Another G-Day Game has come and gone, and folks...I could not be more anxious for the Fall to arrive! This year's game saw the Black Team (first team defense) take down the starters on offense on the Red Team in a back and forth 23 - 17 win. While some people would consider that a sign of distress, I beg to differ as I was hoping the defense would rise to the occasion knowing that our offense returns almost entirely intact. I'm happy to report that I am more than pleased with this team's effort heading into the Summer, and let's just say I'm ready for them to head into "Death Valley" on a mission. Without further to do, I present my grades and evaluation of spring practice.
OFFENSE OVERALL: A-
As with most offseason practices, the main goal of the offense was to keep the stars (i.e. Murray and Gurley) alive and healthy while building up depth and establishing backups. I feel like this was mostly achieved albeit the late injuries/medical procedures to Malcolm Mitchell and some of the linemen. By most accounts though, the offense was consistent enough in practice to draw mostly praises from the coaching staff. Of course, Mike Bobo wasn't entirely thrilled by the final G-Day score, but again, I think they achieved what they wanted to for this round of practice. The finishing touches will be added in the Fall once everyone's healthy and the new kids arrive.
Aaron Murray is easily one of the best QBs in the country, and only solidified that statement by demonstrating his commitment to improving over spring break (spent it practicing with QB guru George Whitfield). His numbers in the previous scrimmages had not been spectacular, but you can't argue with his G-Day performance (12-18, 200 yards, 2 TDs, no INTs). Behind him sits perhaps the country's best QB not in a starting lineup, Hutson Mason. While he's been lauded by coaches and teammates alike throughout the process, he played like a man with something to prove Saturday, and showed a lot of moxie. Aside from the sloppy INT when he meant to throw the ball away, he moved well in the pocket, and even showed off some running ability. Folks, after 3 spring practices, I must say that I'm not sold on the Christian LeMay project. He oozes intangibles and ability, but something's still holding him back. I'm happy that Richt and Bobo support their players and stand by their performances, but you've got to have more than a couple completions in these scrimmages (0-6 yesterday) to be able to earn a spot. I'm starting to feel that he was more a product of a well-oiled machine at Butler High School, which is a perennial powerhouse up here in North Carolina. Plus, missing that last year of high school ball just when he scratched the surface of his potential had to have set him back a bit. Parker Welch is still the guy whose name keeps popping up that everyone likes to forget about. Another solid G-Day for #2! The jury's still out on Faton Bauta (here's to hoping that shoulder heals up) and Brice Ramsey, although the latter showed a lot of maturity in his first few college practices.
Dear 8 lbs. 7 oz. tuxedo T-shirt wearing Lord Baby Jesus! Thank you for letting Todd Gurley escape the Spring unscathed! I'm going to have to give the kid some credit one day for not limping off the field all the time like Crowell, but it is always nice to know that #3 in red is healthy. As long as he keeps that element of speed along with his size and strength, he could be looking at a 1,500 yard season. Keith Marshall I think kind of flew under the radar throughout the Spring after adding more muscle. He didn't have a great game yesterday, but he practiced and performed well in the other scrimmages. To me, he just looks a little more natural and patient when he hits the hole, and it'll pay off once the regular season rolls around. Kyle Karempelis might just be the most under-appreciated of the bunch as he looked great in the game (13 carries for 89 yards)! I'd love to see him get some reps at some point down the line. And I know he may not stay at RB, but man did I like JJ Green. You can just tell he's a ball player and an all-around athlete. He's got my vote for kickoff returns, and would be a great 3rd down option in the slot or out of the backfield. Brandon Harton's still there too. I'm glad he's healthy again, but I don't expect to see much of him once a big bruiser like A.J. Turman arrives in the Fall.
It's always nice to know that you have 3 good starters at WR. Malcolm Mitchell has all-star potential, Michael Bennett is the go to guy, and Chris Conley could be a monster. It's also good to know that our Tight Ends (Lynch, Rome, Flourney-Smith) are a solid 3 deep group. Having said all that, it wasn't really until Saturday when I truly felt comfortable with the depth after those guys. With Mitchell and Bennett out, Conley really emerged as a prime target. Who I was slightly disappointed with was Justin Scott-Wesley (JSW for short here). I still think he's a little bit of a project as he just doesn't quite look all that natural (jumped way to early on LeMay's one good deep pass). He has progressed though, and should be solid by next year. Then there's Jonathan Rumph, the JUCO transfer who managed to hide throughout all of spring practice, and then show up out of nowhere come game time. He'll immediately play the role of "Tall Receiver #1" vacated by Marlon Brown, and if he can just get some speed on him, will be a force to be reckoned with. I'm very impressed with this kid, and he is a welcome addition to the Bulldog Nation! Tramel Terry will be interesting to watch when he's healthy, and Blake Tibbs had a decent spring as well.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Okay, so this is normally the time of year where the big boys get shuffled around, measured, poked and prodded like cattle, and we never really know how they look for sure until they return after the Summer. John Theus, Chris Burnette, and Austin Long all had injuries at one point or another and the rest played musical chairs to fill the voids. Mark Beard and Xavier Ward have really come a long ways, but still need to be more consistent. Sacks should never be taken too seriously in these types of scrimmages since the QB can't be taken to the ground, but I'd like to note that the young defensive line was in the backfield an awful lot. However, as much as I like seeing the lines go hard at it, I'd much rather see them be safe since it's easy for the guys in the trenches to shift that weight on their legs wrong and tear something. I don't foresee any real alarms here other than depth (as per usual). Motivation and continuity will return when the season gets closer.
DEFENSE OVERALL: B+
While they still have a ways to go before Clemson, this defensive unit has me thoroughly excited after their G-Day performance! With all the starters we had going pro, I knew it would be interesting to see how these young bucks responded to new roles, but I had no idea that they would show up with such tenacity and enthusiasm. Sure, there's still work to be done on the line, and the secondary depth chart needs to be built up. But this group improved dramatically over the course of a couple weeks, and has me awful curious about just how special this 2013 team could be.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Gone are the premiere nose tackles in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Gone are Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones at the defensive end spots. Now enters a whole new breed of Dawgs ready to stuff the run and get after the QB. Ray Drew had, by all reports, a phenomenal spring, and really aided his journey to justify 5-Star high school billing. But don't think Sterling Bailey will give up a spot so quietly. He had a solid couple of weeks as well, and could vie for playing time. Garrison Smith is the incumbent starter, and should be solid. The surprise of the group in my eyes was Jonathan Taylor out of Jenkins County. Originally billed as a 4-Star tackle out of high school, he's following the mold of Deangelo Tyson and rotating in at end. He was the one who I felt had the best G-Day of the ends, and I saw #94 flying to the ball with speed and athleticism not usually shown by a man with his proportions. Mike Thornton has apparently defied the odds and secured the starting job at NT. He may be short (only 6-1), he may be small (right at 300 lbs.), but he can (can't believe I'm going to finish this jingle) really get to the ball. Several O-Linemen have said that he uses his stature to his advantage by keeping a low center of gravity and driving into their ankles to clog the middle of the line. Behind him though, there are still questions. John Atkins and Chris Mayes are still developing, but held their own at times. Toby Johnson will arrive in August too so that'll intensify the competition.
In terms of the defense, this is the group whose performance I'm most excited about seeing. From the outside to the inside backers, these guys have all stepped up to be leaders even though they have some big shoes to fill themselves. Jordan Jenkins is already a star at OLB, and he only got better this spring. The opposite position was almost immediately filled by James DeLoach right from the get go, and he performed well. The battle for who will back them up should be interesting when the freshmen arrive in August. Ramik Wilson definitely is a better fit at ILB than he was for the outside, but still needs to be more consistent. He flew around well Saturday, and has the athleticism to make plays, but he still seems like he's holding back at times. I want him to really let loose and not play so timid. Armarlo Herrera is almost the exact opposite. This guy's going to be a stud! The only thing I wanted to see out of him this spring was improvement in his speed and foot work, and he excelled! He's a hard hitter, a sure tackler, and makes great reads off the ball. No complaints there! Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter are fresh out of high school, but they're playing the ILB position like they've been in Athens for years. Carter snagged a nice heads up pick yesterday, and Rankin plays much bigger than his size. I'm interested to see if one of them can't supplant Wilson, keeping in mind that two more very highly rated kids arrive in August.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
If you had told me that our starters at the end of spring practice would put everyone's fears to rest, I would've found it hard to believe. After all, we're talking about replacing one of the greatest safety duos in school history, and a 3 year starter at corner. But my fellow Dawg fans, I'm here to tell you today, Josh Harvery-Clemons and Tray Matthews are the next generation of great Bulldog defenders. JHC could still use more muscle, but he just has a knack for getting to the ball and arriving with a fury. I saw more than a few good hits and open-field tackles out of him in the G-Day game. Matthews is a freak. You'd think he was an upper classman already after the spring he had. He has great natural instincts, tremendous closing speed, and is a headhunter that nobody wants to mess with. The pair of them was all over the field yesterday, and although they didn't rack up any real big plays, they were solid, and solidity is what we need. It gets a little hazy behind them. Corey Moore stayed fairly quiet, and Connor Norman is a good ball player, but just doesn't have the size and speed to start in the SEC. I think 30 years ago, he'd be in a mold like Jeff Hipp or Jeff Sanchez where his intelligence and work ethic compensate for his lack of athleticism. Damian Swann has worked on some more fundamentals in his game, and should be one of the best in the conference next year. At the opposite corner spot, Sheldon Dawson had a great spring and earned himself the starting role. However, we didn't get to see him in the game due to an injury. Reggie Wilkerson had a fine game and a solid spring overall. He'll have to compete with some more incoming freshmen in the Fall, but he has the tools to be a star.
I assume everything went according to plan here this spring...right? I mean, all the field goals were made, and Richt said he's been working with Morgan about being more confident and consistent (hopefully Blair Walsh can lend him some advice too). Barbour is solid, he just needs more practice. Returns are what I'm excited about seeing come fall time. JJ Green anybody? Or maybe Marshall on kick returns. The possibilities....
So there you have it ladies. Spring is done, and Fall's right around the corner. I love the beach, the pool, flip flops and cheap beer as much as the next person. But seriously, football season needs to hurry up and get back here.
"If they don't score, we can't lose!" - Erk Russell