Georgia Bulldogs: Ryne Rankin

UGA position groups to improve: No. 5

February, 10, 2014
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Georgia doesn't open spring practice until March 18, so we'll use the next few weeks to look ahead to those all-important workouts and preview what to watch once the Bulldogs get started.

We begin today with the first installment in a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. Today's first group is Georgia's inside linebackers.

5. Inside linebackers

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons, Connor Shaw
AP Photo/John BazemoreAmarlo Herrera (pictured) and Ramik Wilson performed well at inside linebacker for Georgia, but the duo could use some help from their younger teammates.
Battling for No. 1: Since rising seniors Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera -- players who ranked first and third in the SEC with 133 and 112 tackles, respectively -- return, the starting lineup is probably set. In his first season as a starter, Wilson posted one of the biggest tackle totals in program history, while Herrera won the team's defensive MVP award after the season. The duo played nearly every significant down on defense, hence the big tackle totals, but they could stand to perform a bit more consistently -- particularly in pass coverage. Neither player wants to come off the field, but Georgia would benefit from younger players proving they deserve some playing time and alleviating the physical burden on Wilson and Herrera.

Strength in numbers: This will be an interesting group to watch this spring as the depth chart continues to evolve behind the seniors. Georgia signed a big group of inside linebackers last season, but their contributions were largely limited to special teams. Reggie Carter (one start, eight tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss) made the biggest splash early before undergoing knee surgery, which knocked him out of the lineup for the last five games of the regular season. The other freshmen who played -- Tim Kimbrough (11 games, five tackles, one TFL), Johnny O'Neal (eight games, four tackles) and Ryne Rankin (seven games, five tackles) -- and special teams ace Kosta Vavlas (13 games, 11 tackles) barely made an impact on scrimmage downs. With a new position coach, Mike Ekeler, joining the staff to work with this group, spring will be a valuable time for Ekeler to familiarize himself with his players and begin determining who is equipped to play a bigger role in the fall.

New on the scene: After signing four inside linebackers last year -- plus a safety in Paris Bostick who converted to the position last year -- ILB wasn't a terribly high priority in this recruiting cycle. Bostick is coming off a redshirt season and will add to the depth this season, plus the Bulldogs' only inside linebacker signee, Detric Dukes, should join the team over the summer. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see Dukes redshirt in the fall. Georgia's departed coaches liked what Bostick brought to the table at his new position, so he might be a player to watch in the future.
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 opened as a 36.5-point favorite for Saturday's game against North Texas, which should be enough to light a fire this week under the Hutson Masons, Reggie Carters and Jonathon Rumphs on the ninth-ranked Bulldogs’ roster.


But before Georgia's coaching staff can help its reserves gain some on-field seasoning, the starters must first take control against a resilient Mean Green (2-1) club that outscored Ball State 31-7 after the first quarter on Saturday to win, 34-27.

“Just this past weekend, you saw Michigan playing Akron, and I don't know what their mindset was going into the game, but I know what it was, I'm sure, when the game was over,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said, referring to Saturday's game in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines needed a last-minute goal-line stand to defeat Akron, 28-24. “I think everybody's just got to understand that we must focus very, very hard on improving, but we need to focus very hard on our game plan.”

Nonetheless, as long as Georgia's starters take care of business against the Mean Green, there should be more than enough playing time to go around for backups and those returning from injury to get some work in a game.

Repeat -- as long as they take care of business.

“We'll play the game as it happens,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of the prospect of playing Mason, the backup quarterback and potential 2014 starter. “Coach has never been one and I've never been one to say, 'Hey, you're playing this series, that series.' We're going to go out there with all our bullets, so to speak, and play the game and take it from there.”

Against North Texas -- a team that ranks 94th nationally in total defense, allowing 435.7 yards per game -- the opportunity should arise to filter in some of the players who rarely saw the field in the first two games against Clemson and South Carolina.

That might include freshman tight end Jordan Davis or offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow, neither of whom has played to this point. Or more of fellow freshmen like Carter, Tim Kimbrough, Ryne Rankin, Quincy Mauger and Shaq Wiggins, who have contributed mostly on special teams.

“I would think anybody that's going to play has been on special teams and you've kind of seen them in there doing something,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Guys that maybe haven't done anything, I think right now the plan would be not to play those guys. Now obviously injuries or something could change that, but if I was looking to give you a barometer on the guys to expect moving forward, it would be guys that are playing on special teams right now.”

Grantham's prediction doesn't include someone like Rumph, the junior college transfer who missed the first two games and a chunk of preseason practice with a hamstring injury. Richt said last week that the wide receiver was healthy again and should be available against North Texas if he sufficiently knocks off the rust this week in practice.

“I don't know if he'll get in as a rotation from the very beginning or it will be contingent on how the game goes,” Richt said. “I'm not sure exactly where he's at, but he'll be available to play. He was getting a lot of work on special teams. Coaches are trying to incorporate him back into that. If he wasn't injured, I think he'd have been playing by now, scrimmage snaps and special teams snaps.”

Preseason injuries also affected defensive lineman Chris Mayes and defensive backs Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson – all junior college transfers, as well – so some combination of that trio could also figure into the coaches' plans at some point.

Otherwise, it could be the freshmen and reserves who take over in the second half so long as Georgia's starters build a big early lead. And that could be valuable at positions like receiver, tailback and inside linebacker where the Bulldogs could stand to develop some of the younger players who aren't at the top of the depth chart.

“Like I said at the beginning of the year, it was a concern of mine, the depth at tailback,” Bobo said, although such a comment could apply at several positions. “It was good to get Brendan Douglas in [against South Carolina] and J.J. Green got a carry. He got a carry, got in last week.

“So we've got to continue to develop that depth if injuries do happen. It's a rough and tough league. We played two very good opponents in the first two weeks and guys played a lot of snaps and hopefully we'll get healed up and be ready to go.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Kirk Olivadotti paused last week when asked how many freshman inside linebackers he’d be comfortable playing before responding with a deadpan wisecrack.

“Shoot, I’ve still got two weeks, right?” Georgia’s inside linebackers coach said, breaking into a grin before elaborating on his initial reply.

[+] EnlargeReggie Carter
Tom HauckFreshman linebacker Reggie Carter could have a big role in the Bulldogs' defense in 2013.
“That’s what training camp and summer camp is all about is who you’re going to be comfortable with and what roles you’re going to be comfortable with them in,” Olivadotti added. “We’re still in that process right now, just figuring out exactly what guys are good at, what they need work on. You don’t have to be great at everything to help you win a football game.”

Those two weeks have trickled down to just more than one until the Bulldogs open the season at Clemson on Aug. 31. The coaches’ plan for the freshmen is starting to come into focus, although the positional pecking order still seems to be juniors Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, freshman early enrollee Reggie Carter, followed by everyone else.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, however, suggested that all of the newcomers could play a role this season, and Wilson agreed that was a likely outcome.

“Everybody in our room’s going to have a role. Everybody,” said Wilson, who tied Jordan Jenkins for the team lead with four tackles in Wednesday’s final preseason scrimmage. “Just because everybody’s been working hard and competing and showing their talent.”

Carter made the most of his opportunity when he enrolled in January, impressing Olivadotti with his work ethic as well as his physical ability. But Carter said that summer enrollees Tim Kimbrough and Johnny O’Neal were also picking up Georgia’s defensive scheme quickly.

“I’m happy that I enrolled early because it helped me understand the defense more and [Ryne] Rankin did the same thing and it helped him learn the defense more. But the guys that just got here, they’re learning, too, and they’re actually doing a way better job than me and Rankin in the spring of picking up the scheme.”

Olivadotti complimented the newcomers, too, adding, “Nobody’s surprised in a negative way, which is a good thing. Everybody’s working, and they’re the people who we thought they were.”

Perhaps Georgia coach Mark Richt provided a glimpse into where things stood on Wednesday when he rattled off stats following the team scrimmage. He informed reporters that Carter tied with Herrera for second on the team with three tackles and later added that O’Neal had made a few impressive hits while playing with the scout team.

Kimbrough, meanwhile, has just returned from a right knee sprain that kept him out of a number of recent practices after making a positive impression early in camp.

Playing on the scout team during the scrimmage doesn’t mean much, however, since Georgia’s limited numbers at inside linebacker mean all or most of the freshmen could find a role on either scrimmage downs or on special teams. Grantham confirmed as much recently.

“Reggie’s a guy that’s really improved and I think he’s going to be helping us in there. I think Kimbrough’s a guy that was showing really good progress until he got hurt,” Grantham said. “I’ve been pleased with it. We’ve obviously got to get him back and continue to develop him. If he continues to improve the way that I’ve seen him, he can be ready to function in a game. Johnny has shown to be big and physical and stout and he has the qualities to be a physical linebacker.

“Linebackers to me are guys that are good special teams players and I think if you get your feet wet that way sometimes it helps you in your defensive play. So if those guys can help us, then we’re going to play them.”

Coach's take: Johnny O'Neal 

May, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- West Laurens coach Stacy Nobles believes Johnny O’Neal has everything Georgia is looking for from an inside linebacker -- if he can remain slim enough to play the position.


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Spring cleaning: Garrison Smith

May, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: This week we continue to empty our notebook from Georgia's spring practices to tell the stories we didn't get to tell before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. Previously we featured fullback Quayvon Hicks, tight end Jay Rome, defensive end Ray Drew, safety Connor Norman, cornerback Damian Swann and receiver Rantavious Wooten. Today we recap a conversation with senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Even Garrison Smith, Georgia’s lone returning defensive lineman with any significant experience, had difficulty adapting to a new coach’s methods early in spring practice. So he knew that a new coach and a complex defensive scheme would become major learning obstacles for his less experienced teammates.

Jeff Driskel, Garrison Smith
AP Photo/John RaouxGarrison Smith (right) is in the position of having to instruct his younger teammates on the ins and outs of UGA's defense.
“I’m starting over, but I’m just trying as hard as I can and just bringing these young guys up because we’ve got a sophisticated defense and young guys like Jonathan Taylor, Chris Mayes, John Atkins, right now our defense is calculus for them,” Smith said midway through spring practice. “It’s like basic addition and subtraction for me. But for them right now, it’s like they’re doing rocket science. If y’all were to watch some of the film, it would be a funny sight. It would be like they’re creating some type of new defense.”

And it wasn’t just the new defensive linemen who had a lot to learn. Multiple players across the board used the spring as a jumping-off point for their playing careers at Georgia, but the group made rapid progress during that valuable instructional time.

“You can ask [freshman inside linebackers] Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin about the defense. Like I say, it’s rocket science for them, too,” Smith chuckled. “But that’s just a part of the game when you’re just a young freshman. They don’t expect you to know everything like a senior would, but at the same time, the coaches hold you to a higher standard and they get on you, but that’s just to make you better. They don’t want you to get complacent with not knowing enough. They want to push you as fast as you can so you can learn it.”

Having spent his first three seasons working under defensive line coach Rodney Garner -- who in December returned to his alma mater, Auburn -- Smith had to unlearn some old habits to satisfy new position coach Chris Wilson. It wasn’t like learning an entire defensive scheme, but it required some adjustments nonetheless.

“Even though I’m a veteran, I’m kind of like a freshman all over again because I’m learning new techniques of how to play different things because I’ve got another coach that wants me to play a different way, so I’m having to adapt every day,” Smith said.

That process will continue well into preseason practice, as Wilson continues evaluating and instructing the players who were available in the 15 spring workouts and adds to the mix others such as junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who learned just this week that he will be eligible to compete in the fall.

Smith seemed to like the direction things were heading in the spring, however, noting that the young defense was holding its own against the Bulldogs’ veteran offense more often than experience might have indicated.

“We’ve got one of the best offenses in the country, so if our defense with all these new guys can compete and play on the level of this great offense we’ve got, then the sky’s the limit for us because we’re playing against some of the best right now,” Smith said. “Other opponents, we’re going to be able to match up well against them if we can contain our own offense.”

UGA ILB to watch: Ramik Wilson 

April, 23, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Predicting a player with 10 career tackles will be one of the key performers on Georgia’s defense this fall is risky business.

However, that might be the case with Bulldogs junior Ramik Wilson, whose performance at one of the starting inside linebacker positions could have a big impact on how the rebuilding defense functions in the first several games.

Georgia signed four talented inside linebackers in its most recent recruiting class, but leaning too heavily on the youngsters might be a problem in the early going with the Bulldogs facing Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first month of the season. That leaves the onus on Wilson and fellow junior Amarlo Herrera -- the team’s top returning tackler with 70 stops a season ago -- to perform capably while the freshmen learn on the job.


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Post-spring position review: ILB 

April, 23, 2013
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Editor’s note: Our DawgNation post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the inside linebackers:

Returning players/stats: Amarlo Herrera, Jr. (Nine starts in 2012. 70 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one interception); Ramik Wilson, Jr. (6 tackles, one TFL); Kosta Vavlas, Jr. (9 tackles)

Newcomers: Johnny O’Neal, Fr. (ESPN’s No. 153 overall prospect in the 2013 class, No. 5 ILB. Expected to enroll this summer); Tim Kimbrough, Fr. (No. 289 overall, No. 11 ILB. Expected to enroll this summer); Ryne Rankin, Fr. (No. 296, No. 13 ILB. Enrolled in January); Reggie Carter, Fr. (No. 32 ILB. Enrolled in January).


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Georgia ILB position taking shape

March, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As valuable as this spring will be for early enrollees Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin, it will be just as important for Ramik Wilson.

Ramik Wilson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comAfter appearing in 10 games in 2012, Ramik Wilson, left, has worked his way into a starting job at inside linebacker this spring.
The rising junior has finally settled at inside linebacker -- after shuffling between inside and outside over the past two seasons -- and believes he is making rapid progress at the Mike position, where he is responsible for making defensive calls.

“It helps me out a lot,” Wilson said after leading the defense with seven tackles in Tuesday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium. “I can just learn one position and just keep going from there. I haven’t got to keep doing double duty and just focus on my time at mike. It’s coming real good.”

So good, in fact, that he has established himself as an early favorite to start alongside fellow junior Amarlo Herrera this fall.

“I’d be thrilled if Ramik continued to improve like he has,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “He’s playing inside now. He was playing outside before. I think he’s comfortable in there. I think that’s probably more of a natural position for him. Hopefully he’ll keep coming on.”

Wilson, Carter and Rankin all have a valuable opportunity this spring to earn playing time before two more inside linebacker signees, Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, arrive this summer. With 2012 regulars Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard now pursuing their dreams of playing professional football, only Herrera remains from last season’s rotation -- so position coach Kirk Olivadotti knew this spring would involve major turnover.

(Read full post)

ATHENS, Ga. -- The big news out of Athens this week concerned raises for each of Mark Richt’s football assistants -- including a big raise and new three-year contract for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Bobo received a $240,000 pay bump to $575,000 per year and assistants Will Friend and Tony Ball also got sizable raises, but all nine Richt assistants received a pay increase of some sort.

(Read full post)

ATHENS, Ga. -- Considering that running back Jacques Patrick (Orlando, Fla./Timber Creek) is only in his second year of high school but already has 25 scholarship offers, the case can be made that Patrick is one of the most coveted prospects in the Class of 2015.


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Editor’s note: Each day this week, we’ll ask a question that Georgia’s football team faces this spring as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: How many of the Bulldogs’ 13 midyear enrollees will play this fall?

ATHENS, Ga. -- While predicting which freshmen will play this fall is obviously an inexact science this far ahead of the regular season, Georgia coach Mark Richt on Saturday shared an easy explanation of how quickly his staff must bring along certain members of their 13-man class of midyear enrollees during spring practice.

If they play a position of particular need, Richt said, their learning curve naturally will accelerate.


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ATHENS, Ga. -- Coaches always emphasize the importance of competition during spring practice, and there will certainly be more than enough at Georgia once the Bulldogs start spring drills on March 2.

The competition on the defensive side of the ball will be the story of the spring, as coordinator Todd Grantham and company work to find replacements for the 12 departed regulars who figured heavily into the Bulldogs’ defensive plans last fall.

Here are five positions that bear close watching this spring:

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SEC spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 25, 2013
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We're taking a look at key storylines for all seven teams in the SEC Eastern Division.

Chris will take a look at the main issues in the Western Division on Tuesday.

FLORIDA GATORS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding at linebacker: The Gators have to start figuring out the linebacker situation. Do they go with redshirt junior Michael Taylor in the middle, who’s a run-stuffer but has to come off the field in passing downs? Or do they try sophomore Antonio Morrison, who played outside at 218 pounds as a freshman and has hopefully bulked up a bit? The most likely scenario is Morrison, which means UF has to find a weakside linebacker. That could be freshmen early enrollee Daniel McMillian or Alex Anzalone. The strongside starter should be, at least entering the spring, redshirt junior Neiron Ball.

2. Robinson's growth: One of the most scrutinized players this spring will be receiver Demarcus Robinson. He was the only one of UF’s five receiver signees to enroll early and he’ll be given every chance to win a starting spot. UF’s receivers have been below average for the past three seasons and the Gators desperately need someone to become a consistent playmaker. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Robinson, who caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach County, is going to be under a lot of pressure to produce.

3. Driskel's confidence: Quarterback Jeff Driskel returns for his second season as a starter, and it’ll be interesting to see how much he improves on his decision-making, release and accuracy. He’s sure to benefit from not splitting reps 50-50 any longer. But just as important as Driskel’s development is what happens behind him with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Neither has thrown a pass in a college game. Why is that important? Because Driskel has not been able to stay healthy in his first two seasons in Gainesville. He missed starts as a freshman and sophomore because of ankle injuries. UF was lucky in 2012 to have Jacoby Brissett, who had played significantly as John Brantley’s backup in 2011. With Brissett transferring to NC State, the Gators no longer have that luxury.

-- Mike DiRocco, GatorNation

GEORGIA BULLDOGS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
1. Rebuilding the defense: Georgia begins its transition to a completely new collection of defensive talent this spring. No longer are Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins on the roster. In fact, the Bulldogs must replace a total of 12 defensive players who were either full-time starters or key contributors, and at some positions, the possible replacements have little to no college experience. That makes this a pivotal time for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to begin identifying which players will fill those roles, as the Bulldogs will have little margin for error when they open the season against Clemson’s explosive offense Aug. 31. Some names to watch this spring: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Sheldon Dawson and Jonathan Taylor.

2. Developing the youngsters: The good news for Grantham and the other defensive coaches is that they brought in a number of January enrollees who should be able to help immediately. Junior college transfer Chris Mayes and John Atkins hope to fill the void left by Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at noseguard. Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will immediately enter the mix at linebacker. And cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and safeties Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger can help address Georgia’s depth shortage in a secondary that lost four key players. Georgia’s 13 early enrollees -- more than twice as many January enrollees as Georgia coach Mark Richt has ever brought in before -- will help fill needs on both sides of the ball, but the defense is where the newcomers were most necessary.

3. Offensive line reps: For the most part, Georgia used the same starting lineup along its offensive line throughout the 2012 season and each of those starters should return this fall. But two of those starters -- right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus -- underwent surgeries during the offseason and will miss all or part of spring practice. There was a good chance that offensive line coach Will Friend was going to deploy more players in his line rotation this fall anyway, but the valuable practice reps that will be available with Burnette and Theus sidelined might make a deeper rotation even more likely. Someone still has to take advantage of the opportunity, however.

-- David Ching, DawgNation

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Getting used to new coaches: New coaches are roaming Kentucky’s football facility this spring. Mark Stoops brings a more defense-minded philosophy to Lexington, but his coaches will have to get things going on offense if the Wildcats are going to improve in 2013. There are always awkward moments when transitioning to a new staff, but now’s the time to create valuable trust on both sides.

2. Finding offensive playmakers: Stoops might have a strong defensive background, but the Wildcats have to find answers on offense. Injuries were an issue last year, but for two straight years the Wildcats had real problems finding consistent playmakers on offense. Quarterback Maxwell Smith returns, but he needs more than just wide receiver La’Rod King to help him. Getting running back Josh Clemons back would be big, but expect the coaches to turn to a young group of receivers and running backs.

3. Tougher team: One thing Stoops wants from his players is a tougher identity. Stoops wants to build a stronger team from the ground up. He’s taking a page from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin when it comes to preparing his new team. This spring, we’ll see just how much of an emphasis the coaches put on the weight room and conditioning before hitting the football side of things.

MISSOURI TIGERS

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Josey's rehab: The Tigers will be keeping tabs on running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 after suffering a devastating knee injury midway through the 2011 season. He was the Big 12’s best running back before his injury and Mizzou needs him back. The staff has had to be patient, but this could be a crucial time in his rehab, as he looks to get his football legs back.

2. Rebuilding the front seven: Mizzou must replace a lot in its front seven. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s absence leaves a gaping hole up front, while linebackers Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden must be replaced. Lucas Vincent will be first in line to take Richardson’s spot, while Darvin Ruise, Donovan Bonner and Michael Scherer are three players to watch at linebacker.

3. Toughening up: Injuries ravaged Mizzou’s offense last year, but it’s clear that Mizzou wasn’t in the playing shape that it would have liked to be in during its first year in the SEC. Injuries are part of the game, but gaining that toughness factor this spring will go a long way for the Tigers in 2013. The SEC is more than just a grind, and the Tigers found out the hard way that conditioning in this league is a little different than in the Big 12.

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. New backfield options: Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles are gone, so the Gamecocks will have to turn to their younger backs. Brandon Wilds missed the 2012 season with an ankle injury but should return this spring. Rising sophomore Mike Davis has all the tools to be a big-time player for the Gamecocks and could be the top option in the Gamecocks’ backfield. Shifty Shon Carson also returns from a knee injury, so South Carolina will have a solid group to work with this spring.

2. QB controversy: Quarterback Connor Shaw might be tabbed as the starter, but with him out for the spring, Dylan Thompson will take the first-team reps. Thompson proved to be very valuable last year, and both will play this fall. Thompson has become one of the most vocal players on the team and is a strong leader. A good spring could bring some real controversy to the position.

3. Holes at linebacker: South Carolina will be without its two-deep at linebacker and “Spur” DeVonte Holloman is gone. That means there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to finding viable replacements. Sharrod Golightly will get the early crack at the Spur, and keep an eye on Kaiwan Lews, who was a true freshman last year and has a lot of potential to work with.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. New coaches on the block: With Butch Jones in town, the Vols have to get used to their third head coach in five springs. Jones and his staff have helped bring some much-needed energy to the program since arriving, but now it’s time to develop vital on-field chemistry between the coaches and players.

2. Receiving help: The Vols’ offense took at major hit at receiver. Juniors Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson made the leap to the NFL, while deep threat Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera graduated. Tennessee will now turn to a host of inexperienced receiving targets, including rising sophomore Alton Howard and early enrollee Paul Harris.

3. Quarterback battle: With Tyler Bray leaving for the NFL, Tennessee will work with rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Worley has the edge when it comes to game experience, but with a new staff, this battle will be wide-open. They will also need to make strides before freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson get on campus this summer.

VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Spring start: March 15

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Replacing Rodgers: Quarterback Jordan Rodgers is gone. The good news is Austyn Carta-Samuels has good experience after starting two years at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette is someone the coaches also are excited about, especially with his dual-threat ability, and should really push Carta-Samuels the whole spring.

2. Running back battles: The Commodores lost star running back Zac Stacy, so veteran Wesley Tate, who has bounced around positions, and rising sophomore Brian Kimbrow, who has the do-everything look to him at running back, will share reps. Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour also return, making for quite the talented backfield.

3. Keeping the edge: Now that another very successful season under James Franklin is over, the Dores have to continue to keep the edge that got them to where they are. It might sound like a broken record, but Vanderbilt still has to prove that it isn’t the Vandy of old. People are certainly taking the Dores more seriously, but keeping that edge is important for more growth.

Parody surprises, amuses Matthews

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
7:00
AM ET
ATHENS, Ga. -- Although they haven’t even played in a G-Day game yet, Georgia early enrollees Tray Matthews and Ryne Rankin have already received the same treatment as some of their better-known coaches and teammates.

Much like coaches Mark Richt, Mike Bobo and Todd Grantham and players like Aaron Murray or Isaiah Crowell, the two freshman football players have been parodied online in fake Twitter accounts that exaggerate some of their personality traits. In some cases, the parody accounts actually have more Twitter followers than the person they are mocking.

“I didn’t even know until one of my friends said, ‘Man, you know you’ve got a fake Twitter?’ It was like, ‘Oh man, you’re going big-time on us already,’ ” said Matthews, who guessed that a friend from his hometown, Newnan, Ga., or a new teammate was the wise guy behind his now-inactive online alter ego, @NotTrayMatthews.

(Read full post)

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