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Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Early Look Ahead

The 2008 season began with a preseason No. 1 ranking for Georgia because of the immense talent the Bulldogs returned from a team that had finished the previous year as the No. 2 team in the country. When Georgia opens the 2009 season, the expectations will be lowered quite a bit, and when you look at the roster, that makes sense.

Georgia will have either a first-year starter or a player returning from a season-ending injury at every position grouping on the field in 2009. At least 10 starting jobs will be handled by new players in 2009, and at least eight of those jobs (WR, DE, both safeties, CB, Snapper, Punter and RB) are completely up for grabs. Others could end up open competitions (O line, WLB/MLB, returners) during camp, and a bevy of players won't be active during the spring as they work their way back from injuries.

While the defensive tackles, offensive line and linebackers look to be strong, there are going to be a lot of questions heading into spring practice, many of which won't be answered before the fall.

Here's a quick run-down of where things stand right now, assuming Reshad Jones leaves...

(NOTE: Even if Jones announces, as expected, that he is leaving today, players have until Jan. 17 to change their minds assuming they do not hire an agent.)

Starter: Joe Cox
Status: Replacing Matthew Stafford
Job Security: 8 (out of 10)
Potential Competition: Logan Gray, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger
Analysis: Cox has just one start under his belt, but he's a fifth-year senior, a fiery leader and is an SEC-calliber QB. He won't make as many dazzling throws as Stafford, but he can get the job done. Gray has tons of athleticism and has an outside shot at landing the job in the fall, but he missed a lot of work at QB in 2008 by focusing on special teams. Either Murray or Mettenberger is likely to redshirt.

Starter: Caleb King
Status: First in line to replace Knowshon Moreno
Job Security: 3
Potential Competition: Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas, Dontavius Jackson, Washaun Ealey
Analysis: There's plenty of talent at the position, but not much experience. King and Samuel battled back and forth for the No. 2 job in 2008 and neither solidified their role. King has an extra year of experience under his belt and is the more natural runner, but Samuel averaged better than 5 yards per carry and finished the season behind Moreno on the depth chart. Thomas could be a good third-down back and maybe more. Jackson will miss spring practice with an injury. Some questions remain about whether Ealey, UGA's top RB recruit, will qualify.

Starter: Shaun Chapas
Status: Second year as starter, first without backup Brannan Southerland
Job Security: 10
Potential Competition: Fred Munzenmaier, Justin Fields, Josh Sailors
Analysis: Chapas was one of 2008's best surprises. Filling in for injured three-year starter Southerland, Chapas proved to be a strong blocker and a good playmaker. He finished the year with 120 receiving yards and a TD was a nice weapon out of the backfield. He could see more use with the departure of Moreno from the running game in 2009.

Wide receivers
Starters: A.J. Green, Michael Moore
Status: Green is in his second year as the starter and Moore will get his first crack at the starting lineup replacing Mohamed Massaquoi
Job Security: Green (10), Moore (5)
Potential Competition: Tavarres King, Kris Durham, Israel Troupe, Tony Wilson, Rontavious Wooten
Analysis: Green returns for his sophomore campaign as the SEC's leading WR. He may see a bit more double coverage without Massaquoi on the field, but with a year of experience under his belt, he only looks to improve. Moore showed flashes of potential last year, including a brilliant Capital One Bowl performance, and will be the nominal starter headed into spring. Durham also has the tools to land the job, while Troupe and King have as much (if not more) talent than anyone, but have to prove they are ready for a bigger role. UGA needs to add at least one more WR commitment before signing day at a position that became awfully thin with the graduation of Kenneth Harris, Demiko Goodman and Massaquoi, the defection of Walter Hill and an injury to Wilson.

Tight ends
Starter: Bruce Figgins
Status: Figgins took over as the starter midway through 2008 in place of injured senior Tripp Chandler
Job Security: 9
Potential Competition: Aron White, Arthur Lynch
Analysis: Figgins played hurt all year and ended up not being a factor in the passing game. He underwent offseason surgery and will miss spring practice, but should be 100 percent in time for the fall and will likely begin the year as the starter. He does have competition from White, however, who is undersized for the position but is the better offensive weapon, catching three TDs in 2008. Lynch is one of the most impressive TE recruits in the nation, too, and could play a big role immediately. Regardless of who starts, Georgia needs to involve the position in the offense more this year than it did last season.

Offensive line
Starters: Trinton Sturdivant, Chris Davis, Ben Jones, Clint Boling, Justin Anderson
Status: Sturdivant is coming off a season-ending injury, and Davis had offseason hip surgery that will keep him out of spring practice. Jones, Boling and Anderson were all starters in 2008.
Job Security: Sturdivant (7), Davis (6), Jones (9), Boling (10), Anderson (8)
Potential Competition: Vince Vance, Cordy Glenn, Josh Davis, Tanner Strickland, Ben Harden, AJ Harmon, Kiante Tripp, Kevin Perez, Dallas Lee, Austin Long, Chris Burnette
Analysis: 2008 was all about piecing a line together, but all the problems of last season should provide a wealth of riches in 2009. Sturdivant appears to be progressing back from a season-ending knee injury quickly and should be ready to go. Sturdivant, Vince Vance and Chris Davis will all miss spring practice, however. Cordy Glenn and Josh Davis each earned significant starting time in '08, but so much talent on the line, they'll have to battle to regain their jobs. Vance could land a starting role too if he can prove his is fully recovered from a knee injury, and there is still some hope for Tripp and Strickland, who have failed to pan out despite immense talent. Harmon was moved from the DL midyear in '08 and provides a nice wild card possibility. Coach Stacy Searels has shown he is willing to play whoever practices best, so even the incoming freshman will get a shot.

Defensive ends
Starters: DeMarcus Dobbs, Rod Battle
Status: Battle has been a starter for two seasons, while Dobbs' four starts are the most among other returning players
Job Security: Dobbs (6), Battle (6)
Potential Competition: Justin Houston, Neland Ball, Jeremy Longo, Cornelius Washington, Toby Jackson, Montez Robinson
Analysis: Georgia's D ends showed improvement when Battle was in the lineup in 2008, but that wasn't a regular occurrence. Dobbs had some nice plays, including two interceptions, and Houston showed flashes of potential, too, but overall, the defensive ends were the biggest disappointment of the '08 season. Fans are putting a lot of hope into Washington and Jackson, who both have immense talent as pass rushers and could inject some life into the Georgia rush. Regardless, Houston and Dobbs need to live up to their potential in 2009 for the Dawgs' D to take a step forward.

Defensive tackles
Starters: Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins
Status: Both are returning starters, but Owens will be coming off a season-ending injury in 2008
Job Security: Owens (8), Atkins (10)
Potential Competition: Kade Weston, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Wood, Ricardo Crawford, Abry Jones, Derrick Lott
Analysis: This should easily be Georgia's biggest strength in 2009. Owens and Atkins both have the potential to be first-day NFL picks in the 2010 draft, and if Owens is completely healthy following a season-ending knee injury, the duo could provide a huge boost to what now looks like a fairly inexperienced defense. Weston battled injuries throughout 2008 and could be in line for a breakout senior season, while Tyson was named to the SEC's All-Freshman team. Jones looks like a beast and could get immediate playing time.

Starters: Rennie Curran (SLB), Darryl Gamble (MLB), Akeem Dent (WLB)
Status: All three are returning starters, although Gamble's starting time at Mike was in relief of injured senior Dannell Ellerbe
Job Security: Curran (10), Gamble (9), Dent (6)
Potential Competition: Marcus Washington, Charles White, Darius Dewberry, Christian Robinson, Akeem Hebron, Marcus Dowtin, Michael Gillard
Analysis: The starting three will be about as experienced a group as you'll find in the SEC. Curran was among the best defenders in the conference and will be a leader on D for Georgia in '08. Gamble was a pleasant surprise, enjoying a breakout season that included a two Pick-Six game against LSU, but his year ended with a broken leg and he missed the Capital One Bowl. Dent's playing time was cut because of the amount of time UGA spent in the nickel, but he showed good signs of potential and played well when on the field. Among the rest of the crew, only Dowtin is not coming off a season-ending injury, which makes the depth a little thin. Still, this has the potential to be a very impressive group if everyone can return healthy in 2009.

Starters: Bryan Evans, John Knox
Status: Evans started five games at corner before being benched and has less than half-a-season of experience at safety. Knox was the No. 3 player in the safety rotation behind Reshad Jones and CJ Byrd
Job Security: Evans (3), Knox (8)
Potential Competition: Quintin Banks, Baccari Rambo, Nick Williams, Andrew Johnson
Analysis: Jones surprise decision to leave along with the departures of Byrd and sixth-year senior Andrew Williams makes this easily the least experienced position the Bulldogs have. Knox got some good playing time in 2008 by default, but was wildly inconsistent. Banks could be a star at the position, but 2008 was a lost year for him thanks to a series of injuries. Evans moved from corner, where he struggled badly, midway through the season, and said he expects to be the starter. That seemed a long shot a few weeks ago, but with Jones leaving, Evans could be a key player. His speed makes him extremely dangerous and he likes playing physical. Williams played a lot of special teams in 2008, but has little experience at safety. Rambo was redshirted, but managed to make quite a few fans among his teammates.

Starters: Vance Cuff, Prince Miller
Status: Miller has been the starter for two seasons now but could move to the short side in place of Asher Allen. Cuff has the most experience of anyone to replace Allen, who is leaving for the NFL.
Job Security: Miller (10), Cuff (5)
Potential Competition: Brandon Boykin, Sanders Commings, Makiri Pugh, Branden Smith
Analysis: Miller really solidified his role as a starter last season, but he has yet to prove he can play the short corner position Allen handled for two years. The other corner position is wide open. Cuff earned the most playing time in '08, but he's far from guaranteed the job. Boykin earned rave reviews from players and coaches and could easily take over, while Smith -- the highly touted recruit -- has the talent to start right away if he can prove he's ready mentally. For his part, Allen gave a ringing endorsement to Commings to land his vacated job. Given the number of spread teams UGA will play, the Dawgs will run the nickel package often, meaning they'll need to identify more than one new starter here.

Special teams
Starters: Blair Walsh (K), Drew Butler (P), Ty Frix (Sn), Prince Miller (PR), Richard Samuel (KR)
Status: Walsh returns for his second season as starter. Butler and Frix take over for Brian Mimbs and Bo Fowler, respectively. Miller and Samuel finished '08 as the starters in the return game.
Job Security: Walsh (10), Butler (7), Frix (6), Miller (7), Samuel (4)
Potential Competition: Carlton Thomas (KR/PR), TBD
Analysis: Georgia desperately needs to turn around its special teams in 2009. Walsh struggled down the stretch kicking field goals and was a disaster on kickoffs. Head coach Mark Richt said he would look into bringing in a pure kickoffs man, but has yet to do so. Butler is the nominal starter at punter, but another walk-on could emerge. Frix barely made the team last year, but received several nice endorsements from the coaching staff throughout the year as a reserve. He probably needs to put on some weight if he wants to land the full-time gig though. The returners could change quickly, as no one truly settled into the role in '08. Thomas would be a great candidate to take over a Mikey Henderson-type role with the team in '09.

QUESTION FOR THE READERS: What position worries you the most heading into spring? Which injured players from '08 could play the biggest role in 2009? Which freshmen are you most excited to see?


Anonymous said...

The offense should be fine but I wouldn't expect the points scored to be high like in 2008. Cox is going to play with more passion and fire Stafford did but few can make the plays he did with his arm.

The whole defense and special teams worry me. Willie Martinez is still here. Fabris is still coaching the special teams. Allen leaving is going to hurt, but Jones leaving will not. The offense will not bail out Willie's defense this year. Thank goodness Curran is still here.

I'm sure the injuries and suspensions that will happen will hurt too.

There is not much time to get things figured out either. Oklahoma State, the Chickens, Arkansas, and Arizona State are the first 4 matchups. It wouldn't surprise me a bit to see this team start 0-2 and be 2-2 with LSU coming to town. This might be a very long year for Dawg fans.

Anonymous said...

Georgia might have the best LB and DT corpse in the SEC next year. Talent and depth at both positions. However, they also might have the worst secondary and DE's in the conference.

Looking forward to seeing the new DE's and if they can make some sort of impact. And really interested to see Branden Smith, who might be looking at some major playing time whether he likes it or not.

jferg in NC said...

I disagree with Anonymous 12:18pm wholeheartedly. You cannot a true Dawg fan. Start 0-2? Really? You really think we'd get beat by Okie State and South Carolina? You're smoking the pitty party puff a little too hard.

Offense will be ok...much more like the "O" we saw under David Green. No real "threat" at RB but plenty of 'that'll do' runners. Our O-line should really help the transistion.

My hope is that our D-line will provide enough push to keep the pressure of our DB's. I do believe our DB's are the weakest part of the team, but definitely not below-avg talent by any means. Boykin and Commings will surprise. Q Banks will finally emerge and Knox/Evans will get better and better. This, however, in hinging on the fact of our DL getting pressure. If they don' could be a very long season defensively. But, I don't think anyone can contain Owens AND Geno at the same time. If they do, our DE's should have a field day.
Blair Walsh gets better...and our kick return gets a boost from a few RFrosh's.
I like our schedule next year. 11-2 is a real possiblity. I really can't imagine a UGA NOT winning 10 games...our staff and our talent alone will get us 10 games. Luck will bring the rest.

Bottom line--this team will have actual hunger, desire, motivation-- 3 keys to winning in the SEC.

Go Dawgs!

Patrick M said...

Secondary by far worries me. Replacing 3 starters is going to be tough.

Mickey Shamrock said...

Secondary schmecondary. I will, as it has always been, about the defensive line. If we can create pressure with just the front four, it'll make the secondary's job much, much easier. Even with the returning talent we had this season, we saw how porous they can be with no consistent pass rush. The return of Jeff Owens cannot be understated.

Streit said...

The secondary is definitely the biggest concern.

While losing a two year starter is never a good thing, Reshad Jones moving on may be a blessing in disguise. Georgia has come to expect its safeties to make big plays and be solid tacklers (see Jermaine Phillips, Sean Jones, Thomas Davis, Greg Blue, and Kelin Johnson as examples). Reshad was horrible at tackling in 2008. If he comes back, he has a chance to fix it but he also has a chance to continue the inconsistent play.

Hobnail_Boot said...

CB, DE, RB, KO, KR are all big ?'s right now.

Owens, T. King, and Sturdivant will play the biggest roles.

I'm excited to see Carlton Thomas, Brandon Boykin, and Branden Smith.

Irwin R. Flecther said...

What a stupid exercise. Giving out 'grades' which seem to have no objective criteria. The analysis is fine, but giving 'grades' based upon pure speculative opinion just seems like a silly parlor're better than that!

It seems a bit early to be trying to 'grade' any position. Signing day and spring practice will tell us a lot about which of the talented players that we have recruited will be stepping up.

BTW- are these grades based upon the rest of the league or on prior Bulldog teams or what?

How can we give grades to players who haven't even played? I'm sure if you gave a 'grade' last year to Sean Chappas, it would have been a D, but really it turned out to be an "A". Just dumb.

Everything looked good (although you should have probably starred the players who have given verbal commitments instead of including them)...and then you gave the grades. Ungh.