Posted: 11:17 am Thursday, July 31st, 2014
By Bill King
The level of confidence on the part of fans as Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs report for preseason camp today varies greatly.
There are those who think a healthy offense loaded at tailback and receiver will be unstoppable despite a change in quarterbacks, and that the defense can’t help but be better than last year, meaning another trip to the Dome in December.
At the other extreme are the worriers who lament the unsettled offensive line, all the personnel losses from an already suspect secondary, the departure of Aaron Murray and the Dogs’ spotty history in special teams. A lot of those folks I’ve heard from see another eight-win season at best.
At least Wednesday, Georgia’s offensive and defensive coordinators sounded cautiously optimistic when they took questions from the media. OK, Mike Bobo sounded optimistic (though somewhat shy of Richt’s brash tone at the recent SEC Media Days) while Jeremy Pruitt mainly sounded cautiously … hopeful.
The main question marks concerning the offense are who ends up playing where on the offensive line, and whether they quickly gel.
“I feel good about where we are up front,” Bobo said Wednesday. “We have some maturity and leadership there in that group and have some guys who we feel are a little more athletic than we have been in the past. The bottom line is we still have to go out and play. Potential doesn’t really mean anything yet. But we have a chance to be pretty good up front.”
As for the rest of the offense, Bobo is getting some pretty terrific players back from injury and now has probably the best tailback corps in the country in terms of raw talent. And while Hutson Mason may not have the experience of Murray, he’s been in the program five years and got valuable game time late last season after Murray was injured. And he’ll be handing off to Todd Gurley and a host of talented backs and throwing to the likes of Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley. Plus, there’s a new wrinkle this year in the H-back position, where freshman Jeb Blazevich will be joining former fullback Quayvon Hicks.
Bobo allowed that “we’re going to have to see how we unfold as a team offensively and what our best personnel groups are and what our identity becomes for us to move the ball. That changes year to year.”
Still, it’s hard to see how the Dogs can be anything but prolific offensively.
Whether they end up having to carry the team, like last year, when the defense gave up 29 points a game under the now-departed Todd Grantham, is the biggest question about the 2014 Dawgs.
Actually, the front seven of Georgia’s defense wasn’t bad last year and could be even better this year. Pruitt likes his D a bit leaner than Grantham did and he noted Wednesday that “they’re all moving around a lot better.”
“I’d say each one of them has lost at least 10 pounds, some of them a little bit more. Our linebackers, some of our defensive backs, some of those guys have really changed their bodies this summer. I think it’s been positive. I think they feel a little better and I think they’ve got a little more confidence in their ability to do some things. And I think they can sustain and practice a little harder for a longer time.”
But while he wasn’t as down on his troops as a few months back, when asked Wednesday how comfortable he is that by the Clemson game he will be able to sub a lot of players into a lot of packages, Pruitt was frank:
“Well right now I’m not very comfortable at all. We’ve got a lot of guys that don’t have a lot of experience at all. Some of them are about to have their first practices at Georgia this week. So we have to figure that out. We’ll do what we can do. We’d like to be able to matchup and do some things as far as personnel (is involved) but we’re only going to try and get the guys on the field that have proven that we can trust them to play. If that’s 11 it’s 11. If it’s 30 it’s 30. Over the next few weeks time will tell.”
The main source of doubt about Georgia’s offense, of course, is the secondary, which was just plain awful last year and has seen a stream of players departing for various reasons this offseason.
There are some experienced players back there, but in the spring Pruitt made it clear that the starting jobs were all open, even to walk-ons.
As for who’ll end up playing, Pruitt, who recently has been bonding with his boys over burgers and brats at his house, said, “It’s going to be guys who play the ball good in the deep part of the field. To me, that’s the most important thing when it comes to defensive back, who can play the ball in the deep part of the field. Obviously that’s where the big plays are created. We’ll see who plays with toughness, who plays good man-to-man, who tackles well, who can sustain and do it over a period of time. to me, all the guys can do it. But who’s going to do it over and over and over.”
That’s a lot of uncertainty still, but Pruitt did throw us a bone Wednesday when he said, “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Considering how negative Pruitt sounded after spring, that’s pretty rah-rah for him.
I take that as a good sign.
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About the Author
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.