Georgia Bulldogs: john theus

Georgia spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Georgia Bulldogs:

1. Mason is ready: After sitting behind Aaron Murray for four years, Hutson Mason is now the guy at quarterback. It won’t be easy following a legend, but Mason is ready to do his thing in Athens. He had a good spring, is extremely confident, filled with moxie, knows the offense, can make plays on the fly, and has all the trust in his teammates.

2. Gurley tough: Georgia running back Todd Gurley has never been truly healthy with the Dawgs, but is playing through pain better than ever. His coaches pushed him to increase his toughness and improve his attitude this spring, and he did. He was bulldozing teammates during practice and the spring game and is motivated to play his best ball this fall.

3. Floyd and Johnson could be special: Linebacker Leonard Floyd could be Georgia’s best defensive player, while defensive lineman Toby Johnson could be primed for a breakout season. Floyd can do just about everything under the sun, while Johnson was a constant terror during Georgia’s spring game. Both needed to be doubleteamed this spring, and you should hear a lot more about these two this fall.

Three questions for the fall:

1. What's next for the secondary?: There’s no question that new DC Jeremy Pruitt’s biggest job will be fixing Georgia’s secondary. It showed similar inconsistencies this spring and the offense could have made things look really ugly through the air during the spring game if not for a few overthrows. Expect some of Georgia’s newcomers to get every shot at taking starting spots this fall.

2. Who will play at left guard?: Four of the five starting offensive line spots look to be set. Left guard, however, is unknown. There are a lot of combinations for the Dawgs and you could even see tackle Kolton Houston play there. Rising sophomore Brandon Kublanow playing at LG would keep Houston and John Theus at the tackle spots, but Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler could shake things up.

3. Will we see RB Keith Marshall this fall?: Marshall is running after his devastating ACL injury from last fall, but the coaches aren’t sure if he’ll be 100 percent this fall. Marshall hasn’t been cutting much, but he’s progressing. Still, with the severity of last year’s injury, Marshall could be limited this fall, or out completely.

One way-too-early prediction:

Midway through the season, Georgia will spend four straight games away from Athens. The trip starts at Missouri and squeezes in that annual game in Jacksonville, Fla., against rival Florida. Add a trip to Arkansas and Kentucky, and the Dawgs will be world travelers. Expect Georgia to split that road trip.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia, which is trying to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 8-5 finish, is finishing up its second week of spring practice.

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.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIOutside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who started eight games as a freshman, has been a "beast" during spring practices.
Here are a few early observations from Georgia’s spring:

• 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.
It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

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

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIExpect John Theus to start living up to the potential as he takes over as the starting left tackle.
Theus is clearly not afraid to be different, frequently tweeting about his love for Beyonce or how he’s watching something lovey dovey like “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix. That hardly fits the stereotype of the rough-and-tumble offensive lineman, but Theus has still fared OK thus far at Georgia, even if his entertainment choices might be a bit unique.

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.
We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week we will take a look at five position battles worth watching 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

[+] EnlargeMark Beard
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRising senior Mark Beard, here locking up Jadeveon Clowney, has plenty of game experience.
Departures: Left guard Dallas Lee and right guard Chris Burnette handled nearly all of the starts over the past three seasons at the guard spots. Lee started 33 of Georgia's 41 games since the start of the 2011 season, and Burnette started 37. Their departures leave a huge experience void at the middle of the Bulldogs' offensive line.

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.
We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week we will take a look at five position battles worth watching this 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.

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIJohn Theus has started 21 games during his first two seasons at Georgia.
Returning starters: Entering his junior season, John Theus has already started 21 games. He manned the right tackle spot for all 14 games in 2012 and started the last seven games of 2013. He and the versatile Kolton Houston, who started the first six games last season, handled most -- if not all -- of the significant snaps at right tackle last fall.

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.

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.
Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll review the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the last decade.

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.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTodd Gurley became a star in the Bulldogs' backfield.
The stars: Keith Marshall was the initial class headliner, but Todd Gurley immediately shot to stardom when the star tailbacks arrived on campus. The duo combined for 2,144 rushing yards as freshmen and nearly helped the Bulldogs claim the 2012 SEC title. Both struggled with injuries last fall, but Gurley looks like he has the chance to become one of the greatest tailbacks in school history. Among the other headliners in the class, offensive tackle John Theus and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins also played early roles, although they have not yet reached their expected potential from recruiting. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is also in that boat, with his 2013 season -- his first as a starter -- displaying potential and not much consistency yet. Kicker Marshall Morgan bounced back from a shaky freshman season to enjoy one of the best seasons in school history. And Leonard Floyd -- who initially signed with Georgia in 2012 and re-signed with the following year after a season in prep school -- looks like a star pass-rusher in the making after leading the team with 6.5 sacks last fall.

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.

UGA position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 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.

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

[+] EnlargeDavid Andrews
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIDavid Andrews returns to anchor the offensive line.
Battling for No. 1: This is perhaps one of the most interesting position groups to watch this spring. Offensive line coach Will Friend seemed fairly comfortable with most of his lineup last fall, with center David Andrews, left tackle Kenarious Gates and right guard Chris Burnette starting all 13 games and left guard Dallas Lee starting 12. It was the right tackle spot that felt like a revolving door at times, with John Theus starting eight games and Kolton Houston six. With Gates, Burnette and Lee all out of the picture now, there should be plenty of competition to fill their spots -- and just as much at essentially every position but center, where Andrews seems entrenched as a starter. Friend seemed to like what then-freshman Brandon Kublanow brought to the lineup last season at guard, so he might be one candidate to keep an eye on during the spring. But who Friend will insert into the tackle spots seems difficult to predict. Theus and Houston certainly had their ups and downs last season, but they are far and away the most experienced tackles on the roster at this point.

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.
ATHENS, Ga. -- For football fans seeking tailgating or restaurant advice at a given road destination, visiting coaches and players are among the worst sources of information.

During the regular season, their road-trip schedule is extremely regimented -- and it leaves no time whatsoever for sightseeing. Visiting fans might be partying at the Grove in Oxford on game day or along Broadway in Nashville on Friday night, but the visiting players and coaches are locked away at the team hotel finalizing their game plans right up until time to bus to the stadium.

[+] EnlargeArthur Lynch
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsA veteran of four Florida-Georgia games, Arthur Lynch gets one more trip to Jacksonville.
That's why bowl games are particularly fun for the team and staff -- and why the upcoming trip to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl holds some intrigue for Georgia's players. They'll get a chance to actually experience for the first time one of the places most closely associated with Georgia football.

“You will get a chance to get out and see the city,” defensive end Ray Drew said. “I think that's why a lot of people look forward to the bowl game each year, just because it's a little more laid back rather than just flying in, going to the hotel, going to the game and flying back out. So you get a chance to relax a little bit more and just have fun. I think that's what bowl games are about. Of course it's a business trip, but you get to enjoy the city, as well.”

Drew is among a handful of Georgia players who have attended the annual Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville as a fan. He watched the Bulldogs lose in overtime as a high school senior, months before signing in February 2011 to join the Georgia program that fall.

Otherwise, the majority of the Bulldogs -- with the obvious exception of players like Jacksonville natives John and Nathan Theus -- know only bus ride over the city's Hart Bridge, when the throngs of fans and tailgate tents and the massive party outside of EverBank Field first come into view, when they think of Jacksonville.

Sure, they've heard about the elbow-to-elbow crowds at the Jacksonville Landing and know all about the massive fraternity and sorority parties that weekend on the beaches at St. Simons Island. They usually don't get to enjoy the social aspect of the game, however, until their careers are over.

So while a BCS bowl would have been a preferable destination, getting to enjoy Jacksonville is one consolation for the Bulldogs.

“It's tough when you're limited to the bowl games when you don't reach your goals originally, you want to be optimistic and look for the best in every situation,” said senior tight end Arthur Lynch, who also attended the 2010 Georgia-Florida game as a fan while redshirting that season. “For me, it was like, 'If we get to go to Jacksonville or we get to go to the [Georgia] Dome, we've played in both those places before and it kind of gave me extra incentive to want to be at that specific bowl -- not necessarily who we're playing or what bowl it was, but the idea of the location.”

Although few of the players have been out and about in the city, Jacksonville will certainly have a home-town feel for the Bulldogs. Situated close to the Georgia-Florida border, the city boasts a sizable UGA alumni base that should turn out for the Bulldogs' first Gator Bowl appearance since 1989.

“It's definitely a city where there's a lot of Georgia fans there, there's a Georgia fan base there and a lot of alums that are connected to the city. So I have no problem wanting to go see the city for a week,” Lynch said. “Bowl trips are fun no matter what. They make it so it's enjoyable and to see the other side of Jacksonville I think will be pretty cool.”

For Drew, a junior who will be playing in a third-consecutive Florida-based bowl, he already knows where he wants to play around this time next season when he's wrapping up his college career.

“I'd say Dallas, Texas,” Drew said, although he meant nearby Arlington, which will host the inaugural College Football Championship Game next season. “That's where the national will be next year, so yeah, I'm going with that.”

Opportunities abound for Bulldogs

August, 29, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- If the last month taught Sheldon Dawson anything about Georgia’s green secondary, it’s that capability is not the Bulldogs’ issue.

“For us to be counted out so bad, we actually look good,” Dawson said earlier this week.

As Saturday’s game at Clemson approaches, the young players stepping into big roles on Georgia’s defense remain the team’s biggest question mark, although Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Tuesday he is “probably more curious than concerned” about how they will perform.

Nonetheless, with one of the nation’s most prolific offenses on deck, Richt admitted that a secondary that features five players who have never started a game -- including Dawson and true freshmen cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins -- listed on the two-deep depth chart will be tested.

“Those guys aren’t good receivers, they’re great receivers. They’re really prolific guys in the college game that are going to play on Sundays,” Richt said of a Clemson receiving corps that includes 2011 All-American Sammy Watkins. “So here you’ve got some young pups in there that are going to try and hook it up with them, it’s going to be tough. … It’s not a good matchup for us right now.”

Compounding the issue is that the Bulldogs dealt with an assortment of injuries in August. Junior safety Corey Moore is likely out against Clemson after spraining his knee. Dawson returned to practice last week after a number of ailments forced him to miss time during preseason camp. And freshman safety Tray Matthews missed several weeks before returning to his presumed starting role this week in practice.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia coach Mark Richt admits he is curious to see how his young players perform against Clemson.
His absence created concerns about continuity, but senior safety Connor Norman -- listed as the starting strong safety while Josh Harvey-Clemons serves a one-game suspension -- said Matthews’ participation in spring practice alleviated those problems to a degree.

“Obviously communication is crucial between safeties, so him not being out there, it creates challenges,” Norman said. “But at the same time, he’s been there, he’s been working and we talk all the time. So I think we’ve been doing the best we can when it comes to getting comfortable with each other. We had all spring together, also, so it’s not like he got here and he was out the entire camp. He had a spring here, so I think some of that chemistry was already created.”

Norman, who started twice last season, is one of only six players on the two-deep who has a start under his belt. Included on that two-deep of 22 players are eight freshmen and a junior college transfer who will make their college debuts Saturday night in Death Valley.

“Those guys have really embraced their opportunity to be out here and that comes with learning the defense and knowing it a lot better,” Norman said. “All the credit goes to the guys that have earned the opportunity to play because they’ve taken responsibility for themselves.”

Opportunity abounds on Georgia’s defense, but it exists at certain positions on the Bulldogs’ veteran offense as well -- perhaps nowhere more than along the offensive line.

After his three-year NCAA eligibility battle ended this summer, Kolton Houston has battled 2012 starter John Theus for the right tackle job in August. The two have split first-team reps at tackle, while Theus has also filled in at right guard while team trainers took it easy on starter Chris Burnette in his return from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I was the kind of guy for three years that I don’t want to slack off and hold back the past three years because I always thought that there was going to be a time that I could play, so I always wanted to be ready,” said Houston, on the verge of playing his first college game since arriving at Georgia in January 2010. “And so now I definitely have a little more of a spark, but I’ve always practiced competitively since I’ve been here. I think that’s what’s helped me now.”

Redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley also seems ready for an increased role at receiver after earning substantial playing time for the first time in his career in Georgia’s last game, its Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska. The UGA track star is listed as Michael Bennett’s backup at split end and is one of a number of less experienced wideouts -- including freshman Reggie Davis and Kenny Towns -- who received a longer look in August thanks to injuries to veterans.

“Anytime you can get game reps and experience on the field, it’s good for your confidence and it’s good for the coaches’ confidence in you and your teammates’ confidence in you,” said Scott-Wesley, who had three catches for 67 yards against Nebraska. “So me coming out and showing that I could handle myself in a gametime situation is good for me moving forward.”

More than any spots on offense, however, the young players in the secondary and at linebacker will be under the microscope in Saturday’s opener. This will be their opportunity to prove they deserve further playing time before Harvey-Clemons and the assorted injured veterans return to the lineup.

“Even a week from this game, we’re going to be in better shape from a safety standpoint, as far as health and guys that are available to play,” Richt said. “Do we have all hands on deck right now? We don’t, but the guys that are in there have to step up and play and do well.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Rarely does the public see video evidence that confirms a team’s offseason happy talk. Luckily for Georgia freshman running back J.J. Green, he picked the right day during preseason training camp to make a ridiculous run.

ESPN cameras were on the scene last week for an on-campus tour stop when the diminutive Green escaped from multiple tackle attempts and wound up leaping onto and over a pile of four linemen to score during a 3-on-3 running drill. Multiple Bulldogs players and coaches had complimented the freshman during spring practice for his slippery running style, and the video of Green’s run proved they weren’t just blowing smoke.

J.J. Green
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThree-star prospect J.J. Green, who was going to play receiver at Georgia, has been practicing at running back for the Bulldogs.
“I think it more so explains just the type of football player he is, period,” Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon said. “He’s a tough guy that doesn’t like to be denied at much, a guy that plays with a chip on his shoulder because he’s been told that he’s too [small] his whole football career. So he plays with a chip on his shoulder and goes out there and tries to prove people wrong.”

Green said he didn’t even know the cameras were there, much less that video of his run had gone viral on the Internet until well after the fact. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt told him during practice that the play had reached ESPN’s airwaves, and the dozens of mentions Green soon received on Twitter confirmed that his run was making the rounds.

“I was surprised a little bit,” Green said. “… Everybody just started sending me the video and I checked the Twitter account like three hours later and it was blowing up with it. But it was pretty awesome.”

The other side of the token, however, is that three Georgia defensive players had to answer for their inability to corral the 5-foot-9 scatback -- particularly nose guard John Atkins, who had Green in his grasp.

Defensive end Toby Johnson, who was also in on the play, laughed and said what happened was “embarrassing,” but accepted some portion of the blame for Green’s escape.

“It was as much on me, too. I can’t put my guys out like that,” Johnson said. “We was all in it together. We all lost.”

On the play, Green ran into a hole initially clogged by defensive end Ray Drew and then spun directly into Atkins’ arms. Green kept his legs driving and stayed on his feet as Atkins fell to the turf while trying to strip the ball from his hands, and then the running back jumped straight up and landed on top of four down linemen.

“I didn’t really see it [at the time], but when I saw it on the Internet, I was like, ‘Whoa! I didn’t know it was that spectacular,’ ” Atkins chuckled.

Next, Green planted his right knee on the back of falling offensive tackle John Theus, made an acrobatic lunge forward and landed on both feet before running away from the pile to cheers from the Bulldogs’ offensive players and coaches.

“[Atkins] fell off and everything else was just instincts,” Green said. “I didn’t really think about it, it just happened. I knew backside was open, but I wanted to make a play, so I hopped over the pile.”

Having played running back throughout his football career, Green is happy to be playing the position after initially expecting to play receiver in college. He switched to running back just before spring practice because of depth issues, and performed well enough that he seems to have found a home in the backfield.

“I’m a tailback at Georgia now,” Green said. “I can still play wide receiver sometimes, but I like playing running back.”

He has competition for playing time behind established stars Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, however. Fellow freshman Brendan Douglas has impressed the coaching staff with his performance in August, and A.J. Turman could still play a role once he returns from a camp injury.

But Green has clearly carved a niche for himself as a return man and change-of-pace option out of the backfield, and his slippery running style -- as evidenced by his 3-on-3 touchdown -- will make him another weapon that Georgia’s explosive offense can utilize.

“You’ve got to watch him,” observed defensive back Kennar Johnson, “or he’ll shake you real quick.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite all the offseason handwringing about how Georgia’s offensive line depth chart might change this season, Will Friend still trotted out the exact same starting five for Thursday’s first preseason practice that he deployed in nearly all 14 games last fall.

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 [2010], 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.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Throughout the week, we have highlighted some of the top players in Georgia history with our DawgNation all-time draft series.

Included among our draft picks were former Bulldogs such as Jarvis Jones, Brandon Boykin, Drew Butler, Ben Jones and A.J. Green who played for Georgia within the last couple of seasons. Along those lines, let’s take a look at four active Bulldogs who might someday rank among the program’s best at their respective positions.

Todd Gurley, Aaron Murray
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireTodd Gurley and Aaron Murray can add to their eye-popping numbers.
Quarterback Aaron Murray: Murray is the closest to making the all-timer list, having already set a handful of program and SEC passing records. He’s the only quarterback in SEC history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in three different seasons. By the end of this season, Murray could conceivably hold conference records for pass attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns. The one knock against him is that Georgia hasn’t won a conference title with Murray directing the offense. If he remedies that issue this season, Murray will undoubtedly rank among Georgia’s best quarterbacks of any era.

Recruiting pitches: SEC

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
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Inspired by Florida's "#ComePlayWRFortheJoker" campaign, our recruiting writers looked at other ways schools can sell themselves on the trail. Here's a look at recruiting pitches for the SEC:

Alabama Crimson Tide
What they are selling:
What's not to sell? Alabama is coming off back-to-back national championships, and the Crimson Tide had nine players taken in April's NFL draft, including three in the first round. For the critics who say you won't play early at UA, ask T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper how much they contributed as freshmen.

What they are missing: Although they won a national championship, the Tide didn't generate much pass rush last fall, and they had trouble containing freshman sensation Johnny Manziel. Also, they need to rebuild the offensive line, a unit that anchored the offense last year.

Arkansas Razorbacks
What they are selling:
New head coach Bret Bielema runs a completely different offensive system than the previous two Arkansas coaches. The Razorbacks are selling an opportunity for freshmen to come in and earn playing time early in their careers.

What they are missing: The Razorbacks signed only one offensive lineman, Denver Kirkland, who was rated a four-star prospect or higher last year. In this run-heavy system, look for Arkansas to focus on landing talented players along the offensive line.

Auburn Tigers
What they are selling:
It's a new regime for Auburn, but there's a familiar face running the show. New head coach Gus Malzahn knows the program from his days as offensive coordinator. He's already shown the ability to recruit, stealing ESPN 150 linebacker Tre Williams away from the Tide. There's a sense of excitement on The Plains again.

What they are missing: Malzahn filled out his first recruiting class with playmakers, but Auburn needs to build up front on the offensive and defensive lines. No matter what offense you run, if you want to win in the SEC, you need to be able to compete up in the trenches.

Florida Gators
What they are selling:
With no proven wide receivers on the perimeter, Florida is attempting to sell early playing time at the position. A chance to play for one of the best defensive minds in college football in Will Muschamp is another selling point to defensive prospects.

What they are missing: Production on offense. After finishing 114th nationally in passing offense, it will be hard to sell playing time to wide receivers without an explosive passing game in place.

Georgia Bulldogs
What they are selling:
Freshmen, if they're good enough, play early at Georgia. From running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to offensive tackle John Theus to defensive end Jordan Jenkins, several freshmen Bulldogs made major contributions on a team that was a few yards away from making the national championship game.

What they are missing: Georgia has brought in four top-12 recruiting classes in the last four years. Depth might become an issue for some recruits, but Georgia has certainly shown a willingness to play younger players.

Kentucky Wildcats
What they are selling:
After finishing 2-10, Kentucky fired coach Joker Phillips. New head coach Mark Stoops is offering a fresh start and a chance to help build Kentucky in to a contender in the SEC East.

What they are missing: Plain and simple -- tradition. Sure, Kentucky is full of basketball tradition, but the success on the hardwood completely overshadows the football program. A record 50,831 fans attended the Wildcats' spring game, so the interest level is certainly headed in the right direction.

LSU Tigers
What they are selling:
An unprecedented 10 underclassmen declared for the NFL draft. LSU is selling the opportunity, not only for early playing time because of the departures, but a chance to make it to the NFL in three years.

What they are missing: Because of all the departures, there are some holes on both sides of the ball. Depth is now an issue at running back and LSU will need to replace Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan and linebacker Kevin Minter.

Ole Miss Rebels
What they are selling:
Ole Miss landed the No. 5-ranked class in the country, including No. 1 overall player Robert Nkemdiche and No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Look for Ole Miss to sell recruits on the opportunity to help build something special under head coach Hugh Freeze.

What they are missing: Freeze brought a creative and innovative offense to the SEC, but the defense is still a work in progress. Ole Miss finished 12th in the SEC in pass defense and will need to continue to build depth in order to compete for the SEC West championship.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
What they are selling:
Only 11 of 22 starters return for a team that finished 8-5 last year. The Bulldogs offer recruits a chance to play early and play in the best division in college football.

What they are missing: Mississippi State returns its starting quarterback Tyler Russell, but who will he be throwing to? Last year's four leading receivers, including Chad Bumphis, are gone. Look for the Bulldogs to focus on offensive weapons in this recruiting class.

Missouri Tigers
What they are selling:
The Tigers return 14 of 22 starters on a team that went 5-7 in its first year in the SEC East. Missouri runs a fun and innovative offense that is sure to attract recruits, and there is certainly an opportunity to play early.

What they are missing: The defensive line is probably the most critical area on any defense in the SEC, and the Tigers lost their best lineman in Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou must find a viable replacement for Richardson and linebackers Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner.

South Carolina Gamecocks
What they are selling:
The Gamecocks have been dominant on defense over the last few years, and a strong line is a big part of their success. South Carolina is selling an opportunity to be the next Jadeveon Clowney and be a part of one of the top defenses in the SEC.

What they are missing: Hard to believe, but head coach Steve Spurrier needs help at wide receiver. The Gamecocks signed only one wide receiver in their 2013 class. They have young bodies, but not much depth or production from the returning group.

Tennessee Volunteers
What they are selling:
A fresh start under new head coach Butch Jones. Since 2011, Tennessee has finished with the No. 13, 21 and 29 recruiting classes in the country. There plenty of holes to fill, and any incoming freshman will have plenty of opportunities to earn a starting spot.

What they are missing: Tennessee lost wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to the NFL draft and must replace their production on the outside. The Volunteers are also thin in the secondary and will look to recruiting to plug some key holes on defense.

Texas A&M Aggies
What they are selling:
There is a lot to sell a recruit on at Texas A&M right now. An explosive offense which led the SEC in total offense by more than 100 yards a game, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and a team that went into Tuscaloosa and handed Alabama its only loss last season.

What they are missing: There are still some holes to fill on defense. The Aggies finished with the No. 8-ranked defense in the SEC and the No. 10-ranked pass defense in the league. They also need to replace talented defensive end Damontre Moore, who is now in the NFL.

Vanderbilt Commodores
What they are selling:
Head coach James Franklin has taken Vanderbilt to a bowl in two consecutive years, and the Commodores are bringing in a solid recruiting class. Selling recruits on an opportunity to play at Vanderbilt during one of the best eras in the school's football history is enticing to high school recruits.

What they are missing: Vanderbilt is not yet on par with other SEC schools as far as facilities. The Commodores, though, are certainly headed in the right direction. A new indoor practice facility is being constructed, and stadium renovations are in the planning stages.

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