Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Beard
It’s the Bulldogs’ first spring under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who directed Florida State’s defense during the Seminoles’ national championship run last season. Pruitt replaces Todd Grantham, who left UGA for Louisville after a couple of underperforming seasons with the Bulldogs.
• Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, a sophomore from Eastman, Ga., added more than 20 pounds during the offseason and now weighs about 248. Floyd started eight games as a freshman in 2013 and finished with 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Pruitt will be looking for even more production from Floyd this coming season, and one UGA assistant called him the “best player on the team -- period.”
“He’s always making plays and setting the tone,” linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “He stands out every play. He’s just a beast right now.”
• After running for 1,385 yards with 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, tailback Todd Gurley was limited by a high ankle sprain during his sophomore campaign and finished with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.
The Bulldogs weren’t sure how much Gurley would be able to do during spring practice because of the lingering ankle injury, but he has participated in almost every aspect of practice so far. He’s also expected to play a lot in Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage, the first of the spring.
“He’s been practicing every day in full-contract drills,” Wilson said. “He’s getting us better as a defense. He’s the best running back in the country. He’s not taking any plays off.”
• One of the early surprises of the spring has been sophomore flanker Blake Tibbs, who played in only two games last season. Tibbs, from Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia, Ga., was one of UGA’s best performers during the offseason “mat drills” conditioning program. He also has looked good in practice so far, according to UGA coaches and players.
“He’s doing really well,” Wilson said. “It looks like he’s added about 10 pounds and is blocking more physically. He’s trying to show the coaches that he can contribute. If he keeps doing the things he’s doing, he’ll get on the field.”
• UGA’s coaches are hoping left tackle John Theus has finally turned the corner after a couple of so-so seasons. Theus, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., started 22 games the past two seasons, including 14 as a freshman in 2012. He has moved from right tackle to left tackle this spring and will protect quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.
Theus was bothered by a wrist injury the past two years but has been healthy during the offseason and excelled in the conditioning program, according to UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
With Theus moving to left tackle, senior Mark Beard, who briefly left the team during the offseason, is lining up at left guard. Senior David Andrews is back at center, with sophomore Brandon Kublanow at right guard and senior Kolton Houston at right tackle on the No. 1 unit.
In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first team workout, this week we'll make five predictions related to the upcoming practices.
Today’s prediction: John Theus locks down the left tackle job
This fall, however, the Bulldogs want more from Theus than what he has delivered in his first two seasons, so this spring would be a good time for him to differentiate himself on the field, as well.
The rising junior became one of the highest-rated offensive line prospects that Georgia has signed under Mark Richt when Theus officially joined the Bulldogs in 2012. He became one of the few true freshman offensive linemen to ever start his first game at Georgia and emerged as a fixture at right tackle that fall, even making a couple of Freshman All-America teams.
Kenarious Gates was a nice insurance policy on the left side of the line while Theus learned the ropes, but now Gates is gone. Richt’s staff signed Theus to someday become their starting left tackle, and with no proven option at the position, now will be the time for Theus to take hold of the job.
He temporarily lost his grip on the right tackle spot last season, playing as a reserve in five of the first six games before returning to the starting lineup down the stretch. Kolton Houston, who along with Mark Beard will probably also get some looks at left tackle this spring, experienced his struggles as starting right tackle, as well.
Those three players look like offensive line coach Will Friend’s best options at tackle, though, so the Bulldogs desperately need to get more consistent play from at least two of them starting this spring.
Theus seemed like the safest bet to become an All-SEC performer this time a year ago, and even if his sophomore season wasn’t the overwhelming success he might have liked, he still has the ability to lock down the left tackle spot and perform well there.
He’ll start doing that this spring.
After covering the competitions at safety, defensive line, offensive tackle and the star position, Friday we conclude with the offensive guards -- where the Bulldogs must replace a pair of longtime starters.
Returning starters: None
Returning reserves: The good news for Georgia is that, unlike several seasons in the not-too-distant past, there is considerable depth along the line. Offensive line coach Will Friend has used a number of reserves at guard, including rising seniors Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler and sophomores Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow. Offensive tackles John Theus and Kolton Houston have even practiced at guard in the past.
Newcomers: Aulden Bynum and Josh Cardiello are both coming off redshirt seasons and both players are capable of playing guard. The Bulldogs also signed Isaiah Wynn -- ESPN's No. 6 guard and No. 106 overall prospect of 2014 -- who is not yet on campus.
What to watch: This competition should be wide open heading into the spring. Friend has publicly complimented each of the contenders at points, even if Burnette and Lee handled the majority of the significant snaps. We profiled Kublanow last week and mentioned that he could be a top contender after replacing an injured Lee in the Bulldogs' Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska. He doesn't have a job locked down, however. With Friend also looking to sort out his starting tackles -- the Bulldogs also lost starting left tackle Kenarious Gates, and Beard might figure into that competition -- it's entirely possible that he will shuttle players inside and out as he has done in the past. Georgia listed Kublanow and Dantzler as Lee and Burnette's backups for the bowl game, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them start the spring in the starting roles, but don't be surprised if Friend rotates several other players through those spots during the spring.
The first two installments covered the competitions at safety and defensive line. Today, let's move to the offensive tackles. Georgia lost a longtime starter in left tackle Kenarious Gates and have two part-time starters returning.
Departures: Gates was never a star, but he was reliable, closing his career starting 33 consecutive games split between guard and tackle. He was exclusively the Bulldogs' starting left tackle for the last two seasons, so Georgia has a significant hole to fill in protecting new quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.
Returning reserves: This is where things get interesting. We know that rising juniors Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell are tackles, and we assume that Theus and Houston will remain at the position, but position coach Will Friend doesn't hesitate to juggle rotations. Seniors Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler and redshirt freshman Aulden Bynum are each listed as guards, but all of them have the size and ability to play tackle. If Friend doesn't like the way things are shaping up -- or even if he does and simply wants to weigh all of his options -- don't be surprised if he shuffles some of these guys inside and out.
Newcomers: Bynum is the only possible tackle who redshirted last season, but the Bulldogs signed three potential tackles last month in Dyshon Sims, Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards -- none of whom will arrive on campus until the summer.
What to watch: Offensive linemen are accustomed to players at other positions getting all of the attention, but the tackle races rank among the most important position battles for the Bulldogs this spring. Friend's offensive line had an up-and-down season in 2013, but it might get off to a much better start if Theus and Houston -- or a different candidate -- lock down the tackle spots by proving they can handle the job during spring practice. Houston didn't even know if he would be able to play at this time last year thanks to a long-running NCAA eligibility dispute. He definitely looked rusty at times, particularly when trying to anticipate the snap count in noisy road venues. Now he has a season of steady playing time under his belt, and most of the other leading tackle candidates have played in big games as well. Someone simply needs to prove to Friend that he deserves the job. Otherwise, expect to see Georgia continue to rotate players in and out until Friend discovers a combination that he likes.
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.
Today we take a look at a young offensive lineman who should be in the mix to replace one of the Bulldogs' two departed starters at guard.
2013 review: As is typical for an offensive lineman who actually plays as a freshman, Kublanow got off to a quiet start. He appeared in just one of the Bulldogs' first five games -- a blowout win against North Texas -- before eventually playing his way into the rotation. He appeared in each of the Bulldogs' last eight games and was offensive line coach Will Friend's choice to replace injured senior Dallas Lee in bowl loss against Nebraska.
Why spring is important: There will be significant turnover on the line this season with Lee, right guard Chris Burnette and left tackle Kenarious Gates -- all of whom started nearly every game over the previous three seasons -- out of the picture. Kublanow and rising senior Watts Dantzler appear to be the early favorites to start at the guard spots, but Friend has no shortage of options at those positions, including Mark Beard, Greg Pyke and redshirt freshmen Josh Cardiello and Aulden Bynum. The feisty Kublanow just needs to keep doing what he's been doing and he should be part of a rotation at minimum.
Best case/worst case: Kublanow is the classic “road grader” guard, so it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see him jump into the starting lineup this season and stay there for the next three falls. Friend was clearly impressed with his potential when practice opened last season and he made it a point to work him into the lineup more and more as the season progressed. Now it might be his time. However, his spot as a starter or member of Friend's rotation could be in jeopardy if he doesn't show enough consistency this spring. It seems unlikely that he won't play a prominent role this fall, but older players might grab those spots if Kublanow struggles.
Today, we'll look at No. 4: The 2012 group that is still etching its legacy into Georgia history. We should revisit this ranking again in another couple years.
The contributors: With most of the class still having two or three years of eligibility left, the list of contributors should grow substantially. Quayvon Hicks has started to develop as a productive fullback, while offensive lineman Mark Beard and punter Collin Barber have played a larger role than many players who are still waiting to break through. Defensive lineman John Taylor and cornerback Sheldon Dawson have made minor contributions thus far, but could be names to watch for the future.
The letdowns: There has not been much attrition from the class yet, which is a good sign. Tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith was dismissed last summer and is the lone departure to this point. Otherwise, the disappointment for this class might be that some of the headliners haven't become consistent stars … yet. Jenkins, Theus and Harvey-Clemons have been good players so far, but they need to make further progress to live up to their billing as recruits.
The results: This will be a big year for this class' ultimate place in UGA history. Some members -- Gurley and Marshall in particular -- helped Georgia come within an eyelash of playing for the 2012 BCS crown. It was a disappointing 2013 for the class and program because of injuries and disciplinary issues, so they need to bounce back a bit in 2014. This might be Gurley's final season on campus, but most members of this group still have plenty of time to make sure Gurley won't be the only breakout performer to come from their class.
Today we continue a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. After touching on the inside linebackers on Monday, we move on to the offensive line group that must replace three starters.
4. Offensive line
Strength in numbers: Georgia finally has depth along the line that seemed to be lacking for far too long. Guards Watts Dantzler, Mark Beard and Greg Pyke could all be candidates for legitimate playing time -- and maybe even starting jobs – but reserve tackles Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell only add to the mystery at their position, having contributed very little on game day to this point. Reserve center Hunter Long is in a similar situation since rising senior Andrews has taken essentially every significant snap over the last two seasons.
New on the scene: In guard Josh Cardiello and swingman Aulden Bynum, the Bulldogs add two candidates to the rotation after redshirting last fall. Both players participated in spring practice as early enrollees last year, although it was apparent they were unlikely to contribute on a veteran line in the fall. This year's line signees -- tackles Dyshon Sims, Jake Edwards and Kendall Baker and guard Isaiah Wynn -- are not expected on campus until summer, so they will need to have surprisingly strong August camps in order to crack Friend's rotation in the fall. Sims and Wynn, who was the No. 106 overall prospect in the ESPN 300, seem like the most probable contributors among the freshmen.
Gates appeared to injure his right ankle, opening the door for Mark Beard to take over at left tackle in the second half of the Bulldogs' 41-30 victory. Marshall jogged on the sideline and rode a stationary bike behind the Georgia bench after apparently injuring his left knee, but did not touch the ball again after a 10-yard run late in the third quarter.
“Anybody who was injured, including those two, any kind of X-rays or whatever that we looked at, everybody's fine. They all came out negative,” Richt said on his Sunday evening teleconference. “We're expecting everybody to be able to play in our next ballgame.”
Richt also expects receiver Jonathon Rumph to be available for the first time following a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two games.
“We hope he's 100 percent,” Richt said. “He was close. He practiced some, he just couldn't cut it loose. He couldn't go full speed and we didn't want him to push it, and so now I can't imagine him not being able to go full speed by the time we play this next game.”
Georgia will also get a player back from suspension, as place-kicker Marshall Morgan's two-game punishment for an offseason arrest is now complete. Although Patrick Beless is a perfect 10-for-10 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goals -- not counting a field-goal try against Clemson where a high snap prevented him from attempting a kick -- Richt said Morgan will resume his kicking duties against North Texas.
“Marshall has made a mistake, Marshall has been disciplined for that and I'm not going to continue to punish him,” Richt said. “And so right now, I'm expecting Marshall to come in and take over the kicking duties, but it's good to know that Patrick is capable in big games and can come in in a pinch if we need to.”
Georgia's coach is not sure when to expect junior college transfers Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson to jump into the mix in the Bulldogs' depth-deprived secondary. Neither player has gotten into a game yet, largely because of injury setbacks during preseason practice.
“Right this minute, I don't see them jumping in the game anytime soon,” Richt said. “But as the season goes on and their careers go on, we're happy with their talent base, their ability. They just kind of got behind the 8-ball with reps because of some injuries and some missing of practice time.”
But it was quickly evident that the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach seems ready to follow through on using a handful of players who were not regulars in 2012 -- with a number of substitutions during team running drills showing off depth that Georgia has not enjoyed along the line in some time.
“[It’s the best in my career] by far. Not even close,” said fifth-year senior right guard Chris Burnette, who returned to the starting lineup on Thursday after missing spring practice while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. “I remember there was one time, probably going into , where we were getting really thin on numbers and a lot of guys had to crosstrain and play first and second team or second and third team, all that kind of stuff. So it’s good to finally have a good amount of numbers, and not just have numbers, but guys who can actually contribute.”
When the Bulldogs opened Thursday’s practice, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee manned the left tackle and guard spots, respectively, with David Andrews lined up at center. On the right side were All-SEC pick Burnette and tackle John Theus, who was listed behind Xzavier Ward on the team’s summer depth chart despite having started every game last year as a true freshman.
Ward worked with the starting unit before long, as offensive coordinator Mike Bobo recently predicted would happen, and a number of players filtered onto the line as the drill continued -- including guards Kolton Houston and Greg Pyke and tackle Mark Beard.
For now, Houston -- recently reinstated by the NCAA after a three-year battle to regain his eligibility -- will practice at left guard, although that position does not appear to be set in stone.
“I don’t know if Coach Friend has totally nailed down where everybody is going to be, but starting out he’ll be at the left guard position,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said before practice. “He’s going to cross train and he’ll know the right guard position. He’s athletic enough to play tackle, as well. We don’t want to give him too much, but day one he’s sitting at No. 2 left guard.”
The one notable absence was guard Austin Long, whose academic status remains in question, but otherwise the key linemen who appeared set to play roles in Friend’s rotation earned early opportunities on Thursday.
Over the next few weeks of camp, Friend and company will attempt to nail down whether that returning lineup will remain intact and which of the reserves to include in their plans.
“Who the best five are, that’s what we’ve got to decide,” Bobo said.
For the first time in years, however, Georgia’s offensive line should have more than just a starting five and few reliable alternatives. For a player such as Burnette, who was around in much leaner times, the line’s depth difference is easily detectable.
“I think it’s good to have so many guys who can contribute in so many different ways,” Burnette said. “Regardless of what the final lineup ends up being, I feel like we’re going to have the five best guys, literally, on the field that help us win games. I’m just excited to see how it all pans out and to see how dudes compete this fall camp and leading into the season.”
The Bulldogs have Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, of course, but they will be draft-eligible juniors after the 2014 season. The only other scholarship backs on the roster are brand-new freshmen A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas, so Michel and Chubb will add depth and the talent necessary to keep Georgia’s backfield train on the tracks.
With that recruiting need addressed, it brings us to this week’s DawgNation roundtable question: Now that Georgia has addressed its most glaring need for 2014, running back, what is the next position Mark Richt’s coaching staff should square away for this recruiting class?
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Returning players/stats: Chris Burnette, Sr. (12 starts in 2012); Kenarious Gates, Sr. (14 starts); Dallas Lee, Sr. (14 starts); David Andrews, Jr. (14 starts); Mark Beard, Jr. (Two starts); John Theus, So. (14 starts); Austin Long, Sr.; Watts Dantzler, Jr.; Zach DeBell, So.; Hunter Long, Jr.; Xzavier Ward, So.; Greg Pyke, RFr.
Newcomers: Brandon Kublanow, Fr. (ESPN's No. 145 overall prospect in 2013, No. 2 center. Expected to enroll this summer); Aulden Bynum, Fr. (No. 47 OT. Enrolled in January); Josh Cardiello, Fr. (No. 21 OG. Enrolled in January); DeVondre Seymour, Fr. (No. 14 OT. Could enroll this summer)
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Offensive line coach Will Friend wasn’t ready to proclaim him a starter at the end of spring practice, at all, but a more reasonable question is probably whether the sophomore starts at left or right tackle. Because it would be a considerable upset if Theus loses a starting spot at any point in his career.
Last season, Theus became the third true freshman offensive tackle to start Georgia’s season opener since freshmen became eligible to play in 1973. And while he wasn’t perfect, he won multiple freshman All-America rosters and validated the excitement that accompanied his signing with Georgia more than a year ago.
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Cappy_88: Radi, give me a 2012 roster player (outside of Jordan Jenkins, Ray Drew, and Josh Harvey-Clemons) who you think will have a breakout year in 2013 and why?
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Here are five players worth watching between now and the G-Day game on April 6:
1. Josh Harvey-Clemons: The rising sophomore will essentially be a rookie when he jumps into the competition at both outside linebacker and safety this spring. He’ll play both positions this fall based on matchups according to coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Harvey-Clemons -- ESPN’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2012 signing class -- played almost exclusively in a nickelback role last season, so he has a lot to learn. His athleticism will give him the opportunity to become one of the Bulldogs’ most dynamic playmakers at his new spots.
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