"You want a prediction about the weather? You're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life."
Nothing like a little vintage Bill Murray from Groundhog Day to sum up our feelings about this past Winter right? From back home in Georgia to up here in Carolina, it's just been a painfully depressing montage of rain, wind, snow, ice, then back to rain. Fortunately, in just two weeks, the first cracks in the ice will begin to appear with Spring Football Practice!
If you read my spring preview last year, you'll remember just how awesome this is for football fans. Before the heat of summer and the real deal in the Fall, the Dawgs suit up to give us a sneak peak of what 2014 will have to offer. And while there are far fewer early enrollees than in past years, there are still plenty of young guns to keep an eye on. The following is my detailed analysis on what to watch for this spring. Yes, the battle for the starting safety job is probably the most intriguing one. But stick with me here, because there are a lot of other, perhaps more subtle competitions that will take shape as the Spring progresses.
Let's get right to it ladies. Nothing is assured here. Yes, Hutson Mason has a pretty firm grasp of the reigns. And yes, I believe he deserves/will hold on to the starting job. He gained valuable experience last year after Aaron Murray went down, and has all the tools to compete in the SEC. Backing up a record setting 4 year starter probably wasn't how he wanted to spend most of his career. But he certainly learned a lot, and earned the praise of the coaching staff. However, in keeping an open mind and trying to be objective here, I must say that this story is eerily similar to the QB situation in the Spring of '09. Joe Cox, himself a highly touted recruit, backed up Matt Stafford for 3 years before taking over. I had big expectation for him because of how efficient he looked at times as a backup and how good he was in high school. But alas, 2009 was tough year all around for the program, and Cox's performance was average at best in a season when we really needed him to step up. 24 touchdowns are nice, but 14 interceptions are pretty hard to overcome. Mason could end up being the same story, which is why the competition between Faton Bauta, Brice Ramsey, and Jacob Park will be fun to watch. Park's the new guy who has all the intangibles and all the hype, but Bauta's one to watch. He received a lot of looks from the coaches while working with the scout team, and is the best threat on the ground of the bunch. His passing potential has yet to really be seen though. Ramsey is kind of the forgotten guy here. The coaches love his leadership and intelligence, but he's extremely raw having been in a run-oriented offense in high school and not seeing the field at all last year.
- Starter Exiting Spring: Mason
- Keep an Eye On: Bauta's Passing Ability
- Forgotten Man Who Could Impress: Ramsey
So yeah...Todd Gurley's the best in the country, potential All-American, Heisman candidate, probably his last year blah blah blah. No problems there. Our only thoughts regarding #3 should be how many total carries he gets in the Spring. The real question mark at this position lies in the depth behind him. To be honest, this competition won't start heating up until the Fall when Sony Michel and Nick Chubb arrive, and Keith Marshall returns from injury. In the meantime, I expect this spring will be very similar to last spring when JJ Green and Brendon Douglas took most of the snaps at tailback. However, the day after I started this preview, I found out Green moved to cornerback (as I was hoping). That means a lot of Douglas, who could work on his speed and shiftiness, although he's really not that type of runner. The latter statement makes me wish the coaches would try him at fullback. I think he could be the whole package there. He's big strong, yet quick, and an established runner/receiver. I think he'll improve tremendously at tailback, but I just wonder if he couldn't be the best fullback in the country. Merritt Hall is solid there, while Quayvon Hicks will get some reps at tight end. Interesting right? If he could learn to block a little better, that might turn out to be a nice move. He's a bulldozer in the open field, and nobody will bring him down. Will it be a permanent move? Maybe and maybe not. I hear his role is developing into more of an H-Back, but the TE practice doesn't hurt. If anything, it'll make him more rounded. AJ Turman will provide a needed boost with Green changing positions, and seeing as he's been more or less overlooked since signing day, I'm interested to see how he'll progress. He's an old fashioned North-South runner who doesn't impress with his speed, but could surprise with his toughness and strength.
- Starter: Gurley
- Keep An Eye On: Douglas's progress at tailback
- Forgotten Man Who Could Impress: Turman
If there's one position of depth on this entire team, it's definitely receiver. While Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will either miss or be limited this spring, veterans Chris Conley and Michael Bennett will be more than happy to give the young QBs some help. Jonathan Rumph and Reggie Davis gained valuable experience last season, and should see their roles increase. Once Mitchell and Scott-Wesley return, it'll be hard for the latter two to crack the lineup unless they really shine now. Rumph had an outstanding spring last year before really falling off the track with an injury in the Fall. Blake Tibbs and Uriah Lemay may never see the field come the Fall, but that's why the Spring is their moment to shine. Tight End should be an interesting spot to watch too, with Jay Rome replacing Arthur Lynch as the starter, and Jordan Davis looking to impress right behind him. Rome recently had surgery on his football, so he might not be 100% for the Spring. Enter Hicks, who is an intriguing prospect here. He's a little short for tight end, but is quick, can catch, and as we all know, can run after the catch. He'll need to work on his blocking a little, but again, there's no telling how permanent this move is. Bobo has hinted that the main reason for it is just to add a little depth to the position for the Spring since some good rookies are arriving in the Fall, and to develop Quayvon's overall skill set. He'd like to use him more as an H-Back (like Orson Charles is with the Bengals right now) , and the practice at tight end will help him a lot.
- Starters Exiting: Conley and Bennett (Rumph at number 3)
- Keep An Eye On: Davis's progression and consistency
- Forgotten Man Who Could Impress: Rumph should again, but I think Rome will step up
This group probably has the most work to do after losing three starters to graduation. David Andrews is the rock at center, while John Theus and Kolton Houston (nice saying that right?) bring some toughness and experience back with them. But beyond that, there are a lot of question marks wearing XXL jerseys and pads. Xavier Ward and Zach Debell have a few reps between them at tackle, but will need to be able to shuffle around. Watts Dantzler is a good one to watch at guard to see if he'll seize the moment. He has size, can move, and has earned the praise of the coaching staff, so I'm excited about his potential. The same can be said for Brandon Kublanow and Josh Cardiello, but they need some more reps before they're given starting roles. I can't figure out the enigma that is Mark Beard. He came in with a good deal of hype, and played fairly well in 2012, but then seemed to disappear in 2013. Kind of hard for a big guy to do right? But enough jokes. He needs to decide where he wants to be, and if he's going to show up.
- Starters Exiting: Andrews, Theus, Houston, Dantzler, Kublanow
- Keep An Eye On: Dantzler taking charge
- Forgotten Man Who Could Surprise: Beard
Much like receiver, I have no qualms about this bunch going into 2014. Losing Garrison Smith will provide the loss of a seasoned and vocal veteran, but these hogs ooze potential and depth. Ray Drew finally came through and delivered in 2013, and I expect him to be even more dominant next year. Another spring as a starter will help him be just that. Sterling Bailey was solid, but trailed off down the stretch. I expect him to get better this spring as well by adding some tenacity to his game. He's pretty athletic if you watch his tape, but he needs to be more consistent and downright mean. James Deloach is an interesting prospect at DE after having a great spring last year at OLB. He actually had landed the starting job before Leonard Floyd entered the picture. I could definitely see him pushing Bailey for a spot if he stays healthy. He's built more like an end, and while he doesn't have the speed for an OLB, he's just fast enough to get down the line of scrimmage. The rest of the group is pretty interchangeable. Chris Mayes looked good at nose while Toby Johnson and John Taylor split time between there and defensive end. I'd like to see them settle somewhere, but hey, whatever works. Mike Thornton earned the starting job last fall, but struggled after the Clemson game. He, Josh Dawson, and John Atkins will all have to step it up to earn more playing time.
- Starters Exiting Spring: Drew, Mayes, Bailey
- Keep An Eye On: Taylor getting more reps and improving
- Forgotten Man Who Could Impress: Deloach
Here we go again. Another position (along with WR and DL) absolutely oozing with talent and stocked with depth that is ready to take the college football world by storm. Georgia linebackers are on the cusp of moving from solid to outstanding, and the duo of Ramik Wilson and Armarlo Herrera lead the charge. I'll be honest, my previews on Wilson were less than favorable last year, and boy was I put in my place. From the Clemson game on, he was the most consistent playmaker on the field, and the unquestioned leader of the defense. He went on to not only lead the team in tackles, but the entire Southeastern Conference. Perhaps the most important fact was they weren't all just following the play, making the downfield tackles. He excelled at coming up to the line of scrimmage to make the stop, was the definition of a sideline to sideline backer. Wilson even added a few crucial sacks to his resume. The only area I'd like him to improve on is pass coverage. He also needs to not let all the attention get to his head (echoes of Mike Gilliard in 2012 abound). Herrera might just be the best LB in the country that nobody's heard of outside of Athens. Wilson might've gotten all the attention this past year, but it wasn't because of a lack of effort from #52. He played just as well as Ramik and was perhaps even more rounded because of his pass coverage skills. Last year, I said the difference between him and a 100 tackle season was his speed work, and he improved dramatically. Backing up these two are a host of talented young guns lead by Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter, who both shined in the Spring last year. Johnny O' Neal and Tim Kimbrough are right on their heels though, and it'll be interesting to see who exits as the primary backups.
On the outside, it was the new guy Leonard Floyd stealing the thunder from Jordan Jenkins, who was supposed to play more like a seasoned veteran. Floyd has the size, speed, and tenacity to be the next "sack master" in Athens, and was disruptive in the run game as well. He needs to become more disciplined, as he had a tendency to overrun plays, and could work on his pass scale, but overall, he's a star in the making. Jenkins, meanwhile, had a disappointing year overall considering the bar he raised after his freshman year. His pass rush was missing the hunger and drive that he had in 2012, and he really didn't come on until the last half of the year. He was good against the run though, and almost had a nice pick 6 against LSU. We'll have to wait until the Fall to see Lorenzo Carter & company arrive on campus with the new OLB crop. But for now, it will be Davin Bellamy and Brandon Burrows as the backups. Bellamy came in last year with some hype, so I'm excited about his potential. Burrows has some work to do, but with Deloach moving to DE, there's plenty of opportunity.
Starters Exiting: Jenkins, Wilson, Herrera, Floyd
Keep An Eye On: The backup ILB spots
Forgotten Man Who Could Impress: Bellamy (not necessarily forgotten, but a big spring for him with the other OLBs not arriving until fall)
Well, here we go. Much like last spring, we find ourselves with some major uncertainty in our secondary. There's an ample amount of talent, but a vague idea of how to best harness it. The loss of Josh Harvey-Clemons certainly doesn't help things, but it's not quite time to hit the panic button yet. What we needed most from him was consistency, and he finally delivered. We needed him to decide whether he was going to be on the field or not, and he chose the latter. While it's a shameful waste of talent, it does open the door for someone else to make a name from themselves. I have a feeling that somebody among this group will be the next great safety in a long tradition of excellence at the position. The question is, "who?" Let's start with Tray Matthews. Size? Check. Strength? Check. Speed and Aggression? Double check. Over-eagerness and raw talent that needs to be developed? There's not a big enough check box. This kid could be great if he could spend the offseason in bubble wrap to avoid injury, get his attitude straight in the locker room, and simply learn to break down before flying up to the ball. He was finally coming into his own in the LSU game, and then just disappeared until Auburn (for all the wrong reasons). Was he a true freshman playing against the best competition in the country? Yes, and at times he looked great. But as with last spring, these next few weeks will be crucial for his development on and off the field as he grows into the all-star we know he can be. In the meantime, we'll have to figure out who will either beat Matthews out, or play the other safety position. Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger both had their moments in the sun last season, but they also got burned badly at times. They both seem more comfortable against the run, so pass defense is crucial this spring. Mauger appeared to be more aggressive and consistent down the stretch, but Moore is the senior of the group with a few years of experience. Will he harness that experience and finally apply it though? The X factor here is Tramel Terry. I went back and watched his high school tapes again, and man is he an athlete. He minds me a lot of Percy Harvin, and it's a shame to me that he's not going to have a chance to show that at receiver, or at least not yet. Still, if he works as hard as he did last year, and applies his ball skills defensively, he could surprise.
At corner, there's a little more stability. Shag Wiggins is a star already, and I don't really need to see anymore improvement in his game except perhaps adding a little more muscle. Ironically, it's the veteran upperclassman Damian Swann at the other corner spot that needs to work hard this spring. After a promising 2012 campaign, he really took a step back last year. He seemed lost in pass coverage at times, and was slow to come up and make a tackle. It might have been because he moved to primarily corner from the "star" position he occupied the year before, but still, I expected more from him. Hopefully, he'll gain some confidence this spring and be the stud he was a couple years ago. If he can't do it, I wouldn't be surprised to see Reggie Wilkerson enter the equation again. He was a star in the Spring last year, and might have been poised for a starting role had an ACL injury not derailed him. Brendon Langley did something to earn the starting job for Game 1 last year, but I'm not sure what it was. Sorry to be so blunt because I know he was a true freshman who got picked on, but I didn't see him improve throughout the first half of the season. He'll have to work harder to get some reps. The same can be said for Sheldon Dawson. He's an upper classman who at one point was turning heads, but now he seems like an afterthought. He'll have some good talent to fight off in the Fall if he wants to see the field again. And how about JJ Green? Mr. Do It All finally got clearance to make the move to corner yesterday, and I think it's for the best. Not to say that he was going to be a bad tailback, but corner is where he's needed, and I think he'll make more than a push for playing time.
Starters Exiting: Wiggins, Swann, Matthews, Mauger (for now)
Keep An Eye On: Tramel Terry, Reggie Wilkerson, and JJ Green (one of these guys if not all three will make some noise)
Forgotten Man Who Could Surprise: Sheldon Dawson
What a difference a year makes right! Marshall Morgan, have yourself a day! After a rare BUI in the offseason led to a 2 game suspension, Blair Walsh's heir finally lived up to his billing, and grew into one of the best kickers in the country. It feels great knowing that #13 in the red & black is money from almost any distance, and it's been a while since we didn't all hold our breaths on field goals. Let's hope his confidence keeps growing this spring. Punter, however, is another matter. Collin Barber wasn't bad last year, but he didn't do anything to impress either. Enter Adam Erickson, who was a good change up, but again, nothing really spectacular. I'd like to see a clean, fair competition between them to work on their range and hang time while also being confidant that they won't get blocked. Let's be real. Some of blame was on the protection squads last year, but a lot has to do with the punter not knowing what's going on and still trying to get that perfect punt when he really just needs to kick the damn thing. In the return game, I'll say this: Isaiah McKenzie doesn't arrive until the Fall, and when he does, the job WILL be his to lose. But we'll talk about him later. For now, I like JJ Green on kick returns, and to be honest, Tramel Terry on punt returns. If you watch his tape, you'll see why. Green I felt like got better with the more returns he got. Terry, meanwhile, is an X factor here like he is at safety. There's loads of unexplored potential.
So there you have it folks. Sorry for the novelization towards the end but it's been a while since I last posted and these thoughts have been dormant for some time. I need some feedback though. Go Dawgs!
"The South, to me, is fried chicken and catfish caviar - that's grits - and good-looking women." - Erk Russell