Contrary to what that lyin’ groundhog indicated, it certainly doesn’t look or feel like spring is right around the corner. But, whatever the weather, Mark Richt’s troops will hit the Woodruff Practice Fields March 17 for spring practice.
So, let’s run down some of the major questions or areas of concern about the 2015 team that fans will be hoping the coaching staff will be better able to answer once the G-Day game has been played April 11.
Just as in regular games, most eyes go first to the quarterback, where the spring competition between Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta, Jacob Park and redshirt-freshman walk-on Sam Vaughn should provide us with an idea of who will enter August drills as the presumptive starter.
As I wrote recently, I think the odds favor last year’s primary backup, Ramsey. What little game experience he got behind Hutson Mason is still more than the other QBs have. He also has the stronger arm, though his accuracy was shaky at times, and it remains to be seen if his decision-making improves enough to satisfy new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. If Ramsey is able to win the job, that should give the Dawgs the deep passing potential they mostly lacked in 2014.
Almost as important will be who winds up in the No. 2 spot. Bauta has been in the program a long time, knows the playbook and is considered more of a threat as a runner, while Park is very green but impressed a lot of folks with his scout team play last season and is seen as something of a dual threat. Vaughn is, of course, a longshot unless a string of injuries were to occur, but he also reportedly has a pretty impressive arm.
The other question that won’t really be answered until the fall is how, if at all, Schottenheimer replacing Mike Bobo will change Georgia’s offense. He’s indicated he doesn’t plan any major overhaul, but it still will be a different guy calling the plays.
However, quarterback is not the only vitally important position that the coaches will be filling. While most of the offensive line looks pretty set with returning starters John Theus, Brandon Kublanow, Greg Pyke and Kolton Houston, the job of center appears to be wide open.
Filling the shoes of David “Boss” Andrews is quite a task. Redshirt senior Hunter Long spelled Andrews last season with middling results, and it’s worth noting that the first name new OL coach Rob Sale mentioned in connection with the job is sophomore Isaiah Wynn. It’s also possible that Sale might decide to try shifting one of the other linemen over to center.
On the other side of the ball, line coach Tracy Rocker will be looking to shore up a run defense that was suspect at times in 2014 to go with what should be a pretty formidable pass rush. However, we probably won’t see the final answer here until August, when new signee Trent Thompson takes to the practice field. Chances are, he’s going to wind up a starter.
Redshirt freshman Lamont Gaillard also is expected to make a major bid for playing time and early enrollee Jonathan Ledbetter could be in the mix with the returning players, led by Chris Mayes, Sterling Bailey, Josh Dawson and James DeLoach.
Georgia is loaded at linebacker, particularly on the outside, where the main problem will be getting playing time for all the talented players. A bit more open is the secondary, where Jeremy Pruitt played a lot of guys last year and has some fresh talent coming in. The mix-and-match game is likely to continue, but one virtual certainty is Dominick Sanders, who was a regular starter last year as a freshman. With squad leader Damian Swann gone, Sanders looks to be the man around which the unit will be built.
Back on the offensive side, the Dawgs have a wealth of talent at running back, including probably the best back in the nation in Nick Chubb, so new coach Thomas Brown enters an enviable situation.
With Sony Michel back at full speed, Georgia will have another break-away threat, but the main question is whether Keith Marshall will once again be the same back as when he shared stardom his freshman and sophomore years with the now-departed Todd Gurley before getting hurt. Returning from ACL surgery, Marshall looked tentative last season before getting injured again, but reports were that by the time of bowl practices he was looking like his old self.
There’s also Brendan Douglas for relief. If they’re all healthy and at full speed, Georgia should again have a formidable ground game.
Actually, the main question here, besides Marshall, is deciding how much work/hitting Chubb will get in the spring.
That, and working to help Chubb handle the national spotlight should be among Brown’s biggest chores. Brown said this week his approach is “just tell those guys to ignore the noise. When you’re a great player, people want to get attached to you and write about you and tell you how great you are and what you’re going to become. I just say to focus on the stuff that you can control.”
The other offensive position that bears watching in the spring and preseason is wide receiver. Assuming Malcolm Mitchell remains healthy, he is Georgia’s biggest downfield threat, but who will step up to replace the reliable Chris Conley and Michael Bennett?
There’s talent there, particularly Justin Scott-Wesley, Reggie Davis and Isaiah McKenzie, but they were inconsistent last year. Some observers think transfer Charlie Hegedus could become a go-to guy. We also might see some true freshmen, most notably Terry Godwin and Jayson Stanley, cracking the lineup.
At least to start, though, I believe sophomore tight end Jeb Blazevich is likely to wind up with a lot more balls thrown his way.
So, those are some of the areas I’ll be watching with interest this spring. What about you?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. 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.