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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Freshmen Sensations

Mark Richt has repeatedly said that everyone on Georgia's roster will be needed in 2009, but that's certainly a bit of an overstatement. Yes, the Bulldogs have a solid freshman class ready to get its first taste of life in the SEC this season, but it's a lot to expect all of them to play.

Even amid all the injuries last season, the majority of Georgia's freshman spent the year on the sideline. Of the 21-player class, 12 took redshirts (although Tavarres King did get some playing time before an injury) and only four (five if you count Richard Samuel) earned significant playing time.

While there may be more of a reliance on youth in 2009, the odds are that most of this year's class won't see the field for another year and just a few -- six or seven, perhaps -- will make any real impact this season.

So who will be the star freshmen of 2009 and who will ride the pine all year? It's hard to say with too much certainty before fall practice even begins, but given what we know about the depth chart and what I've heard from coaches and players, here's my best guesses as to which of the kids will be making a name for themselves between the hedges this fall...

THE (ALMOST) SURE THINGS

Nothing's definite, and obviously injuries can set a player back, but these are the guys who are nearly guaranteed to see the field early and often in 2009.

Marlon Brown (WR)

Brown was a stud in high school and is drawing immediate comparisons to last year's freshman sensation, A.J. Green. Brown didn't exactly play the top competition as a prep star, however, and it remains to be seen if he can make as quick a transition to the SEC as Green did. Still, Georgia's lack of depth at receiver means Brown is as safe a bet as anyone to get some instant playing time and possibly a starting job. Chances of playing time: 99 percent.

Arthur Lynch (TE)

Unlike the athletic Charles, Lynch comes closer to filling the prototypical tight end role, and that's exactly why he's so likely to be an integral part of the Georgia offense right away. With Bruce Figgins suspended for the first six games of the year, Lynch looks to be the Bulldogs only true blocking tight end, which while not particularly glamorous, it makes the freshman virtually indispensable. Chances of playing time: 95 percent.

Orson Charles (TE)

The hybrid tight end has made a great first impression among his new teammates with his enthusiasm and work ethic. More importantly, however, he looks to be a mismatch as a receiving threat at tight end, something Georgia sorely lacked last season and will need even more this year with the departure of so many offensive stars. Chances of playing time: 90 percent.

Branden Smith (CB)


Smith is as talented an athlete as anyone on the roster, and with the departure of Asher Allen, he appeared to have the inside track on earning a starting job after signing day. That could still be the case, but Brandon Boykin came on strong in spring practice, and Sanders Commings, Nick Williams and Makiri Pugh are all fighting for spots at the nickel position, too. Still, Smith offers so much in so many places -- including kick returns and potentially on offense -- that it would be nearly impossible to keep him off the field. Chances of playing time: 90 percent.

Rantavious Wooten (WR)

In most seasons, Wooten would be an ideal redshirt candidate, but in 2009, Georgia doesn't have the luxury of waiting for its receivers to develop. Everyone will be learning on the job. Wooten is undersized and doesn't have quite the pedigree of Brown, but senior wideout Michael Moore said Wooten already runs some of the best routes on the team and expects offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to find ways to get the ball into his hands. Chances of playing time: 85 percent.

WORK TO DO

With so few early enrollees, a lot of who plays and who sits this year will be determined by how the freshman perform in fall practice. These are the players with the most potential to win jobs.

Brandon Bogotay (K)

Head coach Mark Richt went out of his way to bring in Bogotay, a junior college transfer from San Diego, after Blair Walsh struggled mightily on kickoffs last season. Bogotay certainly has the leg to remedy that weakness in 2009, but he's only been playing football for a little more than a year, and the transition to the big time could prove a difficult one. Chances of playing time: 80 percent.

Montez Robinson (DE)

Robinson was called the best prep prospect in the state of Indiana by Rodney Garner, and Georgia has to hope he can step in and make a quick impact in the SEC, too. With the pass rush off the edge abysmal last season and likely to get off to a slow start this season with Justin Houston's suspension, Robinson will be given every opportunity to show what he can do and earn a spot in the lineup. Chances of playing time: 75 percent.

Abry Jones (DL)

Jones is sort of a tweener, in that he can contribute at tackle or end. There won't be a ton of reps at tackle to go around with the stellar trio of Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens and Kade Weston carrying the load, but if Jones can prove he's ready to handle a more versatile role in 2009, he could add a big boost to the pass rush. He's a high energy guy who is tough to block and has the potential to be the surprise star of the fall the way Cordy Glenn was on the other side of the ball a year ago. Chances of playing time: 75 percent.

Jordan Love (CB)

Love has the size to play safety but has been told by coaches he'll stay at corner. If that remains the case, he could find his path to playing time blocked by Boykin, Smith and Prince Miller. If, however, he can play some safety as well, the departure of John Knox for academic reasons could open up some playing time. Love has tons of athleticism and could be a significant special teams contributor, even if he doesn't get a lot of defensive reps, similar to the role Nick Williams played last season. Chances of playing time: 65 percent.

Aaron Murray (QB)

Murray had a tremendous spring considering he was coming off a broken leg and was on campus a semester early. He threw Georgia's longest TD pass in each of its scrimmages, including the G-Day game, and showed why he was the most coveted quarterback recruit in the country. In an ideal world, he won't be needed in 2009, and senior Joe Cox will handle the gig without any problems. But if Murray can prove he's the top option for 2010, Richt will be sure to find him some playing time this year to get him ready. Chances of playing time: 60 percent.

Chris Burnette (OL)

Georgia has plenty of depth at offensive line, which might seem to be an indication that Burnette is headed for a redshirt, but coach Stacy Searels isn't one to worry too much about class designations (as he showed last year with Glenn and Ben Jones), and Burnette is as quick a study as anyone on the Bulldogs' roster. More over, with the season-ending injury to Tanner Strickland and the expected late return of Josh Davis from two offseason shoulder surgeries, there could be more playing time available than there appears. Chances of playing time: 50 percent.

Shawn Williams (S)

With Knox's departure and Quintin Banks' ongoing recovery from various injuries, the door is open for Williams to see the field in 2009. The safety from Early County loves to play physical and is in a similar mold to Kelin Johnson. He'll have to prove he's ready by turning some heads in August, but the potential for playing time is there if he can earn it. Chances of playing time: 50 percent.

THE LONG SHOTS

Chase Vasser and Michael Gilliard (LBs)


Both have plenty of talent but are victims of a logjam at the linebacker position. Georgia has a ton of depth across the board, and only Darius Dewberry and Marcus Washington figure to be gone after 2009. It makes little sense for the coaching staff to burn a year of eligibility for either of these players unless there's a rash of injuries ahead of them on the depth chart. Chances of playing time: 30 percent.

Kwame Geathers (DL)

Geathers is a beast and has loads of potential, but he comes in with a package similar to what A.J. Harmon brought last year. He probably needs to lose a few pounds and refine his skill set a bit, and even then, there may not be much playing time available. With three seniors graduating at the position, however, he'll clearly be being groomed for a key role in 2010. Chances of playing time: 25 percent.

Derrick Lott (DT)

Lott is essentially in the same situation as Geathers and will have to force his way on to the field if he wants playing time this season. He'll be a crucial ingredient down the road. Chances of playing time: 20 percent.

Zach Mettenberger (QB)

Georgia's other freshman quarterback didn't have as impressive a spring as Murray, but he does have a cannon for an arm and a lot of potential. There are some fundamentals -- particularly in his footwork -- that he needs to work on before he's ready to play, and if one of the two freshman QBs is going to redshirt, the smart money is probably on Mettenberger. Still, stranger things have happened. Chances of playing time: 15 percent.

Dallas Lee (OL)

Lee has the advantage of enrolling early, but an injury late in the spring underscored what was a difficult transition. He's got talent, but with the logjam of experienced vets ahead of him on the depth chart, it'll be difficult for him to find any action this season. Chances of playing time: 10 percent.

Austin Long (OL)

A back injury will cost Long the season. The coaching staff hopes he'll be back to full practices by November or December. Chances of playing time: None.

THE WILD CARD

Washaun Ealey (RB)

Richt has talked repeatedly about regretting redshirting Knowshon Moreno in 2006 and Ealey could force the coach to make yet another tough decision about a freshman tailback. With Moreno's early departure to the NFL, Georgia will have five tailbacks at its disposal this spring (including Ealey) with Caleb King and Richard Samuel the only two with any playing experience. That would seem to make it a fairly level playing field as the runners compete for carries, but Ealey was a late qualifier and will have some serious work to do to pass the four more experienced players ahead of him. He has the talent to do just that, but it's nearly impossible at this point to guess how quickly he can force his way onto the field. Chances of playing time: ????

So what do you think? How many of these guys do you see making an impact right away? Who are you expecting the most from in 2009? Who do you think will be a surprise?

15 comments:

jferg said...

the biggest problem with freshman sensations is they usually aren't sensational at all their freshman year. Taking AJ out of the conversation...when is the last time a true Frosh hit the field and awed us all with his play? Stafford wasn't all world as a Freshman. Neither was David Greene. Pollack was good..but it wasn't until his Soph year that he really impressed with all-world stats. Can anyone job my failing memory with some all-world freshmen since 2000?

I like some of these True Freshmen to get decent backup playing time...especially in the 2nd half of games we have in the bag (so-to-speak). but, I can't see any of them being solid contributors---an if our current crop of players perform as they should, we won't NEED them to. (I do, however, reserve the right to reconsider once fall practice starts and can see Lynch's SEC football readiness)

Anonymous said...

Gibson had a pretty good true frosh year (think he set a record for receiving yards in a game against Kentucky).
Asher did good work at the corners.
But yea, they are the exception and not the rule. Best case is to have these guys be contributors (Pollack played DT his frosh year). Seems like a lot of the frosh situations get determined in camp when they're going up against the upperclassmen. You see a lot of pulled muscles and fatigue from guys not used to the pace.
I'm hoping as many of these guys can contribute and provide depth but the real playmakers are the more experienced guys.
I wonder if the coaching staff regrest not redshirting Samuel.

David -- awesome stuff. Keep up the good work.

-- Richt-Flair

KingDawg said...

Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, Rennie Curran, Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens, MoMass, Ben Jones, Trinton Sturdivant, Danny Ware - All solid freshman seasons to name a few more.

Considering that we usually only play 5-7 freshmen, they have made a considerable impact in the past.

dawgmeister said...

Great job David, and even the people responding are reasonable today. Hale and Ching are the best sportswriters in the state of Georgia. Keep it coming D.

jferg said...

KingDawg,
Nice list of players. I guess we do, in fact, get a pretty nice boost from True Freshmen (I completely forgot about how good Lump was pre-ACL injury--speaking of good RBs, what ever happened to M. Cooper? He had a great year for us and then vanished???).

So, here's to hoping the top 5 from this list: Brown, Lynch, Charles, Smith and Wooten all come ready to play and contribute!

The Cuatro said...

Charles, Brown, and Smith will all make impacts on this team in the fall. I also think Lott may get into the DT rotation a bit over Abry, but that's a toss up. Definitely Charles and Brown though... they'll be damn good right away. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wooten catch about 20 balls or so too, mostly underneath routes.

hinesacl said...

The only things I might change would be...Shawn Williams a little better % and I wonder if Strick going down might ratchet up ONE of the OL.

Carter said...

So Geathers qualified?

Does anybody know how many years of eligibility 2010 S Jakar Hamilton will have? I know Vince Vance had 3 yrs coming out of GMC.

Pete said...

60% for Murray? Doesn't Richt usually redshirt his QBs? Stafford was an exception since there was literally no one else.

With Logan Gray looking sharp during spring practice, I'd think Murray would be down there around 15% with Mettenberg.

David Hale said...

I may be a bit optimistic on Murray's playing time but I think three things play in his favor:

1.) Cox isn't a sure thing, so there's always the possibility that he could be needed this year the way Stafford was. Not saying that's likely, but it's a possibility.

2.) There's a good chance Murray will be the starter in 2010, and if that's the case, I think there's a real benefit to getting him some game action this season to prepare him for a full-time role next year. A lot of that will depend on how he performs in fall camp though.

3.) There has to be some pressure on Richt to redshirt either Mett or Murray so the other will have at least one year alone at UGA or chances are, one of them will transfer.

I'm not saying any one of those is reason to play Murray right away, but put together, I think there's a better chance than not that he sees the field. But again... it's early, and anything can happen.

The Cuatro said...

Jakar has 3 years to play 2 if I remember correctly... but he won't be here until Jan 2010.

David,

You can't overlook Logan Gray when evaluating our QB situation. I think Logan has the inside track on the starting job next year and to replace Cox this year if necessary.

The Cuatro said...

To follow that up tho... if Logan was to start this year, I do feel it would be Murray seeing action as his replacement. HOWEVER, Joe will be the starter for the entirety of the season (barring injury), and I would not be surprised to see him have a better year statistically than Matt did last year.

David Hale said...

Cuatro, you may be right, and I've actually been as high on Gray as anyone for the past year, but I also know that Murray is the marquee name here, and sometimes that carries a good bit of weight. If Gray takes over in 2010 and 2011, do either Murray or Mettenberger actually wait around for a chance to play? And if they don't, how bad does that look for Richt as he tries to land future top QB recruits?

Not saying that is going to happen or even the best way of handling a situation if it does, but look around sports and you'll see tons of examples of guys who landed jobs as much due to reputation as ability.

We'll see how it pans out as this season moves along. I think it's all pretty up in the air right now.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely incredible job as always! www.wedgeorgia.com

Anonymous said...

jferg, Cooper gained about 30 lbs in one offseason, got in the dog house, couldn't get out... transferred.

I think expecting TWO freshman TEs and TWO freshman WRs to all contribute is exceedingly optimistic. Although I, too, am interested to see what Lynch can do. He and Charles seem like very headstrong gentlemen who are ready for the challenge mentally, which is the hardest part for freshmen nowadays.

I will venture to say that neither Brown nor Wooten will catch double digit passes. I think AJ, MikeMo, Tavarres, and Aron White are our top 4 pass catchers. Traditionally, anyone outside that group will have between 5-10 catches, but, we'll see.

In 2010 we will have a full blown QB controversy and at some point Murray will take the job from Gray. No offense to Logan, but Murray just has the "it" factor. He's a winner and people will follow him.