Thursday, August 15, 2013
Where UGA position battles stand
By David Ching
ATHENS, Ga. -- Multiple Georgia coaches said recently that the conclusion of Wednesday night’s team scrimmage would be the point where they begin settling their starting lineups and rotations.
When he addressed the media late Wednesday night, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said the coaching staff will have a good idea on their depth charts by next Wednesday’s final preseason scrimmage.
“It’ll be maybe a day or two before we start trying to figure out … and it won’t be exact until probably next Wednesday,” Richt said. “I would think by next Wednesday when we have that practice game, we’ll have a really good idea of our lineup.”
Richt’s assistant coaches will provide further clarity when they meet with reporters after Thursday’s practice. But for now, let’s take a stab at where things stand at each position with barely more than two weeks remaining until the Bulldogs’ Aug. 31 opener at Clemson.
Quarterback: The starter here is obvious, as it has been for most of the last four seasons. Aaron Murray bounced back from a three-interception first scrimmage with a 14-for-18, 173-yard effort, with one touchdown and one interception on Wednesday. He’s as firmly entrenched in a starting role as any player on the team, and Hutson Mason is the obvious choice as his backup. The more interesting question is which player sits behind the two veterans in the pecking order: Christian LeMay, Faton Bauta or true freshman Brice Ramsey? It might be Ramsey sooner rather than later.
Running back: Like with Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are the obvious top two at their position. Behind them are three true freshmen. J.J. Green impressed coaches and teammates this spring, but the 5-foot-9 scatback is not an every-down player. A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas -- who had a solid second scrimmage -- are more traditional tailbacks and have handled themselves well so far in camp. Don’t be surprised to see all three freshmen play this fall. At fullback, Quayvon Hicks moved into a starting role this spring and seems prepared to be the leading blocker for his two star tailbacks. Merritt Hall will still contribute at the position, however.
Tight end: Preseason All-SEC pick Arthur Lynch and sophomore Jay Rome are a formidable pair and seem poised to contribute more consistently after strong second halves. Rome has missed a number of recent practices with an ankle injury, giving impressive freshman Jordan Davis a chance to take more practice reps. Davis will play regardless, as Ty Smith’s offseason departure left Georgia with just three scholarship tight ends.
Offensive line: Position coach Will Friend has experimented with a number of combinations, but it appears as though last season’s starting lineup -- left tackle Kenarious Gates, left guard Dallas Lee, center David Andrews, right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- might remain intact for the opener. The bigger question is how many reserves will factor into a rotation along the line? As of now, it appears that Kolton Houston, Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler will all see some time. Houston and Theus both played with the starting offensive line at right tackle in Wednesday’s scrimmage.
Amarlo Herrera (52) still seems in line to start at inside linebacker but Georgia is getting good contributions from its newcomers.
Wide receiver: One of the more intriguing position groups on the roster, receiver should provide offensive coordinator Mike Bobo with plenty of options. Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley are well-established veterans, as is senior Rantavious Wooten. Bobo and Richt recently complimented junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph for the progress he has made in August, so count on him playing a significant role, as well, along with breakout candidate Justin Scott-Wesley. A number of young players could also figure into a sizable rotation, including senior Rhett McGowan, redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs and speedy true freshman Reggie Davis. Because of positional depth, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see freshmen Uriah LeMay and Tramel Terry -- who is still recovering from a knee injury and said last week he is not ready to play in a game yet -- redshirt this fall. Keep an eye on Terry’s recovery, however, because he’s an explosive talent when healthy.
Defensive line: Much like the receivers, Georgia seems poised to use a number of players along the line of scrimmage. Senior Garrison Smith is a likely starter at defensive end, but he has plenty of company among likely contributors, including juco transfer Toby Johnson -- who has impressed in camp and is fully recovered from a knee injury that ended his 2012 season -- Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew. The versatile Jonathan Taylor (nose guard/defensive end) and Josh Dawson (outside linebacker/defensive end) will also figure into new position coach Chris Wilson’s plans. Inside, Michael Thornton, John Atkins and juco transfer Chris Mayes -- who has missed practice time recently after sustaining a concussion -- will likely contribute at nose guard.
Inside linebacker:Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson still seem to be the odds-on candidates to start, while true freshman Reggie Carter has followed a strong spring with a solid August. ILBs coach Kirk Olivadotti is sure to use at least one or two of the other true freshmen -- including Tim Kimbrough, Johnny O’Neal, Ryne Rankin and Shaun McGee -- as reserves because of a lack of depth. Olivadotti hasn’t tipped his hand about where things with the freshmen stand as of yet.
Outside linebacker: Sophomore Jordan Jenkins is almost certainly a starter and potential All-SEC candidate. Likewise, James DeLoach seems likely to start on the strong side once he returns from the thumb sprain that forced him to undergo surgery early in camp. But a spate of left thumb injuries only a few days in camp -- impressive freshman Leonard Floyd underwent surgery, as did Davin Bellamy -- made the picture a bit murkier at the position. Josh Harvey-Clemons worked at the position briefly just to provide some depth. T.J. Stripling, who performed well in both preseason scrimmages, Chase Vasser, Dawson, McGee and Brandon Burrows can also contribute at OLB. Keep an eye on Floyd, who could emerge as a dangerous pass rusher.
Cornerback: Junior Damian Swann is entrenched as a starter and sophomore Sheldon Dawson seems to be an odds-on favorite. Where things get interesting is who factors in behind those two, particularly after early enrollee Reggie Wilkerson was lost for the season to injury. True freshmen Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley have earned compliments from coaches and teammates, although Wiggins missed recent practice time with a groin injury. Both freshmen intercepted passes in Wednesday’s scrimmage, and Richt said they could threaten Dawson’s starting status. Cornerback/safety Kennar Johnson and veteran Devin Bowman could also figure into DBs coach Scott Lakatos’ plans in some capacity.
Safety: Spring defensive MVP Josh Harvey-Clemons’ one-game suspension opens the door for somebody at safety in the base defense and at nickelback when the Bulldogs use five DBs. Swann seems likely to take over the nickel role against Clemson, so Lakatos will have to settle on who else sees the field in such a circumstance. Freshman free safety Tray Matthews has been sidelined recently by separate injuries, but he still seems to be a likely starter. Otherwise, Connor Norman might be a safe pick to fill in unless Corey Moore or juco transfer Shaquille Fluker make a big move between now and the opener. Five safeties missed Wednesday’s scrimmage -- including Matthews, Moore and Fluker -- so the evaluation period at this position will likely continue for a while.
Punter/Kicker:Collin Barber returns at punter with Adam Erickson still behind him, so there is little intrigue at that position. However, the place-kicking job has been a source of uncertainty in August. Richt won’t say whether sophomore Marshall Morgan will miss any playing time following an offseason arrest. If he’s out against Clemson, Erickson or another walk-on could take over, but Richt has not allowed specialists to speak to reporters this August and has been intentionally vague about how the group is performing in practice.