- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (first, SEC East)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2
2012 statistical leaders (* - returner)
Rushing: Gurley * (1,385 yards)
Passing: Murray * (3,893 yards)
Receiving: King (950 yards)
Tackles: Alec Ogletree (111)
Sacks: Jones (14.5)
Interceptions: Swann * (4)
1. Safety starters: With 2011 All-Americans Rambo and Williams completing their college careers, the Bulldogs entered the spring with two big holes at safety. It appears sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and January enrollee Tray Matthews have all but claimed the starting positions, however. Harvey-Clemons was named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP of spring practice, and Matthews generated the most buzz of anyone this spring with his ability to deliver crushing hits. Georgia’s inexperience along the back end of the defense is not ideal, but the two youngsters could become a pleasant surprise.
2. Newcomers contribute: Matthews wasn’t the only early enrollee who made his mark during the spring -- and many of those 13 newcomers will play big roles in the fall. Others like defensive lineman Chris Mayes, linebacker Reggie Carter, cornerback Reggie Wilkerson and running back/receiver J.J. Green all but ensured that they will contribute this fall by acquitting themselves nicely while learning how to function as college players. Keep an eye on another early enrollee, receiver Tramel Terry, once the Bulldogs open preseason practice. Terry did not practice this spring while recovering from a torn ACL suffered late last fall, but he could be healthy by August and could become yet another valuable freshman.
3. Returning weapons: With almost everyone returning on offense -- only King and receiver Marlon Brown are gone among the key contributors -- the Bulldogs should be able to score with as much efficiency as last season’s group that set a school record with 529 points. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo already knows what players including Murray, Gurley, tailback Keith Marshall and Mitchell can do. This spring, players like offensive MVP Chris Conley, G-Day standout Jonathon Rumph and Green also flashed the potential to make the offense even more potent.
1. Starting quickly: A defense that must replace 12 key performers was a pleasant surprise this spring. But can Todd Grantham’s rebuilt defense reload quickly enough to hold its own against the likes of Clemson, South Carolina and LSU? Georgia faces all of those teams before the end of September. Grantham’s defense underperformed a season ago despite a wealth of NFL-ready talent. The talent is still there, but the defensive coaches have their work cut out with so many inexperienced players needing to be ready for the season-defining early schedule.
2. Offensive line rotation: With Burnette out for the entire spring and offensive tackle John Theus out for the first half of the practices, offensive line coach Will Friend had plenty of reason to shuffle his lineup -- and that’s exactly what he did. Friend’s group returns everyone from last season, including four players who started all 14 games, but he did not seem prepared to guarantee any starting jobs at the end of the spring. It’s possible that the shuffling could continue in August, and he might allow a greater number of linemen to play once the season begins.
3. Sack specialists: Jones led the nation with 24.5 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season while serving as the Bulldogs' top pass-rusher. Sophomore Jordan Jenkins appears to be first in line to replace him -- and he has already informed his predecessor that he intends to eventually break his school sack record -- but Jones set an awfully high bar for Jenkins to attempt to clear. In order to make Grantham's 3-4 defense function correctly, the Bulldogs need Jenkins and some of the defensive linemen who will be stepping into larger roles to keep applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks.