby Johnson this season, but he is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered last fall.

SEC lunchtime links

June, 13, 2013
If the Spurs win tonight, it's over.

DawgNation links: Walking on, military-style

August, 20, 2012
David Ching writes: Georgia Bulldogs TE walk-on Jack Loonam is the very embodiment of dedication as he remains on point with both expectations on the football field and his duties in UGA's Army ROTC cadet corps.

Kipp Adams writes Insider: Five from Friday. DawgNation looks at five take-aways from the premiere of high school football Friday at the Butler vs. Mallard Creek matchup in Charlotte, N.C.

Adams Insider: Georgia signees John Atkins and Leonard Floyd will enroll today at Hargrave Military Academy, where each hopes to gain more valuable experience before eventually joining the Bulldogs.

Radi Nabulsi: Georgia fall camp photo gallery.

DawgNation links: Roundtable superlatives

June, 27, 2012
DawgNation has more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs:

DN Roundtable Insider: Summer is setting in, and DawgNation pulls out the yearbook superlatives and hands out the nominations to some deservings Dawgs.

Around The Hedges Insider: The series takes a look at mercurial sophomore running back Isaiah Crowell.

Atkins update Insider: Radi Nabulsi writes that 2012 signee John Atkins will not be enrolling with the rest of the class after failing to get a qualifying score on his ACT.

DawgNation links: Around Hedges, mailbag

June, 14, 2012
Kipp Adams writes: In the latest installment of the DawgNation recruiting mailbag, Antonio Riles remains a possibility for UGA, as does five-star recruit Laremy Tunsil. And why does it seem players commit in clusters?

David Ching writes: Freshman DL John Atkins is the subject of today’s installment of Around the Hedges in 80 Days.