Georgia Bulldogs: Tramel Terry

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're making five predictions related to the upcoming practices.

[+] EnlargeDamian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsDamian Swann seems like the only safe bet to hold on to a starting job in the secondary next fall.
Today’s final prediction: The secondary remains in flux

No element of Georgia’s defensive drop-off was more concerning than the secondary, where the Bulldogs tumbled from eighth nationally in passing defense in 2012 to 60th last season, with their yards-allowed average jumping nearly 50 yards per game, from 175.6 to 227.4.

It was somewhat understandable, given that the Bulldogs had to replace four longtime contributors at safety (former All-American Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams) and cornerback (Sanders Commings and Branden Smith), three of whom were drafted. But the secondary’s growing pains were the most obvious and anger-inducing element of Georgia’s defensive struggles a season ago.

Coach Mark Richt and his staff certainly hope that the experience the group gained last fall will lead to a smoother fall -- and we do expect the secondary to improve under first-year defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt -- but today’s prediction is that the depth chart will remain in flux beyond spring practice.

That will be for a variety of reasons. One is that some players who could compete for immediate playing time -- I’m thinking of the versatile Shattle Fenteng, whom ESPN listed as the top junior-college cornerback prospect for 2014, and cornerback Malkom Parrish -- are not even on campus yet. Another is that Tramel Terry is only a few practices into his transition from receiver to safety, while cornerback Reggie Wilkerson is still on his way back from a torn ACL suffered last summer.

We know who the leading contenders are in these position races -- senior Damian Swann, junior Sheldon Dawson and sophomores Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley all return at cornerback, while safeties Corey Moore, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger all gained starting experience last fall -- but Pruitt shouldn’t be in any hurry to anoint anyone as a starter. After last year’s results, he has no reason to do such a thing.

Swann is the safest bet to remain in the starting lineup. He has started 27 games in a row, after all, and is by far the most experienced player in this bunch. But beyond the senior cornerback, the other slots should be completely up for grabs. That grew even more certain when Richt booted starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons off the roster about a month ago.

Pruitt has a couple of nice pieces to work with in this youthful secondary, but the group has a long way to go before it could be considered consistent -- or even competent. The coach has gotten impressive results from his defensive backs in previous stops at Alabama and Florida State, and he will almost certainly repeat that success at Georgia.

Don’t expect it to occur overnight, however. The improvement process will begin this spring, and it seems highly likely that competition at the various secondary positions will continue well into preseason practice.
We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week let's take a look at five position battles worth watching this spring.

We begin Monday with the safeties, who struggled for much of last season and lost a starter when coach Mark Richt kicked Josh Harvey-Clemons off the team last month. With all of that -- plus the addition of a new position coach in Jeremy Pruitt -- in mind, it should be an interesting spring for the defensive backs in general. But let's take a closer look at the safeties:

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews (28) and Corey Moore (39) played significant roles last season but will need to find more consistency in 2014.
Returning starters: Harvey-Clemons (11 starts, 66 tackles, five tackles for a loss, three fumble recoveries in 2013) was the only player one might call a regular starter at safety, although the Bulldogs return three players who started at points in 2013: Corey Moore (seven starts, 35 tackles, three TFLs), Quincy Mauger (seven starts, 57 tackles) and Tray Matthews (six starts, 36 tackles).

Departures: Harvey-Clemons and Connor Norman (two starts, 24 tackles), also one of the Bulldogs' top special teams players, are the two most significant departures.

Returning reserves: Since they were all part-time starters, Moore, Mauger and Matthews were also part-time reserves in 2013. They all have a decent shot at seizing major playing time this fall, although it's difficult to predict a pecking order at this point. Moore is the only senior in the mix, while Mauger and the oft-injured Matthews both played as true freshmen after enrolling in January.

Newcomers: As we discussed last week, redshirt freshman Tramel Terry might be a player to watch here. One of the top athletes in the 2013 ESPN recruit rankings, Terry practiced throughout the regular season as a wide receiver, only to shift to safety during bowl practice. If that move sticks, he could make this competition more interesting this spring by making a quick adjustment at his new position. The Bulldogs signed two freshmen who could contribute at safety once they arrive on campus, although Georgia has yet to officially specify a position for either player. The roster lists Dominick Sanders as an athlete and Shaquille Jones as a defensive back.

What to watch: Terry's grasp of the defensive scheme will probably be the top storyline if he stays at safety. The Bulldogs' official roster now lists him at the position. Otherwise, the Bulldogs simply need to develop some consistency here. Moore did a decent job with his first significant dose of playing time, and Mauger and Matthews were OK at times. But each player also found himself out of position or otherwise beaten far too often, which led to repeated back-end breakdowns for Georgia's defense. Now that Harvey-Clemons is also out of the picture, the starting jobs look like they're up for grabs. It will essentially be Year 2 for the three part-time starters from last year, which often leads to a season of significant progress. Bulldogs fans certainly hope that will be the case with this bunch after a rocky 2013.

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.

Video: Georgia offseason spotlight

February, 24, 2014
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SEC reporter Chris Low discusses players to watch at Georgia this spring and offseason.
Georgia announced the dismissal of Josh Harvey-Clemons on Tuesday with a two-sentence press release.

[+] EnlargeHarvey-Clemons
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJosh Harvey-Clemons let a big opportunity get away after being dismissed from Georgia.
No “We wish him well” quote from Mark Richt. No olive branch for a player who was one of the Bulldogs' most-coveted signees in a strong 2012 recruiting class.

This was goodbye and good riddance, which is a genuine shame.

Nobody is happy to see a player's refusal to follow the rules result in his unceremonious exit from a program. This is somebody's life, and now it's in turmoil after rumors swirled for a couple of weeks about his status on the team. As in the case of another recent five-star Bulldog who departed Athens too early -- tailback Isaiah Crowell, the SEC’s 2011Freshman of the Year whose arrest led to his dismissal before the next season -- this feels particularly galling when that player seems to be wasting such promise.

This kind of reaction wasn't limited to fans and media members after Georgia's announcement. Take what 2013 senior tight end Arthur Lynch tweeted in response to the news: “Just to be clear, those who decide not to do it the RIGHT way do not deserve to don the Red & Black. It is a privilege, not a right.”

Harvey-Clemons is far from the first Georgia player to run afoul of the program's substance policy -- assuming such a violation was the last straw here, as in the previous suspensions involving the rising junior safety -- and he won't be the last. The program's strict rules regarding drug and alcohol issues mean that Richt consistently deals with suspensions related to substance problems.

Whatever the reason for Harvey-Clemons' departure, it is clear that Richt has had enough. He certainly wouldn't kick one his most talented players off the team, when the Bulldogs' shaky defense could certainly use all the help it can get, unless Harvey-Clemons left him no other option.

Harvey-Clemons will almost certainly land somewhere else -- he's too talented for this to be the end of his career -- but he will carry this label from now on. Whenever someone searches for his name on Google. At his next college stop. Whenever NFL teams evaluate his readiness to become a reliable professional.

He clearly wasn't a reliable college player, getting himself suspended at least twice before Tuesday's announcement. And that lack of reliability leaves Georgia in a lurch at one of its thinnest positions. The Bulldogs struggled at safety a season ago and now players like Tray Matthews, Tramel Terry, Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore face even more pressure to perform after a veteran who started 11 games last season has unexpectedly left the team.

Perhaps this is for the best in the long term, since Harvey-Clemons' absences and injuries to other safeties created continuity issues that impacted Georgia's secondary for much of last season. Perhaps starting fresh and knowing who will be available allows new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt to better prepare his defensive backs this fall.

For now, though, this feels like a sad day -- one where someone who could have become a Georgia great instead became another castoff because he couldn't get his act together. It's a difficult lesson for Harvey-Clemons to learn just two days before his 20th birthday, but here's hoping that Richt's actions on Tuesday caused his message to finally resonate and that Harvey-Clemons takes better advantage of his second chance than he did with the opportunity he just squandered.

UGA position groups to improve: No. 2

February, 13, 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, offensive line and outside linebackers, today we focus on the safeties, who were hit hard by injuries and struggled throughout the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsIf he stays healthy, former ESPN 300 prospect Tray Matthews could have a big 2014 season for the Bulldogs.
2. Safety

Battling for No. 1: Even before last season started, Georgia contended with a number of injuries at safety that might have set back the group for the entire fall. The most noticeable issue was that freshman Tray Matthews -- who made a big impact during spring practice -- simply couldn't stay healthy. He started six games but missed another five games due to an assortment of health issues. Meanwhile, Josh Harvey-Clemons was suspended for the first and last games of the season and is facing a three-game punishment to open this fall. His suspension and the departure of senior Connor Norman leaves the regulars from last season's beleaguered safety group, Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger, as the other most likely contributors at safety when the season opens.

Strength in numbers: An interesting development during bowl practice was that redshirting freshman Tramel Terry shifted to safety. Georgia's coaches said at the time that they thought the converted wide receiver would stick at the new position, so he might be a player to watch in the competition this spring. As one of the most coveted athletes in the Bulldogs' 2013 signing class, Terry could help a group that was responsible for too many busted assignments last fall. Otherwise, the four previously listed players should handle most of the snaps at the back end of the defense and simply must do a more effective job. The play we all remember was Auburn's last-minute touchdown bomb where both Matthews and Harvey-Clemons failed to make what should have been a simple knockdown. Unfortunately for the young safeties, that breakdown explains what was happening at that position throughout the fall.

New on the scene: Georgia didn't sign anyone specifically listed as a safety in its 2014 class although at 6-foot-2, defensive back Shaquille Jones has the frame to play the position if necessary. Likewise, Dominick Sanders -- whom Georgia listed as a receiver/defensive back/athlete on signing day -- could play safety if needed. The younger brother of former Bulldog Chris Sanders is capable of playing multiple positions in college, although safety or cornerback seem like the most likely possible destinations.

Secondary looking to grow in 2014

December, 31, 2013
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Mark Richt painted a realistic picture last week when asked what it might take for Georgia's secondary to improve beyond its dismal showing of 2013.

It's a matter of inexperienced players -- basically the only kind of defensive back on the Bulldogs' roster -- developing confidence, he said.

“We've got to make a play first, then we've got to have a series that goes well, then a couple series, then a half, a game where you start making plays, you start getting better, you start gaining confidence,” Richt said. “But really we did not see that. I didn't see that throughout the year. There's some work, obviously, that's got to be done.”

Obviously.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons
AP Photo/John BazemoreIt might have been a rough season for Josh Harvey-Clemons and the young Georgia secondary, but 2013's trial under fire should help the Bulldogs next season and beyond.
The stats by now are no secret. Georgia's secondary, which lost four of its top five players from 2012, was the weakest link in a shaky defense this fall. The Bulldogs ranked 10th in the SEC (68th nationally) in pass defense, allowing 232.8 yards per game. They were No. 84 in pass efficiency defense, allowing a 133.99 passer rating. And only two conference teams surrendered more yards per pass attempt than Georgia's 7.6 (Arkansas at 7.9 and Kentucky at 8.2).

It was a rough season any way you view it, although the Bulldogs hope it was only a temporary problem caused by a secondary that ranked second in the SEC in pass defense last season (Georgia's 175.6 ypg allowed in 2012 were just two yards behind conference leader Alabama) breaking in an entirely new group of defensive backs.

“I think every DB we have has played in a game or two,” said cornerback Damian Swann, who along with safety Corey Moore will be the only two seniors in the bunch next fall. “And I think with those guys getting some experience, it's going to be great. Now they know what to expect, now they know how tough it is to play in this conference. I'm really looking forward to seeing these guys get after it.”

Swann's statement is not entirely true. The Bulldogs will also have cornerback Reggie Wilkerson -- who missed the season after tearing his ACL during summer workouts -- and safeties Tramel Terry and Kennar Johnson, who both redshirted this season. They also have commitments from ESPN's No. 1 junior college cornerback, Shattle Fenteng (Loganville, Ga./Hutchinson Community College) along with incoming freshmen Malkom Parrish (ESPN's No. 73 overall prospect for 2014 and No. 9 athlete) and Kendall Gant (ESPN's No. 32 safety).

Add those players to the numerous freshmen and sophomores who played big roles this season -- cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley, Sheldon Dawson and Devin Bowman and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger -- and the Bulldogs are well on the way to rebuilding a depth chart that took a huge hit. The losses started coming after the 2011 season, when cornerbacks Nick Marshall and Jordan Love and safeties Quintavious Harrow and Chris Sanders all departed either by dismissal or transfer, followed by the exodus of Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith for pro football after 2012.

“Some young guys got thrown into the fire,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think it's like I told them, I said, 'When you get thrown into the fire, you can either get hard or you can wilt.' And I think they've gotten harder. I think I've seen a couple guys really improve, probably more than they would've if they hadn't been in that situation. So you've got to play the cards you're dealt and find ways to win games.”

The question now is how they improve to the point where they are not the liability they were this fall, clearing a path for Georgia to win more than the eight games it has won thus far in 2013.

Moore believes progress will be a natural development out of this fall, when Swann was the only regular who entered the season with a start on defense.

“We were pretty young this year and [had a] lack of experience,” Moore said. “Immaturity played a big factor this year and lack of experience and just communication and getting to know each other better on the field. I think that played in big this year. I think next year, we're not going to have those problems.”

That's the plan, anyway, and what Georgia's players and coaching staff will spend this offseason making sure will be the case when the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson.

It was far from a banner season for Grantham's defense and, while that was not entirely unexpected, the coaches know the secondary must show marked improvement over the next year, starting with the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl date with Nebraska.

“Did we have a chance to be pretty good? Yeah. When that's going to happen? I don't know,” defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said. “A hundred different things, how they turn out, is going to affect that. That's what we had do work through, and we're still working through that, as we get ready for this game.”

UGA redshirt review: Offense

December, 19, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Over the next two days, we'll review the offensive and defensive signees who redshirted.

Aulden Bynum, Fr., OL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 47 offensive tackle
This season: Enrolled in January and worked at multiple positions along the offensive line.
Veteran's perspective: “He's not as strong as he wants to be right now, probably has to put on a little more weight. I think that he's also very good naturally just with leverage and feet space and stuff like that.” -- senior offensive guard Chris Burnette

Josh Cardiello, Fr., OL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 21 offensive guard
This season: Enrolled in January and practiced mostly at left guard and center .
Veteran's perspective: “Cardiello is a really explosive guy, which I like. I think that's really important as an offensive lineman is to be explosive. He has good leverage, knows how to bend his knees and is also deceptively athletic and I think that's going to be good for him in the future.” -- Burnette

Jordan Davis, Fr., TE
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 15 tight end-Y
This season: Wasn't needed with seniors Arthur Lynch and Hugh Williams and sophomore Jay Rome available.
Veteran's perspective: “I think a big thing for him will just be learning the playbook, understanding the playbook, understanding how we want it done here. He's got a body like Jermaine Gresham. He's 6-foot-5-plus. He's about 240-something now, but he could put on 20 pounds easy. And he can run. I think that's one thing that'll be a very big asset of his is he'll be able to run and create space from linebackers and even probably safeties.” -- Lynch

Uriah LeMay, Fr., WR
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 48 wide receiver
This season: Stuck behind a glut of established veteran receivers.
Veteran's perspective: “Redshirt's a really important year. I know it was for me. I wasn't ready to play at all. It was important going into my redshirt freshman year that I had a lot of experience under my belt and it was a lot easier. I've seen improvement throughout his redshirt year and hopefully this spring is going to be big for him to really learn the offense and hopefully contribute next year.” -- junior receiver Michael Bennett

Brice Ramsey, Fr., QB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 115 overall, No. 7 pocket passer
This season: Enrolled in January knowing that a redshirt was extremely likely with Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason sitting atop the depth chart.
Veteran's perspective: “A cannon. That's the first thing you see when you look at Brice: those long arms and that odd body type. He just brings his arm back and flicks his wrist and the ball just shoots off so fast that you want to get out of the way. But that's the first thing you notice with him. He's a young, fun-loving guy with a lot of God-given ability, and once he puts that together with his knowledge of the playbook, he'll be something dangerous.” -- junior receiver Chris Conley

Tramel Terry, Fr., WR?
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 89 overall, No. 9 athlete
This season: Perhaps the biggest question of bowl practice is how to qualify Terry these days. He practiced at receiver all season while returning from an ACL tear, but has been practicing at safety this week.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a guy who has to still get healthy, get strong and prepare to come in and execute at a high level and play fast. And I think he's going to be ready to do that. … When you take an injury like that, it can do some things to your confidence and I think he's gaining it back and he's building it. With the more plays that he makes, the more like the old Tramel Terry he'll be.” -- Conley

A.J. Turman, Fr., RB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 260 overall, No. 22 running back
This season: When Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were injured at midseason, Turman playing seemed like a possibility. But the coaches preserved his redshirt and he'll join a deep backfield in 2014.
Veteran's perspective: “Turman's the man. Just because even if he's on scout team, he's still like wanting to learn what to do and he's always full speed. He's never like, 'Ah, I'm on scout team. I'm not playing this year.' So he's always getting better from what I see. He always asks me questions like, 'What do I do on this? What do I do on that?' and he actually is really like a beast. Y'all will definitely see.” -- Gurley

Moore helping Terry adjust at safety

December, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – Corey Moore has taken on the role of teacher this week.

The junior safety's pupil? Redshirting freshman Tramel Terry, who up until bowl practice had been a receiver at Georgia.

“I'm trying to do the best that I can. I know we've got some new faces back there, so I think I'm just going to take their hand like [Bacarri] Rambo and Shawn [Williams] did to me,” Moore said, referring to the pair of longtime Bulldogs starting safeties and current NFL rookies. “So it should be an exciting process.”

Because of his explosive playmaking skills, Terry was among Georgia's highest-rated 2013 signees. ESPN listed him as the nation's No. 89 overall prospect and No. 9 athlete, and coaches raved about his potential as a future offensive weapon.

Needless to say, it seemed like a surprise move when Terry practiced with the safeties this week, but Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said it had been a long time coming. While Terry practiced at receiver along with the other scout team members, the defensive coaches started to take notice of what looked like an excellent defensive back in the making.

“I just think that the defensive coaches were kind of keeping an eye on him and kind of coveting him and kind of playfully recruiting him a little bit,” Richt said. “Sometimes if a guy's on your scout team, they hang around the defensive coaches more than the offensive coaches when it comes to practice time. And they liked what they saw and thought it might be a good move for the defense.”

At 6-foot, Terry certainly has a body type that fits the average NFL safety instead of the rangier pro receiver. That was one of the arguments defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could make in proposing a change to Terry and the offensive coaches.

“I think Coach Grantham's background in the NFL and just how he sees prospects and things of that nature, he really sees him as a great-looking safety prospect,” Richt said. “It was something that the defensive staff was all for, and actually kind of started it off, started the whole conversation.”

The transition is obviously in its extremely early stages, however. Before almost every practice rep in the periods of practice that are open to the media, Terry receives plenty of instruction from defensive graduate assistant Mike Macdonald and veterans like Moore and Connor Norman.

Terry played some defensive back in high school, but has a long way to go to be a proficient college defensive back. But he has already flashed a willingness to tackle – an attribute the big-hitting Moore appreciates.

“I was telling him, 'If you get confused, just do what [Macdonald] says: 'Kick [butt].' Just go out there and just play,” Moore said. “But I told him, 'If you ever run across something that you do not know, you ask a coach first. And if you can't get to him, you can always come to me. Just try to pick up on some of the knowledge that Connor has because this is his last year.' That's where I basically learned the ins and outs of this defense.”

Moore's new role as Terry's teacher is not valuable only for the former freshman receiver. It's also valuable for Moore, who will be one of two seniors in the 2014 secondary along with cornerback Damian Swann. Those are the players who will likely help organize their young position mates for summer position workouts and passing sessions.

Moore just enjoyed his first steady playing time this season after Rambo and Williams' departure, so he was in the pupil's role for most of his career. Now Moore – and the talented young players he will try to lead -- can help Georgia's secondary recover from an erratic 2013, starting with this week's on-campus bowl practices.

“I'm just getting into it now, as you guys know,” Moore said. “I'm pretty much the vet at the safety spot. But it's pretty fun. I know what I have in store for those young guys. We can be a great defensive back corps if we want to. It's just the fact of us going out there and wanting to be great.”

Richt: Numerous ACL injuries a fluke

November, 25, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt believes the spate of knee injuries that struck his team this season were a fluke and nothing more.

Most of the injuries, including that of record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, occurred while changing direction, which Georgia's coach said is unfortunately common in athletics. If a training program existed to prevent such injuries, Richt said the Bulldogs' strength and conditioning staff would certainly follow its methods.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall
AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason GetzWith his torn ACL, Aaron Murray joined Keith Marshall (pictured) and several other Bulldogs that have suffered that injury.
“If there's some scientific research out there that there's some form of training that would contribute to that, I'm sure that it would have already been written by now,” Richt said on his Sunday evening teleconference. “But it's just unfortunate. It happens. It's a fairly common injury when you're changing direction.

“I think the No. 1 sport for ACL injuries from what I understand is girls soccer -- not really a high-contact sport, but a lot of changing direction, and that happens a lot. So I don't think we're doing anything that we shouldn't be doing. It's just been one of those years where we had a few.”

Murray -- who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee near the end of a 28-yard run in the second quarter of Saturday's win against Kentucky -- is only the most recent example of a problem that started even before the season began. At least six Bulldogs missed all or part of the season after sustaining ACL injuries within the last year.

Freshmen Tramel Terry and Reggie Wilkerson were the first to suffer such setbacks -- Terry in a non-contact situation while returning the opening kickoff in a 2012 postseason all-star game and Wilkerson during summer workouts.

Receiver Malcolm Mitchell sustained his ACL injury while leaping in the air to celebrate Todd Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the opener against Clemson. Five weeks later, receiver Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall both suffered ACL injuries against Tennessee, with Marshall's occurring as he took an awkward hit and Scott-Wesley's coming when he quickly changed direction to avoid running into a return man while covering a punt.

“You've just got to look at each one of them,” Richt said. “Malcolm jumps up and lands funny, and to have an ACL, that happens. Justin Scott-Wesley's changing direction trying to avoid running into a punt [returner]. Aaron's changing direction and it happens. Keith got hit, obviously, and that added to the way his ended up. So I don't think there's really anything you could do or anything that we've done that would cause that type of thing.”

Richt said Murray injured his knee Saturday when he cut to his right in an attempt to gain more yards at the end of his long run -- not on the play that ultimately knocked him out of the game. Although he was visibly struggling with a physical ailment after the run, Murray completed the possession where he suffered the injury and talked his coaches into letting him stay in for the next drive -- playing 13 total downs on the injured knee -- before a hard hit by Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith was the last straw.

“There was something wrong and he knew it and couldn't hide it anymore,” Richt said. “He was trying to hide it from everybody, I think.”

Richt said Murray's staying in the game after sustaining the injury did no additional damage. Murray injured only his ACL, and did so without much swelling around the injured ligament, so he will be able to undergo surgery this week rather than wait at least a week for the swelling to subside.

Murray still has a months-long rehabilitation process ahead, which will prevent him from competing in a postseason all-star game or in the NFL combine, but Richt believes the SEC's all-time leading passer will remain an appealing draft prospect.

“I think he'll get drafted,” Richt said. “ACL injuries, especially if you only have one and you don't have anything extenuating along with it ... there wasn't major damage to his knee, there was just ACL. I may be saying more than I'm supposed to say, but from what I've heard, there's nothing that is connected with it other than that, and those tend to heal very well and rehabs go very well.”

As for the prevalence of the Bulldogs' season-ending knee injuries this fall, Richt said there was a time when such an injury might not have ended a player's season. He used former UGA and NFL receiver Hines Ward, who played his entire college and pro career without an ACL in his left knee -- presumably the result of a childhood accident -- as an example, but there are many others who were able to play more than just 13 downs after sustaining similar injuries.

The goal now for Murray and his other injured teammates is to make good use of their recovery process, and Richt said Murray is “already kind of getting geared up for that challenge.”

“You could play with an ACL torn,” Richt said. “It's just nowadays, you have the imaging now, you have the MRIs, you see what the issue is and you go and make the repair. The repair is usually very successful.”

Injuries now 'The Question' for Richt

October, 25, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For most of his time at Georgia, this was the time of year where Mark Richt started having to answer “the question.” Fortunately for Richt, a two-game winning streak against rival Florida has made for a refreshing change in that department – but that nuisance has only been replaced by a different set of bothersome questions.

“It's nice not to have to hear that question,” Richt told reporters after Thursday's practice. “Year after year, 'When are you going to beat Florida?' that gets pretty old. So that isn't the big topic of conversation this year. Everybody wants to talk about, what did we talk about injuries for the first 80 percent of this meeting so far? That's what everybody's talking about, but it's been the dominating story.”

Richt is one of the most consistent winners among active FBS coaches, but his subpar record against Florida was one of the black marks on an otherwise sterling resume in his first decade as the Bulldogs' coach. Georgia beat the Gators just twice in its first 10 tries under Richt before winning in both 2011 and 2012 -- giving the Bulldogs their first back-to-back wins against the Gators since 1988-89.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt doesn't want injuries to become the story of the year at Georgia.
But he's right. The topic du jour leading into next week's Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville is not so much the Bulldogs' chance to run its winning streak to three games as it is the debilitating injuries that have struck both programs, forcing both out of the top 25 following losses over the weekend.

The Gators announced this week that linebacker Jeremi Powell is out for the rest of the season, making him the eighth Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury -- a list that also includes starters Jeff Driskel, Dominique Easley, Chaz Green and Matt Jones.

Georgia has played the last two games -- both losses -- without most of its most dangerous offensive weapons, which is why Richt spent the first several minutes of Thursday's post-practice press gathering discussing injuries, how they have impacted his team and whether some of the injured players might return for the Florida game.

UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson delivered the team's lengthy injury report to the sports medicine office while Richt was speaking to reporters . The list included 24 players and 12 who have started at least once this season.

Richt addressed some of those concerns -- most notably All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley's return to practice this week following a three-game absence with an ankle injury -- after Thursday's final practice of the open week:

On Gurley: “He practiced. He made it till the end. He ran sprints with everybody at the end. He did scout work, which is really all we asked him to do. But he did fundamental work -- the run polish and that kind of thing. He did good. I'm encouraged.”

On receiver Michael Bennett (knee): “He wasn't trying to break a land-speed record or anything, but he was sprinting and striding out pretty good and he looked fine. The drill I saw him do was kind of a sprint-jog-sprint-jog kind of thing down the field and he looked good. I would think he'll be practicing Monday.”

On center David Andrews (foot): “I think we expect him to play, but he did not go today. Dallas [Lee] was playing center with the first group. … We're hoping it's such a temporary thing you don't think much about it, but we had Kolton [Houston] playing the left guard spot where Dallas was. Kolton's a good player, so I think we'd be OK, but we're better with [Andrews] at center.”

On safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and receiver Chris Conley (ankle), who both left last Saturday's Vanderbilt loss with injuries: “Neither one of them practiced. I would guess Josh Harvey is closer than Chris and I don't know if Josh will practice Monday or not.”

On freshman linebacker Reggie Carter (knee): “Reggie was not out there. Reggie hurt his knee Tuesday in practice. Don't know how severe yet.”

Bennett and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) worked on the side with trainers, away from the team, during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

Gurley and fellow tailbacks J.J. Green (right shoulder contusion, left shoulder sprain) and Brendan Douglas (right knee sprain, left wrist sprain) worked in team drills while wearing green non-contact jerseys. Receivers Rhett McGowan (ankle), Michael Erdman (shoulder) and Tramel Terry (shoulder) also practiced in green, joining the lengthy list of players dealing with some physical ailment.

“We don't want to make it the story of the year,” Richt said. “We want to win ballgames. We want to prepare to win with who we have available. We want guys to get well as fast as they can get well. We want some guys that know they're going to miss the season, we want them to be ready as fast as they can so they can have a great year next year. But obviously that's been the thing that most people have talked about because it's been a little unusual in that regard.”

What to watch from regrouping offense

October, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt delivered the bad news on Sunday when he confirmed that tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley would join wideout Malcolm Mitchell on the season-ending injury list.

With receiver Michael Bennett (knee) out and All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley (ankle) questionable for Saturday's game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC), No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) has little time to identify the personnel who must play larger roles in order to hang with a Tigers offense that ranks among the nation's most productive units.

Here are four groups/trends to watch as the Bulldogs move forward:

Freshman tailbacks: With Georgia's two star backs both possibly out Saturday, it's certainly possible we will see another heavy dose of true freshmen J.J. Green -- who rushed for 129 yards last Saturday against Tennessee -- and Brendan Douglas at tailback.

[+] EnlargeBrendan Douglas
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsBrendan Douglas and fellow freshman J.J. Green likely will be asked to shoulder more of the load.
That isn't necessarily a scary proposition for the Bulldogs, who have seen the young duo perform well in practice and in spot duty up until last Saturday's overtime win.

“We see those guys in practice, and they do a great job of breaking tackles or shaking guys or breaking loose for touchdowns against a great defense,” offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “Seeing them do that in practice, we know they're capable of doing that in a game.”

The larger question is what happens if Gurley is unable to play Saturday. If one of the top running backs in the nation remains unable to go as the week progresses -- and he once again did not practice on Monday -- Georgia's coaches might have to take a longer look this week at freshman A.J. Turman.

He seemed like a certain redshirt candidate a week ago, but Richt's staff must determine whether the two freshmen who already have played and walk-ons Kyle Karempelis and Brandon Harton would be enough to carry the load without Gurley and Marshall.

“A lot may depend on how Gurley's doing,” Richt said. “If Gurley comes back and you've got the other two, you don't normally have to go three backs. But if Gurley can't go, then we've got to try to figure out what we're going to do. We've got Harton and Karempelis that have played for us before, so those are possibilities. We've just got to kind of try to figure that out.

Wild cards: Speaking of Turman, he's not the only newcomer who has not played yet and still might or might not make an impact this fall.

Receivers Tramel Terry and Jonathon Rumph -- Georgia's second- and sixth-highest-rated 2013 signees in ESPN's player rankings -- have not played to date but still could factor into offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's plans ... eventually.

Richt said "it's very doubtful that [Rumph would] be ready" for the Missouri game while still dealing with a left hamstring strain, but "after that, we're going to definitely try to get him ready."

Meanwhile, Terry struggled during preseason practice while still recovering from offseason ACL surgery and seemed set to redshirt this season. But because of the receiver attrition, the freshman might be someone the coaches eventually consider.

“I just think the longer he practices coming back from his injury, the better he'll be,” Richt said. “Is he really ready for this type of competition? I don't know.

“And the fact that he hasn't had a lot of reps with our offensive unit, he's been working mainly scout team reps, and he's a freshman, so it's hard to really be ready in all the ways that you have to be ready -- not only physically, but knowing the game plan and just having experience running the routes and playing in games like that. So I'm not counting him out, but I really don't know the answer right now.”

More tight ends: Considering the level of in-game attrition that occurred at Tennessee, perhaps the most surprising statistic from that game was that neither Arthur Lynch nor Jay Rome made a reception.

Expect that to rank as a statistical anomaly moving forward.

When Georgia's receivers encountered a number of injury issues last season, Lynch and Rome were two of the top pass-catching beneficiaries. The two tight ends combined for 25 catches for 367 yards -- 251 by Lynch and 116 by Rome – over the final six games last season. In the first eight games of 2012, they combined for 10 catches and 216 yards.

Lynch and Rome have 212 yards -- 169 by Lynch and 43 by Rome -- this season.

[+] EnlargeRantavious Wooten
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith injuries mounting, senior Rantavious Wooten might be counted on to play a much larger role.
Replacement receivers: Junior Chris Conley -- who led Georgia with 64 receiving yards and made a tremendous one-handed touchdown catch against Tennessee -- is nearly the only known quantity in the Bulldogs' receiving corps for the time being.

Yes, they have fifth-year seniors Rhett McGowan and Rantavious Wooten available, but both players have been role players throughout their careers. Beyond that, Georgia might need reserves like Reggie Davis, Blake Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Kenny Townes to pick up their production.

“We're deep in the receiver room,” McGowan said. “A lot of people don't know that, because they haven't played, but they're at Georgia for a reason.”

Bennett will undergo arthroscopic surgery today to determine the extent of his knee injury. Even if he receives positive news, the junior will certainly miss the Missouri game and possibly more time after that.

Since they have dealt with regular injuries over the last two seasons, the receivers believe they are well-prepared for their current situation and now must take advantage of this opportunity.

“[Receivers coach Tony] Ball always tells me, 'Prepare like you are the starter, and you never know, because you're one play away from [being] a starter,' ” said Wooten, who caught two touchdowns against Tennessee. “So all the guys know that in the room, and I know that myself, and I always had that in the back of my head. Any guy could be the next man up. The coaches have the final decision on that, but at the end of the day, that's what we do, we practice, and we get ready for those types of situations.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- As one of the most veteran members of Georgia’s football team, Rantavious Wooten has seen the dynamic shift wildly in five seasons as a member of the Bulldogs’ receiving corps.

The fifth-year senior has seen a single superstar strike fear into opposing defenses, as future first-round NFL pick A.J. Green did in Wooten’s first two seasons. He’s also seen quarterback Aaron Murray spread the passing production between a larger group of players than any quarterback has in Georgia’s 12-year history under Coach Mark Richt.

However, thanks to the wide array of receiving skillsets available and a change in position coach Tony Ball’s philosophy, where several players are learning more than just one of Georgia’s three receiving positions, Wooten believes this could become the most versatile and productive group of Bulldogs receivers in Richt’s tenure.

“It’s real good that we can sub at any position instead of being like when I first came in and it was kind of like, ‘You play this position. That’s the only position you play. So you don’t go in that spot,’ ” Wooten recalled.

“Now we have all the pieces to have a great receiving corps -- we have speed, we’ve got big guys, we’ve got quick guys, we’ve got guys that can catch over the middle, we’ve got guys that can take the short route long. So we have every part to be that versatile, plus more. And then add the fact that we can play different positions and just utilize what we have.”

Seven Georgia wide receivers -- and 11 players total, adding in tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- made at least 10 catches last season. Both were single-season highs for Georgia pass-catchers under Richt, and everyone except 2012 seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown returns from that group.

Among the returners: potential breakout star Malcolm Mitchell, who is now focusing solely on playing receiver after splitting time between cornerback and wideout last season, and Michael Bennett, who was leading the team with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns through five games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Then throw in the shifty Wooten, 6-foot-3 Chris Conley -- the Bulldogs’ offensive MVP of spring practice -- sure-handed Rhett McGowan and UGA track sprinter Justin Scott-Wesley, who enjoyed his first taste of collegiate football success in the Capital One Bowl win against Nebraska. And finally add 6-foot-5 junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph, redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs and talented true freshmen Tramel Terry, Reggie Davis and Uriah LeMay.

“We all can play. I don’t think we have any real superstars,” Bennett said. “Obviously Malcolm’s kind of our breakout guy, but we don’t have like an A.J. like we used to or anything like that, or like a [King]. We all know we can play, we’re all, I think, really good, so it’s kind of like when one guy subs in and one guy goes out, there’s not going to be any hiccup.”

Collectively, every role Ball could possibly want individual players to fill in his position group is covered by the talents and body types within that group.

“It’s crazy, it really is, because we’ve got completely different playing styles,” said Mitchell, Georgia’s top returning receiver after posting 40 catches for 572 yards and four touchdowns last season. “You just name myself, Michael, Conley, Wooten -- those are four different types of playing styles.”

While they are best suited for specific roles, perhaps what makes the group especially unique is that some many players will be able to handle multiple jobs, which is a departure even from last season.

For instance, Mitchell once knew how to play only one receiver position. No longer. And nearly all of his fellow wideouts know at least two of the three responsibilities between the split end, flanker and slot positions.

“I think that everyone has the confidence to run every single type of play,” Conley said. “There’s not one guy who we use deep routes, there’s not one guy who we use for short underneath routes, there’s not one guy that we use for screens. I think the fact that everyone has the confidence that ‘I can make this play and I can do something big for Georgia,’ I think that’s the most unique part about this receiver corps because anyone can be at any point on the field and everyone’s ready to run.”

With Murray back for his fourth season under center and Gurley and Marshall softening defenses for Georgia to attack with the pass, it stands to reason that Bobo will once again make use of his receiving weapons. Perhaps even more than the Bulldogs ever have under this coaching staff.

Asked whether this group’s versatility surpasses that of other receiving corps in his UGA career, Bobo recalled previous explosive groups like the one that featured Terrence Edwards, Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown in 2002. And he’s had others -- like the 2007 and 2008 offenses -- that made use of a wide array of receiving talents at wideout, tight end and out of the backfield.

This group might outrank any of them, however.

“They’re not lacking confidence. They feel they’re one of the best receiving corps in the country. Are we that? I don’t know,” Bobo said. “We don’t have the A.J. Green explosive-type player out there. I think we’ve got a bunch of very good, hard-working kids that catch the ball and are fearless and really do a good job of taking coaching from Coach Ball and have gotten better in their career.

“None of them were this guy or that guy coming out of high school. They’re guys that work and made themselves into players. … But these guys, I wouldn’t trade this group for any group that I’ve had since I’ve been here just because you’ve got so many guys that can do so much.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt still makes the occasional tongue-in-cheek wisecrack about his lack of vision when he redshirted future All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno in 2006, a season in which he had veterans Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin -- all of whom made it onto NFL rosters -- in the backfield.

But Georgia’s coach has stepped away from that conservative approach somewhat in recent seasons. Today, if a need exists and a new Bulldog is capable of addressing it, Richt’s coaching staff is more than willing to allow him to play a leading role -- with players like tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, receiver Malcolm Mitchell, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and former safety Alec Ogletree making big impacts as true freshmen.

That philosophy will remain evident this fall, particularly on Todd Grantham’s defense which must replace 12 significant contributors. Several of those replacements will be brand-new Bulldogs, while additional reserve roles will also go to freshmen and junior college transfers who impress the coaches over the next few weeks.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman Tray Matthews enrolled early and claimed the starting free safety job during an eye-opening spring.
“The big thing is to evaluate the players that we have coming in,” said Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator. “We’ve got roughly I think 17 new faces on our [defensive] roster from last year and we want to do a good job of evaluating those guys early and developing the skillset of those guys as well as the guys that we’ve got that have been here for a while.”

For the most part, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s starting lineup is in solid shape as the Bulldogs prepare to open preseason camp on Thursday. There are questions about how the offensive line rotation will shape up and which players will seize roles at receiver and tailback, but most of the key pieces return from last season’s high-scoring offense.

It’s entirely possible, though, that junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph and freshmen Tramel Terry and J.J. Green will contribute immediately at receiver. And it’s entirely likely that either A.J. Turman or Brendan Douglas, if not both, will carve out a role behind Gurley and Marshall at tailback.

“I’d like to have a third and a fourth tailback. ... I do like we got some bigger guys in Douglas and Turman,” Bobo said. “We’ve got to get those guys ready -- get them on special teams, get them playing, get them confidence, treat them like we treated Gurley and Marshall last year because we’re planning on playing them.”

Grantham’s defense is where the greatest concentration of newcomers will be found this fall, however. There are openings on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary that will almost certainly go to a freshman or juco transfer.

Freshman safety Tray Matthews, who enrolled in January, was the talk of Georgia’s spring practices thanks to a number of big hits. But he’s far from the only new Bulldog who will be up for strong consideration throughout August as the coaching staff attempts to determine which players will contribute in the fall.

Up front, juco transfers Chris Mayes and Toby Johnson and prep school transfer John Atkins all figure to play a role. The No. 4 overall prospect on ESPN’s Junior College 100, Johnson is fully recovered from last fall’s knee surgery and has been working out without limitation this summer alongside his new teammates.

“He’s ready. He’s doing everything we’re doing,” senior defensive end Garrison Smith said. “He looks he’s 100 percent to me.”

Inside linebacker Reggie Carter also made a mark in spring practice and now has company from summer arrivals Johnny O’Neal and Tim Kimbrough, as well as Shaun McGee, who Grantham said will work at strongside and inside linebacker during camp.

And the secondary will be littered with new faces, including juco transfers Shaq Fluker and Kennar Johnson and freshmen Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley. Grantham mentioned Fluker as a candidate to play immediately at strong safety and said Wiggins and Langley will receive similar consideration at cornerback.

Tight end Arthur Lynch, for one, said the 6-foot-1 Langley has been impressive in the Bulldogs’ summer passing sessions.

“I think Langley’s a guy that can be pretty good,” Lynch said. “He’s very athletic and he runs like a deer. He can run for days and he’s very fast.”

Richt’s staff recruited the 31 newcomers with the knowledge that there would be numerous spots to fill this year, and that many of the signees needed to be prepared to play right away. That was the purpose of bringing in a program-high 13 players in January so they could participate in offseason conditioning and spring practices, and it was a factor even with signees who couldn’t arrive on campus until the summer.

They’ll soon get their chance to crack the rotation -- and don’t be surprised if on Aug. 31, a significant number of them are playing scrimmage downs and on special teams in the Bulldogs’ opener against Clemson.

“Anytime you can go against quality people in practice, it allows you to become better and truthfully it allows you to find out where you are,” Grantham said. “It allows you to find out what your strengths are and maybe what the things are you need to work on.”

10 NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

John Atkins, nose guard
Thomson, Ga./Hargrave Military
ESPN ranking: Four stars, Was No. 11 DT when he initially signed with Georgia in 2012
Breakdown: Atkins enrolled in January after spending last fall at Hargrave and ended spring practice as the Bulldogs’ No. 3 nose guard. He’ll compete with Michael Thornton and a fellow newcomer -- juco transfer Chris Mayes -- for a chance to contribute in the middle of the defensive line.

(Read full post)

Signee Johnson fails to qualify

July, 22, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Rico Johnson finally learned his fate on Monday.

The three-star receiver from Swainsboro (Ga.) High School announced on his Twitter account that he failed to meet NCAA eligibility standards and will not enroll at Georgia with his fellow 2013 signing classmates.

Johnson completed two online courses this summer in an effort to become eligible, but it was apparently not enough.

“Unfortunately NCAA didn't take my two online classes but I'm still rockin [with] DawgNation to the death of me. See [y’all] at the top!” Johnson tweeted.

Now Johnson will wait to learn whether he can enroll at a prep school this fall and potentially enroll at Georgia or another program next year or whether he must attend junior college.

Johnson was the last member of Georgia's 33-man signing class who was waiting to learn his NCAA fate.

Mark Richt’s coaching staff knew on signing day that Devondre Seymour (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett) was not going to qualify with this class. The four-star offensive lineman has since announced that he will attend Hinds Community College and attempt to enroll at Georgia in 2015.

Receiver Uriah LeMay (Matthews, N.C./Butler) and defensive back Kennar Johnson (Clermont, Fla./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) arrived on campus late in the summer -- after the bulk of Georgia’s other signees -- leaving Rico Johnson as the only player with an undetermined status.

He was one of Georgia’s six 2013 receiver signees, led by No. 1 junior college wideout Jonathon Rumph (Cayce, S.C./Holmes Community College) and versatile ESPN 150 selection Tramel Terry (Goose Creek, S.C./Goose Creek) -- both of whom enrolled in January.

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