Georgia Bulldogs: Jonathon Rumph

Players to watch: Tramel Terry

February, 28, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

We discussed wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, offensive guard Brandon Kublanow, defensive lineman Toby Johnson and offensive tackles John Theus and Kolton Houston in the first four installments. Today, we conclude the series with a converted wide receiver who could play a key role in the secondary this fall.

[+] EnlargeTramel Terry
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTramel Terry took a redshirt last season and figures into Georgia's plans at safety.
Tramel Terry (Safety, redshirt freshman)

2013 review: Although he enrolled at Georgia last January and hoped to contribute as a true freshman, a torn ACL that Terry suffered in a postseason all-star game did not heal in time for him to play. He complained during preseason practice about a lack of mobility because of the brace on his knee and worked out with the scout team throughout the fall. Then came a twist during bowl practice, when Terry shifted from wide receiver to safety -- a move that coach Mark Richt said might stick beyond the bowl-season experiment.

Why spring is important: Let's operate under the assumption that Terry remains in the secondary, particularly after Richt's recent dismissal of starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Terry played the position a bit in high school, but he played lots of positions -- hence his ranking as ESPN's No. 9 athlete in the 2013 signing class. He also contributed at running back and wide receiver in high school. He has never focused solely on safety so this will be a prime learning opportunity. The dynamic athleticism that made him one of ESPN's Top 100 recruits last year could help him become a useful defensive back, but he's a long way from stardom right now. He needs to have a productive spring if that is to be an attainable goal this fall.

Best case/worst case: Georgia's safeties already were on shaky ground even before Harvey-Clemons' dismissal. The back end of the Bulldogs' defense was inconsistent for much of last season and didn't look much better at the end of the year than it did at the beginning. Sure, Corey Moore, Quincy Mauger and Tray Matthews -- all of whom were part-time starters last year -- are back. But they weren't good enough to keep Terry, and other players, from jumping into the mix if he impresses new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt this spring. Maybe Terry will do that and win playing time or even a starting spot. A more reasonable expectation might be for Terry to learn more about the job during the spring and summer, start contributing on special teams early in the fall and eventually work his way into the rotation on scrimmage downs. It's too early to make a prediction on which of those outcomes is more likely, but we should have a better idea what might happen after spring practice.

Players to watch: Theus/Houston

February, 27, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
AP Photo/Paul AbellJohn Theus took a step back after a freshman All-American season in 2012.
We discussed wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, offensive guard Brandon Kublanow and defensive lineman Toby Johnson to start the week. We move on Thursday to two candidates to fill the starting spots at offensive tackle this fall.

John Theus and Kolton Houston (offensive tackles, Jr. and Sr.)

2013 review: After starting all 14 games at right tackle and making multiple freshman All-American teams in 2012, Theus found himself in a reserve role to open his sophomore season. He started just once in the first six games while Houston held down the right tackle spot. As the season progressed, however, they flipped roles and Theus started the last seven games and Houston played as a reserve.

Why spring is important: Longtime starting left tackle Kenarious Gates was a senior last fall, so not only was the job that Theus and Houston juggled last year up for grabs, but so is Gates' old spot on the left side of the line. Considering how Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell have yet to make much of an impact at Georgia, Theus and Houston seem like the favorites to win the starting jobs. Senior Mark Beard, who has played both guard and tackle, might also be a possibility. Nonetheless, offensive line coach Will Friend will likely look at several groups along a line that must replace three starters. Theus and Houston had their ups and downs a season ago, so they could use a strong spring to alleviate some of the uncertainty that the line carries into the upcoming practices.

Best case/worst case: Georgia fans were excited about what the future held for Theus entering his sophomore season, but he didn't make enormous strides in his second season on campus. Likewise, Houston made his long-awaited debut following a lengthy NCAA eligibility dispute and frequently looked like a player who hadn't been able to earn any game experience in his first three seasons at Georgia. Since both players seem likely to contribute as part of a rotation at minimum -- and likely as starters -- a worst-case scenario would have them playing at the same level as they did in 2013. Theus and Houston are capable of much more, however, and a consistent spring could help them nail down starting tackle jobs and solidify Friend's plans entering preseason practices.

Players to watch: Toby Johnson

February, 26, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

We talked about wide receiver Jonathon Rumph and offensive guard Brandon Kublanow in the first two installments. We move on Wednesday to a defensive lineman who could play a bigger role in 2014 now that he has had a year to heal from an injury and get his bearings at Georgia.

Toby Johnson (defensive lineman, Sr.)

2013 review: A late addition to Georgia's 2013 signing class, Johnson was the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 and hoped to play a much larger role along the defensive line. He was coming off an ACL injury from the previous November, but he did not want to redshirt. So he played in 10 games as a reserve, finishing the season with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Why spring is important: Playing time would have been available for Johnson even without Garrison Smith -- a 2013 senior who started all 13 games last season -- leaving the lineup. Johnson was listed as Smith's backup at defensive end in the bowl loss, and like Smith, he is capable of playing either inside or outside depending on the situation. The goal this spring will be for Johnson to prove to new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker that he deserves to be one of the leading figures along the line and not the role player he was a season ago.

Best case/worst case: Johnson was only about 10 months removed from ACL surgery when last season started, and while he said he felt healthy, he never made a dent in the starting lineup. Smith, Chris Mayes and the Ray Drew-Sterling Bailey combo handled the top spots along the line for much of the season, but a big spring could push Johnson toward the front of the line this fall. There are other contenders for playing time -- including John Taylor, John Atkins, Josh Dawson and Michael Thornton -- so this will be a pivotal spring for all of them. If Johnson fails to make a move this spring, he runs the risk of remaining as a utility man as a senior, which would be a big disappointment for a player who carried such acclaim when he signed with the Bulldogs.

Players to watch: Jonathon Rumph

February, 24, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch when the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

Today we begin with a junior college transfer who arrived to great acclaim last year, only to struggle to make much of an impact in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJonathon Rumph
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIJonathon Rumph caught just seven passes for Georgia in 2013. Will he play a bigger role next season?
Jonathon Rumph (Wide receiver, Sr.)

2013 review: When he transferred from Holmes (Miss.) Community College last January, he looked like a weapon that Aaron Murray would instantly utilize. He's 6-foot-5 and was the No. 1 receiver in ESPN's Junior College 100 last year. He added to the hype by catching four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the G-Day game -- and then we didn't see him again until midway through the fall. A lingering hamstring ailment kept him off the field until the Florida game. He played in five of the last six games, including a 98-yard outing against Appalachian State, and finished the season with seven receptions for 121 yards.

Why spring is important: Despite his outstanding performance in the G-Day game, it was apparent that Rumph didn't impress his coaches last spring. Then the injury prevented him from ever truly settling into the receiver rotation. This season is his last shot to accomplish something that might help him land on an NFL roster -- but he has to get on the field at Georgia first. At this point, it's tough to predict whether he'll become a reliable performer, although proving to position coach Tony Ball that he is consistent and coachable during spring ball would be an enormous step in the right direction.

Best case/worst case: Georgia already has some impressive options at receiver. Seniors Chris Conley and Michael Bennett have proven themselves, as have juniors Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley -- both of whom will be returning from season-ending knee injuries. Rumph looks like someone who could join that group of regulars and add both a huge target and vertical threat to the passing game. We'd be a lot more comfortable predicting that he'll actually do that if word begins to spread this spring that he's making good things happen, not more of the mixed reviews that came out around this time last year. If he doesn't get on Ball's good side this spring and preseason, Rumph might have another season like 2013 where he occasionally gets on the field, but fails to make much of a dent on the stat sheet.
Georgia has another top-10 class lined up for national signing day, but its final ranking next week could rise or fall depending on how the Bulldogs finish within their own state -- particularly whether they land their top remaining target, Lorenzo Carter.

As it stands, the Bulldogs have commitments from two of the top six players from Georgia, but that's it among the Peach State's collection of elite prospects. Heavily recruited players such as linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson) were among those who checked out Georgia before committing elsewhere.

Mark Richt's staff still has a chance to finish on a strong note, however.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Carter
Miller Safrit/ESPNLorenzo Carter is the top remaining recruiting target for Georgia.
The Bulldogs seem to be in good shape to land five-star defensive end Carter (ESPN's No. 14 overall prospect and No. 3 player at his position). Other targets such as ESPN 300 prospect Wesley Green (No. 120 overall, No. 13 cornerback, uncommitted), Bryson Allen-Williams (No. 162 overall, No. 10 outside linebacker, committed to South Carolina) and Andrew Williams (No. 174 overall, No. 17 defensive end, uncommitted) are among those lurking as possible final members of the class.

Otherwise, this recruiting class -- one that could be slightly smaller than normal -- adequately addresses Georgia's immediate needs. Let's look at how Georgia addressed some of those positions:

Secondary: Georgia's weakest position segment last season could use some immediate help -- and it will get it in cornerbacks Shattle Fenteng (No. 3 overall prospect, top cornerback on ESPN's Junior College 50) and Malkom Parrish (No. 77 overall, No. 10 athlete). Georgia recently added three-star athlete Dominick Sanders at corner. Green -- who is scheduled to join Carter and others on a visit to Athens this weekend -- and three-star athletes T.J. Harrell and Tavon Ross remain as targets.

The possible shortcoming here is that safety was an inconsistent position for Georgia last season and the Bulldogs have only three-star prospect Kendall Gant lined up so far.

With Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended to open the season, senior Corey Moore, rising sophomore Quincy Mauger and oft-injured Tray Matthews might be the only early options, but keep an eye on Harrell and Ross between now and signing day.

Running back: With Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall entering their third seasons on campus, Georgia needed insurance policies at tailback.

The Bulldogs locked that up in a big way with the current headliners in this class, Sony Michel (No. 19 overall, No. 2 running back) and Nick Chubb (No. 63 overall, No. 7 running back). It will be interesting to see how Richt's staff juggles a glut of talented ball carriers just a year after injuries to Gurley and Marshall created depth problems.

Tight end: With Ty Flournoy-Smith getting kicked off the team last summer and Arthur Lynch exhausting his eligibility in the fall, Georgia had a need at tight end. Jeb Blazevich (No. 101 overall, No. 2 tight end/H) could become Georgia's next great pass-catching tight end thanks to an impressive combination of size (6-foot-5) and soft hands.

Offensive line: Replenishing the line of scrimmage is always a priority, and with Georgia losing starting guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, signing a top prospect such as Isaiah Wynn (No. 106 overall, No. 6 guard) will be particularly valuable. The Bulldogs are also set to sign four-star tackle Dyshon Sims and three-star prospects Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards.

Receiver: Georgia has plenty of bodies here for 2014, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Jonathon Rumph and Michael Erdman will each be seniors and Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell will be fourth-year juniors.

The Bulldogs have secured commitments from ESPN 300 member Shakenneth Williams (No. 297 overall, No. 45 receiver) and three-star prospect Gilbert Johnson. They also are set to re-sign Rico Johnson, who failed to qualify after signing with the Bulldogs last February.

Defensive line/outside linebacker: Keep an eye on this group for the future. If Georgia lands Carter to go along with already-committed Lamont Gaillard (No. 55 overall, No. 4 defensive tackle), that could be the foundation for some outstanding defensive lines in the next couple of seasons.

The Bulldogs return almost everyone along the line from last season, so it is not a glaring immediate need. The 2014 line will be stocked with fourth-year players, though, so this is a good time to restock the depth charts for the future. They already have a commitment from the versatile Keyon Brown (No. 185 overall, No. 19 defensive end), with Carter and Williams potentially joining him. Like Brown, three-star outside linebacker Detric Dukes brings some versatility to the crop of commitments along the line.

Georgia's coaches never gave up on Allen-Williams even after his commitment to South Carolina in April. He insists he will still sign with the Gamecocks, but plans to visit Georgia with Carter and the others this weekend. Stay tuned.

Turnover common for Ball, McClendon

December, 26, 2013
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Pardon Bryan McClendon if he took a pessimistic approach before the fall even arrived, but his five seasons as Georgia's running backs coach have permanently ingrained that attitude into his coaching outlook.

McClendon, who each season has juggled his lineups because of an assortment of injuries and off-the-field issues, predicted to All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley before the season that his sophomore year would not be all breakaway touchdown runs and soaring dives into the end zone. Those moments came, too, but McClendon's prediction proved to be correct when Gurley injured himself in the opener against Clemson and later missed three-and-a-half games with an ankle injury sustained against LSU.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley, who has rushed for 903 yards this season, has been hobbled by an ankle injury this season.
“That's something that we've known and we talked about before the year: it's going to be something,” McClendon said. “We didn't know what it was going to be, but it's going to be something -- just by the position and the style of play that he plays. But I do know that he probably won't be 100 percent [again] until after the year.”

It's always been something for McClendon's players -- and for fellow UGA assistant Tony Ball's receivers, as well -- but the coaches and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have proven over time that they are capable of adjusting to the personnel available on a given week.

They've certainly had more than enough practice in that capacity this season.

Gurley and Keith Marshall both missed multiple games at tailback, while freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas also struggled with minor ailments at points. And Ball's wideout group lost Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL on the second possession of the season, Justin Scott-Wesley to an ACL at midseason and Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph for multiple games at points.

The results with a decimated lineup weren't always pretty -- the Bulldogs committed four turnovers in a midseason loss to Missouri and generated just 221 yards of offense in the following week's loss to Vanderbilt -- but Bobo and company found a way to keep Georgia on pace to break the school's scoring record. The Bulldogs are averaging 38.2 ppg this season, just ahead of their record-setting 37.8-ppg average from 2012.

“There was an adjustment period there that we had to go through,” Bobo said. “That Missouri game, we pretty much stayed aggressive, but we kind of turned the ball over a little bit [and had] some timing issues. We tried to slow it a little bit down in the Vanderbilt game and didn't have the results that way, either, and had to go back to the drawing board and the guys responded and answered and came back and played well the rest of the year.”

That they did. Georgia averaged 45.8 ppg over the final four games, even without key players like Marshall, Mitchell, Scott-Wesley and senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who tore his ACL in the home finale against Kentucky. Even with Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan playing bigger roles at receiver and with the freshmen filling in for Gurley and Marshall in the backfield at midseason, the Bulldogs regularly got production out of less heralded players.

“A lot of people went down and kids had to step up and prove they can play. Even a lot of freshmen had to step up and play,” Douglas said. “I just give credit to the coaches for having them ready to go and Coach B-Mac having me and J.J. ready to roll in whenever we needed to.”

McClendon turned 30 earlier this month, but since Mark Richt promoted him from his post as a graduate assistant in 2009, he has dealt with as much roster turnover as a considerably older coach.

It was stressful, McClendon admitted, but it also expedited his development within the profession.

“You learn by hard times,” McClendon said. “You learn by adversity, you learn by when things are not going just peachy. And obviously that's been the case, and I think I've grown tremendously from it.”

His boss agrees.

Richt saw Green rush for 129 yards in an overtime win against Tennessee and witnessed Douglas post 113 yards of offense against Missouri even when they weren't ready to play leading roles just yet. He saw 10 different wideouts make catches over the course of the season, with seven of them finishing with at least 89 yards in a game this fall.

Injuries are of course part of the game, but Georgia's receivers and running backs have dealt with more than their share over the last couple of seasons – and Richt is proud of the way his assistants have coped with those situations.

“[Ball] coaches them all the same and he does a great job of trying to crosstrain players when they're ready for it to make sure if you do have an injury … you've got guys that have got to be moving around. He did a great job,” Richt said. “And McClendon did, too. Bryan, I think he's blossomed into one heck of a coach.

“I just don't like bragging too much about these guys because everybody wants to try to snag them,” Richt chuckled. “So we don't want that to happen.”

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
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This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Georgia and Nebraska. Perhaps the most notable similarity between the Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4), though, is the numerous injuries that helped prevent them from playing up to their potential.

ESPN.com's David Ching and Mitch Sherman discussed how injuries affected the teams' seasons and what might have been if not for all the physical ailments.

1. Out of all of the injuries they sustained this season, which one was the costliest and why?

Ching: There are a lot of directions you could go here, but Todd Gurley's ankle injury and ensuing three-and-a-half-game absence probably hurt the most. Gurley is one of the biggest difference-makers in the country, and Georgia's potent offense simply wasn't as good without him in the lineup -- particularly when fellow tailback Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury the week after Gurley went down against LSU. It's not a coincidence that Georgia bounced back from a two-game losing streak upon Gurley's return, nor that the Bulldogs went 4-1 down the stretch once he was back. He totaled 755 yards and 10 touchdowns in those five games.

Sherman: Taylor Martinez began this season as most indispensable Husker -- and by November, we saw why. Without the fifth-year senior, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback, including four this season, the Nebraska offense shifted from the strength of this team to a liability. The Huskers failed to gain 400 yards in each of their final four games. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III performed admirably, but their numbers paled in comparison to the production expected from a healthy Martinez. In good position to become the second QB in FBS history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, he suffered the fateful foot injury in Nebraska’s season opener. By mid-September, his limitations were painfully apparent, stamped into the record books with losses to UCLA and Minnesota in Martinez’s final two starts.

2. Which position group dealt with the most injury issues?

Sherman: Problems on the offensive line began on the opening series of the sixth game against Purdue as All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. Long was the leader of the line and a motivating force for the entire team as a senior captain and former walk-on turned solid NFL prospect. As soon as his linemates began to wear Long’s jersey No. 61 as a tribute, the injury bug spread. First, it was left guard Jake Cotton. Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, despite staying in the lineup, dealt with injuries, too, as did center-turned-guard Cole Pensick. Long’s replacement, Mike Moudy, missed the final four games. The injuries hurt most in practice, and Long’s injury got the snowball rolling. Before the Purdue game, Nebraska rushed for 285 yards or more in four of five games. After Purdue, it never topped 195 on the ground.

Ching: Georgia's safeties could make a reasonable argument here, but let's go with the receivers. Malcolm Mitchell suffered perhaps the most bizarre injury of the season when he tore an ACL while leaping into the air to celebrate Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson on the Bulldogs' second offensive possession of the fall. Justin Scott-Wesley, who essentially caught the game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and LSU, tore an ACL while covering a punt against Tennessee. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley also missed multiple games with midseason injuries, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph didn't play until Game 8 against Florida after injuring his hamstring in August. Because of the regular lineup shuffling, six Bulldogs have at least 20 catches this season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia went 4-1 after sophomore RB Todd Gurley returned to the lineup, and the only loss was the 'Miracle at Jordan-Hare.'
3. What do you think this team might have accomplished if health hadn't become such a factor?

Ching: I hesitate to say Georgia would have been a BCS title contender because its defense was probably not championship caliber. But it's hard to predict what might have been with any certainty since the Bulldogs started losing key contributors in the first quarter of the first game. I'll go so far as to say the Bulldogs at least would have won a third straight SEC East title and been in the running for an at-large BCS bowl spot. With Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Kentucky, at the trigger and an impressive array of skill talent, this had the potential to be the scariest offense Georgia has ever put on the field, but we never saw the full complement for even one full game.

Sherman: It’s difficult to quantify in wins and losses, considering the other problems that plagued these Huskers, notably with turnovers and on special teams. Nebraska could have outscored Minnesota with a healthy Martinez and Long. And it’s likely that the second-half meltdown against UCLA never would have happened if Martinez was operating at full strength. The Huskers moved the ball well in a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Injuries weren’t the issue against the Spartans; turnovers were, but freshmen committed all five. And Martinez, while turnover-prone since his freshman season, torched the Spartans a year ago. But even at 10-2, Nebraska would have missed a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game.
ATHENS, Ga. -- The offseason is important for every college player, but it is particularly valuable for those hoping to make the transition from off-the-radar prospect to essential contributor.

With that in mind, let's look at five Georgia players (or groups) who need to have strong springs and summers -- once the Bulldogs move past their upcoming bowl matchup, of course -- to become useful players next season.

[+] EnlargeJonathon Rumph
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIReceiver Jonathon Rumph needs to prove he deserves playing time in 2014.
Jonathon Rumph: One of the more high-profile recruits in Georgia's 2013 signing class, the junior college transfer didn't play until midseason and didn't make his first catch until Game 9. Rumph's six catches for 112 yards thus far fall well short of the preseason expectations for a player who signed as the No. 7 overall prospect on ESPN's Junior College 100. Even after making a small impact after his debut, Rumph barely saw the field in Georgia's last two games of the regular season. He needs to prove that he belongs in the rotation next season because he clearly has not convinced receivers coach Tony Ball thus far that he deserves regular playing time.

Brandon Kublanow: With three offensive line positions open after the season ends, we could go several directions here. But let's stick to guard, where starters Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee will both be gone after this season. Kublanow was impressive enough after arriving on campus this summer that he won some playing time as a true freshman. It would not be at all surprising to see him grab a starting job next season if he has a strong spring and summer. He's a grinder, and he's going to become a solid offensive lineman at the college level.

The ILBs: Most likely, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson will be back for their senior seasons in 2014. But it's not a particularly good thing that they essentially played every meaningful down this fall. The Bulldogs need the freshmen who played sparingly -- Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Johnny O'Neal and Ryne Rankin -- to make a bigger impact next season. Carter is the most obvious choice for more playing time, but Georgia needs to develop more of the talent on the roster in order to be prepared for Wilson and Herrera's departure after next season. To this point, he's the only non-starter at ILB who has played an important down.

A.J. Turman: After redshirting as a freshman, Turman is in an awkward position as 2014 approaches. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are established stars. Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green were productive this fall while playing as true freshmen. Now verbal commits Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are on board to join the team before next season. Turman has some running skills, but he'd better do something to make himself stand out -- soon … like this winter and spring -- or he'll place himself in jeopardy of getting lost in the shuffle.

Jordan Davis: Another 2013 redshirt, Davis has the opportunity to garner major playing time next fall. Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams will be gone and only Jay Rome will remain among the Bulldogs' 2013 regulars at tight end. Davis should be able to carve out a role -- and he could do himself a favor if he does so before highly-touted verbal commit Jeb Blazevich can establish himself. Davis is a diligent worker and should eventually become a serviceable traditional tight end, whereas Blazevich looks more like a player whose greatest strength will be his receiving skills. The Bulldogs need both skill sets to be present among players at the position.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's win on Nov. 9 against Appalachian State wasn't just one of the last times we'll see this senior-laden version of the Bulldogs offense, it also served as a sneak preview of what lies ahead.

Following Saturday's date with Kentucky -- the final game at Sanford Stadium this season -- the Bulldogs will look entirely different on offense the next time they take the field before a home crowd. And many of the players who will take over for the likes of Aaron Murray and his fellow seniors next fall also filled their spots in the fourth quarter of Georgia's 45-6 win over the Mountaineers two weekends ago.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNBackup quarterback Hutson Mason is the frontrunner to start for the Bulldogs in 2014.
“I think the thing you can't get in practice is just that 95,000 [fans] with the atmosphere,” said junior Hutson Mason, Georgia's presumptive starting quarterback next season, who went 11-for-16 for 160 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State. “Really you can get everything [else] in practice. Our coaches, they believe in putting a lot of pressure on you so when it comes to the game, you're used to that feeling. But it's definitely a different atmosphere, different jitters.”

Assuming he wins the quarterback job, Mason will be in a convenient position next season. Georgia loses seven seniors -- Murray, tight end Arthur Lynch, receivers Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan and offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee -- who started on offense against Auburn. And yet the returning skill-position talent surrounding the Bulldogs' next quarterback will be as impressive as that of nearly any offense in the country.

Not only will tailback Todd Gurley return for his junior season, the Bulldogs expect to get receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall back from season-ending knee injuries that crippled the offense at points this fall. That's in addition to other returning weapons like receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph, tight end Jay Rome and tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and 2014 commitments Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among ESPN's top eight prospects at running back.

Not a bad situation for a first-time starting quarterback who must replace the most distinguished passer in SEC history.

“We've got a lot of weapons,” redshirt freshman receiver Blake Tibbs said. “And Hutson, he don't care who's open. If they put a dog in a helmet and some equipment out there, if he was open, Hutson would throw it to him. That's one thing about Hutson: He don't care. If you're open, he's going to trust you to make the play and he's going to keep throwing to you.”

Mason certainly proved that in his lone opportunity for significant playing time this season. He hit his first eight pass attempts, connecting with the likes of Rumph, Green, freshman Reggie Davis and walk-on Kenneth Towns on his first drive. Then came further completions to Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Douglas and Rumph again before his first incomplete pass.

The common bond there? Those are mostly the players with whom Mason has regularly worked on the Bulldogs' second-team offense, so chemistry was not an issue when they hit the field.

“That group's kind of been playing together -- besides Rumph -- for a long time and a lot of when our twos go against the ones, they always seem to do well and I think there's a chemistry between those guys kind of like Aaron and Bennett and other guys,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

There's a long time between now and the reserves' time to shine. Heck, there are three games remaining this season.

That means there is plenty of time for the stars in waiting to continue to develop before the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson on Aug. 30 -- which is exactly the mentality Rumph says he's developing.

“That's what young players have got to understand,” said Rumph, who has six catches in the last three games after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring ailment. “This is your job, so every time you go to school or go to practice, you've got to work to get better. That's all I'm trying to do is keep adding stuff to my game. I've got the feel for the game, I know what I'm capable of. I'm just trying to keep adding stuff to my game.”

Mason echoed those thoughts, pointing out that while even coach Mark Richt has declared Mason as the frontrunner to win the job next season, he still must make good use of this opportunity and not just assume the job is his from the get-go.

He has the opportunity to work with what could be an extremely productive offense next season -- if he stakes a claim on the job.

“I'm not going to be na´ve. I hear about that stuff and I read some of it and stuff like that. I've always been the first to say that I believe they're just being nice,” Mason said. “I believe that I've done a good job of performing when my opportunity comes, but I've never stepped on the field in front of 90,000 and like I was saying earlier, that's different from playing in practice.

“So I enjoy the comments and I enjoy the people that have faith in me, but really myself, I just take it day-by-day and say, 'You know what, what have I proven?' because in reality I haven't proven a lot. So when that opportunity comes, hopefully I'll show up.”

Weapons returning for Georgia's offense

November, 15, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia isn't back to full strength on offense -- and it won't be this season -- but all of a sudden the Bulldogs look a bit more like their offensive juggernaut from the start of the season.

Entering Saturday's visit to No. 7 Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC), No. 25 Georgia (6-3, 4-2) is the healthiest it has been on offense since a disastrous visit to Tennessee when tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley went down with season-ending knee injuries and wideout Michael Bennett suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the lineup temporarily.

[+] EnlargeArthur Lynch
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsWith Arthur Lynch back in the lineup, Georgia has one of its best pass-catcher back at tight end.
The Bulldogs will face Auburn without tight end Jay Rome, who injured his right foot in last week's win against Appalachian State, but should have starting tight end Arthur Lynch (ribs) and receiver Chris Conley (ankle) back Saturday.

“We're getting guys back, which is good, but they've also missed a lot of practice time, which on the flip side is a negative,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “So we're having to work a little harder than we may have in the past in November. But I think it's good. I think it's a confidence boost to the offense.”

Conley leads the team with 30 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns, while Lynch's 15 catches for 243 yards rank fifth. But while their receiving production is obviously important, their simple presences in the lineup -- alongside players with whom they've shared so many practice and game reps -- are just as valuable.

“It definitely helps the chemistry because we went through camp all together and you kind of get that chemistry with those guys together,” said Bennett, who posted a team-high five catches in each of the two games since he returned to the lineup. “You can lose it when you've got new guys coming in. But those other guys have done a heck of a job coming in and filling in for us. But when you have those veterans come back like Artie and Conley, it definitely brings a new confidence.”

Lynch's return is well-timed, as Rome was the only other scholarship tight end who has played this season. Freshman Jordan Davis is on track to redshirt and walk-on Hugh Williams has played as a blocker, but has yet to catch a pass.

Meanwhile, Conley brings some punch back to a receiving corps that struggled during Georgia's midseason lull, when at one point they were without tailbacks Todd Gurley and Marshall and wideouts Mitchell, Scott-Wesley and Bennett. It's no coincidence that the Bulldogs lost to both Missouri and Vanderbilt during that period, or that they posted a paltry 221 yards of total offense -- including just 114 passing -- in the Vandy loss.

Conley seemed questionable at best for the Auburn game early in the week, but he was able to practice in non-contact drills on Wednesday which encouraged Bulldogs coach Mark Richt.

“I was telling the quarterback, 'He's going half-speed' or whatever, and Conley kind of ran a little faster than half-speed and snatched the ball,” Richt said. “And Bobo was looking around like, 'We ought to let him practice a little bit.' … He didn't practice the whole time, but he got some work in and he looked good. I don't think he had any setbacks.”

Richt insisted that Conley's role might still be limited should he play on Saturday, but he comes back to a group of receivers that had to look elsewhere for production during his two-game absence -- and might have found another spark in Jonathon Rumph.

The junior college transfer was sidelined by a hamstring injury throughout the first half of the season and played sparingly for the first time two weeks ago against Florida. He caught his first passes -- four of them, in fact, for 98 yards -- in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State, causing Bobo to remark that he's “actually getting excited about him” earlier this week.

“I had a feeling that I knew what I was going to do, but I really didn't want to mess up,” Rumph said of his performance last week. “I focused a lot on the game plan, I knew everything I had to do and everybody on the sideline kept me lifted. The starters told me, 'All right, when you're opportunity comes, take advantage.' That's all it was, just making plays for my team.”

For the first time in more than a month, Georgia's offense has a wide array of players who seem ready to do that. The main one to watch is likely Gurley, who is still not back to 100 percent and has not been able to handle a full workload in the two games since returning from an ankle injury. But quarterback Aaron Murray clearly has more established weapons at his disposal than he has had in weeks, and that can only be a positive sign for the Bulldogs.

“The more guys you get out there that Murray feels comfortable with, I think, the better,” Bobo said.

Rumph ready to make impact at WR

November, 12, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- While discussing Jonathon Rumph's long-awaited debut after Saturday's win against Appalachian State, quarterback Hutson Mason immediately flashed forward to next season, when Mason should become Georgia's starter and have the 6-foot-5 receiver as one of his top weapons.

“You imagine we've got Rumph coming on and what we could have next year -- just another big tool in the toolbox, another big weapon,” said Mason, who completed four passes to Rumph for 98 yards in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs' 45-6 win. “So it's going to be something special.”

[+] EnlargeJonathon Rumph
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIJonathon Rumph flashed his potential late in the Appalachian State game and showed why he could be a big weapon in the future -- or even sooner -- for the Dawgs.
At this point, many Georgia fans are probably asking, “Why wait until next season?” And Mason would agree with their point.

“I hope [that] boosts him and I hope the coaches see something in him and I hope he gets some more playing time because we can definitely use him,” Mason said.

Injuries have ravaged Georgia's receiving corps, knocking Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley out for the season and Michael Bennett and Chris Conley out for several games at a time. Rumph -- the nation's No. 1 receiver in ESPN's 2013 Junior College 100 -- has not been immune to injury issues, either, missing the first six games of the season with recurring hamstring problems before finally playing approximately 10 downs in Georgia's Nov. 2 win against Florida.

Rumph broke through with his first career catch against Appalachian State, taking a tunnel screen for a 24-yard gain early in the fourth quarter, and then breaking free for a 37-yard catch on the Bulldogs' final drive.

Bennett is back in the lineup, and coach Mark Richt said Monday that Conley might return for Saturday's visit to No. 7 Auburn, as well. But Rumph hopes that his impact this season won't be limited to four garbage-time receptions in a blowout win over an FCS opponent.

“I learned from going to juco you've always got to be patient, and when your opportunity comes and you see your crack, you've got to hit it,” he said.

Rumph knows this might be his crack.

“Everybody gets their opportunity and you've got to take advantage. That's what I'm trying to do,” Rumph said. “This probably is my situation for me to take advantage of my opportunity, so yeah, I'm looking at it as a chance that I can come every day to get better, better my position playing receiver and show the world my talent.”

The opportunity likely would have arrived earlier in the season, but the hamstring issue that first cropped up during preseason practice -- the first time he'd ever dealt with a hamstring ailment -- knocked him out for the first two games. Then just as Rumph was preparing to return for the North Texas game, he tweaked the hamstring again.

“That's one thing I had to realize because the first time I hurt it and I came back, it was feeling real good. But it's just like a car, you've got to keep your maintenance up,” Rumph said. “That's really what it was, you've got to keep getting treatment. I'm still getting treatment twice a day.”

Although Rumph was a January enrollee who participated in spring practice, the lingering injury prevented him from gaining valuable practice experience in the first half of the season. He returned to practice the week of the Vanderbilt game, but didn't take the field. Then he played sparingly against Florida before finally getting some balls thrown his way against Appalachian State.

As Mason said, perhaps that performance proved to receivers coach Tony Ball that Rumph can be an asset in the passing game over the final few games. Injuries robbed Rumph -- and Georgia -- of what might have been an impressive full season, but he still has time to make a bigger impression down the stretch.

“That guy is very talented,” Richt said. “The more he learns and the more reps he gets, the more chances he'll get and the better off he's going to be. It's like any other position, you've got to show coaches what you can do in practice to give them confidence to give you more opportunities and you've got to be fortunate enough to be healthy.

“I think if Jonathon was healthy since the beginning of camp, he'd be very heavy in our rotation and who knows how many catches he might have had to this point.”

What we learned: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here are three things we learned in Georgia's 45-6 win against Appalachian State on Saturday.

Good week for a slow start: Georgia started fast and finished slow last week against Florida. But while the Bulldogs were stumbling out of the gate against Appalachian State on Saturday, next week's opponent, Auburn, was running circles around Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Georgia turned it into the blowout everyone expected in the second half -- outscoring the Mountaineers 31-0 and outgaining them 353 yards to 59 -- but it's clear that the Bulldogs can't afford such an uneven performance next Saturday on the Plains. The Tigers' offense is likely too explosive for the Bulldogs to wait until the second half to find a rhythm.

Run defense is sound: Georgia's defense struggled a bit in the first quarter, but even then its run defense remained solid. The Bulldogs surrendered 32 rushing yards on 32 attempts, including minus-6 on 18 attempts in the second half. That's one of the few encouraging signs entering next week's visit to Auburn. The Tigers picked up 444 yards on the ground against Tennessee -- 214 by ex-Bulldog Nick Marshall and 117 by running back Tre Mason -- and came into Saturday's games as the SEC's rushing leader at 306.2 yards per game. But the Bulldogs entered the day ranked fourth in the league against the run and lowered their per-game average from 137.8 to 126 yards allowed per game.

Offense is in good hands: Georgia fans were no doubt excited Saturday when they contemplated the Bulldogs' 2014 offense even without Aaron Murray, who broke the SEC's career touchdown passes record against Appalachian State when he hit magic No. 115. Junior Hutson Mason hit his first eight pass attempts and passed for 160 yards in the fourth quarter -- 988 of which came on four completions to juco transfer Jonathon Rumph, who made his first career receptions -- as the Bulldogs poured it on in the second half. With Murray, receiver Rantavious Wooten and tight end Arthur Lynch standing as the top departing senior skill players, Mason and company looked like they can still put up big numbers next fall.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 7, 2013
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We've got football tonight. In fact, there are a couple of pretty big games. That means we're almost to what could be an important weekend in the SEC.

Here are some links from around the league:

Bennett's return sparks UGA receivers

November, 5, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- October has been a cruel month for Michael Bennett, as knee injuries suffered early in the month in each of the last two seasons knocked the receiver out of Georgia's lineup.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichael Bennett looks for more yardage against Florida.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, Bennett was able to return for this month after a meniscus injury suffered in the Tennessee game cost him only two games. A year ago, an ACL tear suffered in practice the week of the South Carolina game forced Bennett to miss the remainder of the fall just as he emerged as the Bulldogs' leading receiver.

“I was kind of bummed because I feel like every time in early October, I'm out,” Bennett said after making five catches for 59 yards in Saturday's 23-20 win against Florida. “But it was good to come back in this November game. Freshman year when I was here, it was awesome to get a win, to come back and beat them. There's no better feeling than beating the Gators.”

For his injury-depleted position group, it was awesome to get one of its most important players back on the field. The Bulldogs passed for a season-low 114 yards in their previous game, a loss to Vanderbilt, with Bennett sidelined temporarily and Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell out for the season with ACL tears.

Things weren't completely back to normal against Florida. Chris Conley was still out with an ankle sprain suffered in the Vandy game and Scott-Wesley and Mitchell obviously won't be back until 2014, but Bennett and returning tailback Todd Gurley both contributed heavily in the passing game and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph played for the first time after a hamstring ailment forced him to miss the first half of the season.

Regaining some of their weapons, with Conley still expected to return this season, has the Bulldogs thinking that things are looking up.

“We're going to improve every week, improve every day, really,” said senior receiver Rantavious Wooten. “We're going to exceed everybody's expectations, because some people have said whatever about us because we lost some guys, but in this locker room, we know what we're capable of.”

Conley's return won't occur this Saturday against Appalachian State, according to Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. The following week's game against Auburn might be a long shot.

“I would say it's very doubtful for him to be playing this week,” Richt said on his Monday call-in show. “I would hope that he'll be able to play against Auburn, but even that's kind of hard to say right now. He's still on crutches and has got a long ways to go. … Certainly he won't be ready this week.”

Regardless, the Bulldogs moved the ball much more effectively through the air against the Gators – even though Richt said Florida's secondary features “the best cover corners in the league and maybe in the country.”

Bennett played a major role in that improvement, as did senior Rhett McGowan, who made a 23-yard catch in the final seconds of the second quarter to set up a Marshall Morgan field goal at the end of the first half.

McGowan made just as big a play in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, when he caught a third-and-7 pass from Aaron Murray and squirted between a group of Florida defenders for a 7-yard gain that extended the Bulldogs' game-ending drive.

“That last play where he threw it to me, it was just my number was called and it's a play that we'd been practicing all week and we were able to execute it,” said McGowan, who had three catches for 43 yards. “I'm so thankful we got the first down and we were able to get one more first down and finish the game out.”

With Conley still out and Rumph finally able to play, Richt said the Bulldogs hope he can make a long-awaited impact. Rumph was the top receiver and No. 7 overall prospect on ESPN's Junior College 100 when he enrolled in January, but is still waiting to make his first career catch.

If he can establish himself before Conley returns, Georgia's receiving corps can still finish the season as a productive group despite the injuries that created some extremely lean times for a couple weeks in October.

“Hopefully we can get some balls thrown his direction just so he can get excited about catching some balls again,” Richt said of Rumph. “It's been a while for him and you catch a bunch in practice and you hope to have a shot to catch a few in the games.

“He was here in the spring and had a really good spring game and I'm sure he's anxious to get a chance to catch a ball. So we've still got to keep working on assignments and blocking and all that kind of thing, but hopefully there'll be an opportunity to get a ball thrown his way, or two or three or whatever. Hopefully he'll have a big day.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Even when his unit lost player after player to injury, Mike Bobo insisted Georgia would keep running its offense as it always had.

There was one problem: over time, that became an impossible proposition.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
AP Photo/Butch DillGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley is expected to return from injury against Florida on Nov. 2.
Here were the Georgia offensive coordinator's top personnel options when the season started:

Tailback: Todd Gurley (1,385 rushing yards, 17 TDs in 2012), Keith Marshall (759-8).

Receiver: Malcolm Mitchell (40 catches for 572 yards last season), Michael Bennett (24-345 in five games last fall), Chris Conley (20-342), Justin Scott-Wesley (made win-clinching touchdown catches against South Carolina and LSU early this season).

After season-ending injuries to Mitchell, Marshall and Scott-Wesley and ailments that kept Gurley and Bennett out for three and two games, respectively, here's the travel roster Bobo was working with on Saturday against Vanderbilt, when he called an ultra-conservative game in hopes of slipping out of Nashville with a win:

Tailback: Freshmen J.J. Green (313 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per carry this season) and Brendan Douglas (218, 4.2), walk-ons Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis (no carries between them), Gurley (who is still injured and watched from the sideline).

Receiver: Conley (team-high 30-418 this season), Rantavious Wooten (14-174), true freshman Reggie Davis (7-189), Rhett McGowan (7-70), Jonathon Rumph (who just returned from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for nearly the entire season, but did not play against Vandy), walk-ons Kenneth Towns (no catches) and Michael Erdman (1-6).

That's everybody.

With a full complement of skill players, Bobo has certainly never been afraid to call for the deep ball, and quarterback Aaron Murray hasn't been afraid to throw it. Georgia was actually one of the nation's most successful teams at generating big plays last season when Gurley and Marshall were breaking long runs and the Bulldogs' assortment of wideouts was getting behind the secondary for long completions.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Georgia led the nation last season with 31 touchdowns that covered 20 yards or more and ranked fifth with 63 completions of at least 20-plus yards. And this season initially looked to be more of the same, with 37 plays of 20-plus, six touchdowns of 20-plus and 27 completions of 20-plus through the first five games.

It has been a completely different story over the last two weeks, however. The explosive play did not exist in the 31-27 loss to Vandy -- Georgia's longest play of the game was a 17-yard completion to Green -- and the offense mustered only a paltry 221 yards against a Commodores defense that gave up 51 points to Missouri its last time out.

Murray completed 16 passes for 114 yards, just five more completions than his career low, and attempted only two throws that covered at least 15 yards. Both were incompletions.

The previous week's loss against Missouri was not as underwhelming. The Bulldogs finished with 454 total yards and Murray was 25-for-45 for 290 yards, but nearly half of his completions (11) came on dump-off passes to Green and Douglas, as Bobo and his quarterback elected to dink and dunk to their checkdown receiving options against Missouri's zone defense.

Green broke a 57-yard run and Wooten made a 48-yard reception, but explosive play and aggression was largely lacking in that loss, as well.

The long ball was a key element in the offense in the first five games, with Murray going 21 for 37 on throws of 15 yards or more, averaging 17.8 yards per attempt and connecting for five touchdowns versus no interceptions. He was 4-for-11 on such throws against Vandy (0-2) and Missouri (4-9), but averaged just 8.7 yards per attempt with no touchdowns and two picks.

Georgia still has only six touchdowns that covered 20 yards or more, leaving the Bulldogs in a tie for 74th nationally after leading in that category last fall.

The good news for Georgia is that Gurley and Bennett are expected back for the Bulldogs' next game, Nov. 2 against Florida. Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, even Murray, Gurley is the linchpin in Georgia's offensive explosiveness -- and his presence allows Bobo to call a completely different game than what we just witnessed in Nashville.

The sophomore back's ability to run physically between the tackles forces opponents to funnel defenders into the box to slow him down. And his formidable speed makes Gurley a threat to break a run for a big gain at any time.

The sophomore already has seven touchdowns of 20 yards or more in 18 career games.

Aside from their occasional case of fumble-itis, Green and Douglas have done a fine job in Gurley and Marshall's absence, but they can't replace what Gurley brings to the lineup. If another running back anywhere in the country is capable of that, he's on a mighty short list.

Now will Gurley make a big enough difference against Florida? We shall see. He has been on the shelf since Sept. 28 and hasn't been able to practice for three weeks. But if he returns with fresh legs and his injured ankle has healed to the point that the Gurley of old takes the field in Jacksonville, Georgia's chances of victory -- and its chances of generating big plays on offense -- will increase exponentially.

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