Spring football is in the books. College Football Zealots everywhere are waiting on their favorite preview magazines. We've even started our own previews. Kids are getting out of school and summer has started. What else is there to do now but start dreaming about fall practice. Few are looking forward to the fall as much as the fans of the Georgia Bulldogs.
Last year, Georgia went 6-7 and had their first losing season since Jim Donnan's first year in 1996 when the Bulldogs went 5-6. Georgia started out 1-4 before rebounding to go 5-2 in their next seven. Unfortunately, Georgia didn't show up for the bowl game and suffered an embarrassing 10-6 loss to UCF. That is the last thing Georgia fans remember about last season. So it's time to turn the page and start thinking, dreaming and hoping as we wonder what will happen when fall practice starts. Let's take a look at the most interesting storylines for Georgia this fall:
The Arrival of Isaiah Crowell and the Legacy of Caleb King
I really didn't follow recruiting until I started up this blog a little over a year ago so it's hard for me to compare Isaiah Crowell with previous RB recruits that have come to Athens. But what I can say without a doubt is that he's one of the most heralded to come down the pike for Georgia for quite some time. He was a rock star on the sidelines when he showed up at Georgia's G-Day game this spring. A lot of people are hoping for big things for Crowell this fall. There is no doubt that Mark Richt is going to give Isaiah every chance to get on the field early and often. When Georgia released it's latest depth chart it had Carlton Thomas as the #2 back behind Caleb King. To me, that means that this position is absolutely wide open. Crowell must put in the work this fall to learn the offense and blocking assignments if he wants to get on the field and stay on the field. Out of all of the Georgia Bulldogs, the most eyes will be on this young man and if he can become an instant impact for the Dawgs.
The man that currently sits at the top of Georgia's RB Depth Chart was also a highly thought of RB coming out of High School. Caleb King was rated by Scout.com as a 5-star prospect and they pegged him as the #4 RB in his class. Since Caleb has been at Georgia he's been plagued with injuries, inconsistent play and a few off the field issues. From all reports it seems like Caleb understands that this is his senior season and it's his last chance to make an impact on the field for the Bulldogs and for his future. When he's seen the field, King has not been that bad the last two years.
Last year King only played in 8 games but he did lead the Bulldog rushers in yards per carry at 5.3. In his career Caleb has never really been given a chance to be the #1 RB for the team. Maybe it's the injuries that have held him back, maybe his performance didn't dictate that he get that chance. Only three times in his collegiate career has he toted the rock more than 15 times and they all came in his junior season when he led the Bulldogs with 7 rushing TDs. Like it or not, Caleb is the best all-around back that Georgia will have in 2011. He won't be Trent Richardson or Marcus Lattimore but I think there is a pretty good chance that this year we will see the best Caleb King that we've seen.
Orson Charles and Tavarres King Audition Tag-Team Partners
Last year, Orson and Tavarres were two of the top four receiving options on this Georgia team. Now they will step up and assume a leadership role among the receivers. I have confidence in both guys to fulfill their roles and become very productive players for Georgia this year. But they will need help. The guy that seems like he would be the best fit for immediate help is a defensive back that sometimes plays offense. I've lobbied for Branden Smith to be moved full-time to offense. It's really a disservice to him to be moved back and forth as he will never reach his full potential as a defensive back or as an offensive weapon of mass touchdown explosion.
Outside of Branden Smith, there are a few receivers who have been in the program for a while but have yet to take that next step (Marlon Brown, Rantavious Wooten, and Israel Troupe). Out of those guys, Brown is currently listed as a starter on the depth chart. Is this the year that he breaks through? If you remember, current NFL player Mohammed Massaquoi started off his collegiate career slowly and some thought that he would be a bust. But he busted through in 2008 with a 50+ catch season. I'm not sure that's a good comparison for Brown as he only caught 11 passes as a sophomore to MoMass's 30 but MoMass also wasn't playing along guys who would be drafted in the NFL like A.J. Green and Kris Durham. Another guy to keep an eye on is RS Frosh Michael Bennett. He's drawn rave reviews from players in practice but can he transalte that to the field when everybody is watching? And then you have the Dream Teamers....
Which Dream Team Recruits Hit The Ground Running?
We've already mentioned Georgia fan favorite Isaiah Crowell so let's leave him out of the discussion for a moment. Who are the other incoming freshman that can really make an impact this year? I'd say the first guy that comes to mind is Malcolm Mitchell. He's a WR/DB out of Valdosta that looks like he's going to be given every chance to play early and often at WR. Mitchell is a guy who is best described as a play-maker. That's something that Georgia needs at the WR position but can he come in and provide it for them as a freshman? I think he will be given every opportunity to win some playing time but can he become the deep threat that Georgia needs?
What about DB/QB Nick Marshall? Marshall is a special athlete who will also be playing basketball for Mark Fox once the football season is over. He was highly recruited as a QB but declared to Georgia as a CB after Christian LeMay chose Georgia. There has been some talk about Marshall getting some looks on offense because of his explosiveness. Scout.com called him one of the most versatile athletes in the entire country. Marshall could also see some time this year in the WildDawg formation. Georgia has never had a QB run this formation before as they went with Branden Smith and Washaun Ealey and the opponents knew what was coming. With Marshall back there it would open up options in that formation.
You can't talk about the Dream Team without talking about Reverend Ray Drew. He's a 5-star recruit who will play OLB in Todd Grantham's 3-4 and he will push Cornelius Washington for playing time at Weakside Linebacker. I think Drew is going to come in and will play in pass rush situations almost immediately. Scout.com calls him "an elite pass rusher who plays with energy." He might struggle against the run early in his career but if he's used properly he could be a weapon. Looking down the road I also feel that he's going to be a guy who will provide leadership for the Bulldogs which is something they've sorely missed the past couple of years.
Those are the three guys to keep an eye on. We'll touch on Damian Swann, Corey Moore and some of the OL recruits in a minute. I also think the door is wide open for guys like Justin Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley to earn playing time at WR due to the depth at that position. Injuries are a part of the game and one or two injuries at any position and any Dream Teamer will have the opportunity to step up.
The Secondary Looks For Answers
I feel good about Georgia's starting CB line-up of Brandon Boykin and Sanders Commings. I think Boykin is poised to have a big year if teams throw against him and Commings just got better and better as they year went on. Branden Smith is a quality nickel back but if he goes offense then I don't think there is that much drop off with rising soph Derek Owens. Georgia also has a couple of freshman in Marshall and Damian Swann that will come in and will push for playing time immediately at the nickel position.
Safety is a bit more of a mystery for the Dawgs. Bacarri Rambo returns at one safety and I think he makes some good improvements this year. He got off to a slow start last year which I think might have been due to him still working out that concussion that he received against Auburn in his game saving play. A hit like that doesn't just go away and it make you apprehensive until it gets worked out of your system. Rambo won't be all world but he showed signs last year and I think he takes the step this year to be a better all around player.
The other safety position is the big mystery. Earlier this year Georgia moved Alec Ogletree to ILB, a move which I love even though it hurts depth at safety. He's a hard-hitting play-maker who will benefit from moving towards the line of scrimmage. But that leaves a hole beside Rambo. Right now, it's Shawn Williams who would get the start if the season opened today. Other options are senior JUCO transfer Jakar Hamilton or moving Sanders Commings over from CB. There are also a couple of freshman who could push for playing time and by the end of the year could be the guy next to Rambo. Keep an eye on Corey Moore out of Griffin. Moore has the ability to be a really good safety and his time might come early at Georgia this year.
For Georgia, the front seven looks a lot better on paper this year than it played last year. Georgia now has 2-deep at NT this year where they had DeAngelo Tyson playing out of position last year. They also have Tyson moving outside to DE where he can be more effective. Georgia also has two play-making LBs who have complete games in Tree and Jarvis Jones whereas last year they only had Justin Houston, who was a great rusher but truly played more DE than LB in his first year at the LB position. Will the front seven step up and help the secondary become a better unit this year?
The Offensive Line Bids Stacy Searles Adieu And Looks For Young Blood
Maybe the most telling group for Georgia this year is the Offensive Line. Last year the OL was supposed to be a strength but they got absolutely whipped and mauled on numerous occasions. You can't blame Caleb King for fumbling at Colorado when he's getting hit as soon as Aaron Murray hands him the ball. Thank goodness for the Texas Longhorns. They came in and gave our OL coach Stacy Searles a job and a pay raise and took him away from the dawgs. I don't kill many people with my words (well maybe Bobby Petrino) but Searles was absolutely worthless an OL coach the last several years. Getting Will Friend from UAB might not be a huge upgrade but it will be addition by subtraction at the bare minimum. Searles simply didn't coach his guys up and make them better once they got on campus.
The problem the Dawgs are looking at right now is depth on the line. Georgia lost starter Trinton Sturdivant to yet another knee injury earlier this year and also lost possible starter/depth in A.J. Harmon when he transferred from the school recently. Georgia has two really good linemen in center Ben Jones and OT Cordy Glenn. Both guys will get a chance to play in the NFL and both guys must come up big for Georgia this year. Jones showed a lot of fire this spring and looks like he has emerged as a leader on the offensive side of the football. Sophmore Kenarius Gates will fill one of the guard positions and should play well as the line play improved when he debuted mid-season as a freshman last year.
That leaves the biggest questions at two positions for the Dawgs. The RT position will be filled by Justin "Bean" Anderson. Anderson was moved to defense last year because of his size but got hurt and never made an impact. He will get the first chance at that position with Soph Austin Long getting the second. Long was a 4-star recruit out of high school was was ranked #6 at his position by scout.com. He has the pedigree to play in the SEC but does he have the will? At the other guard position Georgia looks like it will go with sophmore Chris Burnette. Scout.com pegged him as a 3-star recruit and lauded him as a great pulling guard prospect and an adept pass blocker. Can Will Friend coach these guys up where Stacy Searles was an utter failure?
We already talked about Kenarius Gates coming in last year at mid-season and out playing some of the veterans to gain a starting job. Will we see that this year with incoming freshman Watts Dantzler and Zach DeBell. Both are rated as 4-star OT prospects by Scout.com. Dantzler is a UGA legacy and DeBell is a zombie expert. Will Georgia need them this year and if so will they be able to make an impact.
Georgia has some major question marks this fall but I also believe they will find some answers as they will be on a quest to correct the issues that plagued them last year. Make no mistake that the opener against Boise State is a huge ballgame for both teams but the South Carolina game is the one that will define the Georgia Bulldogs season.