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Monday, April 29, 2013
Recapping UGA post-spring reviews

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- Over the last two weeks, we reviewed the competition for playing time at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and identified a player to watch at each position.

A defense that lost 12 significant players will be a focal point well into the fall, and it was in our post-spring recaps. Let’s take a look at the defensive positions first:

Defensive line: Senior defensive end Garrison Smith is the only returning player with much starting experience, so new position coach Chris Wilson will have to rebuild the Bulldogs’ rotation between now and the Aug. 31 opener at Clemson. Nose guard Michael Thornton, whom we picked as the line’s player to watch, moved into a starting role this spring. But he’s only one of many players -- throw Sterling Bailey, Chris Mayes, Ray Drew and Jonathan Taylor into that group -- who have something to prove when the Bulldogs open preseason practice.

Inside linebacker: We picked junior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson -- now focusing solely on playing inside after splitting his time between inside and outside in his first two seasons -- as the player to watch here. The group that lost three of its four top players from 2012, including NFL first-round pick Alec Ogletree, will be extremely young behind expected starters Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. It’s possible that all four freshman signees will see the field this fall.

Outside linebacker: Jordan Jenkins is the odds-on favorite to succeed first-round pick Jarvis Jones as the Bulldogs’ top sack man this fall, but the depth chart here is otherwise uncertain. We picked strongside linebacker James DeLoach as the OLB to watch, although he’ll have to compete with a healthy Chase Vasser once camp opens. A couple of newcomers could make things interesting at the position in August, as well.

Cornerback: Perhaps nobody on Georgia’s defense is more secure in his starting role than junior Damian Swann. Otherwise, cornerback was one of the team’s bigger mysteries at the end of the spring. We picked Sheldon Dawson as the corner to watch after he picked off three passes in two scrimmages before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out of the G-Day game. A big group of summer arrivals will add to the competition here in August.

Safety: This could be a position that generates major excitement in the fall, although it will not be stocked with experience. Early enrollee Tray Matthews and sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons, our safety to watch, seem to have solidified starting spots. Otherwise, it might take some time for position coach Scott Lakatos to decide on a depth chart at safety.

The offense is much more stable, although there will be some interesting competition at a couple of positions -- particularly along the offensive line. That’s where we’ll start:

Offensive line: Although they return everybody from last season, including four players who started all 14 games, Will Friend’s line group had an extremely competitive spring. Friend shuffled lineups and players between positions in an attempt to determine the rotation he likes best. It’s possible the Bulldogs could regularly deploy as many as eight or nine linemen, including player to watch John Theus.

Tight end: Arthur Lynch and player to watch Jay Rome are obviously entrenched as the Bulldogs’ top two options here, but sophomore Ty Flournoy-Smith’s progress bears watching. He possesses impressive receiving skills that could help him crack the rotation in the fall.

Receiver: With Tavarres King and Marlon Brown gone and Michael Bennett still recovering from an ACL injury, the receiver rotation was in flux this spring. Player to watch Chris Conley earned the Bulldogs’ spring offensive MVP honors, and Malcolm Mitchell learned how to play more than one receiver position before suffering a meniscus tear that ended his spring. However, the ability to line him up in multiple spots could be extremely valuable in the fall.

Running back: All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley and player to watch Keith Marshall are clearly established as the top options here, but early enrollee J.J. Green might have won some playing time with a strong spring. Depth is a mild concern, although the arrival of signees A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas this summer will help alleviate that somewhat.

Quarterback: Obviously Aaron Murray is not in jeopardy of losing his starting spot, but the depth chart behind Murray and player to watch Hutson Mason is less certain. Nothing that happened this spring changed that scenario. Walk-on Parker Welch, sophomore Christian LeMay, redshirt freshman Faton Bauta and early enrollee Brice Ramsey will have to duke it out in August and into the next few seasons.

Special teams: This was a major area of concern entering last spring, with punter Collin Barber and kicker Marshall Morgan not yet on campus. The kicking duo enjoyed fine freshman seasons, although player to watch Morgan clearly must develop greater consistency as his career progresses. Another question for August and beyond is what might happen on the kick return teams. Mitchell is the presumptive starter there, but a number of newcomers could emerge as reasonable options.