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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Help Wanted: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up

Yesterday, I ran down my list of the five Bulldogs I think have the best chance at breaking out this season. You guys added a few more suggestions of your own in the comments. Today, I figured it made sense to take a minute to look at who the biggest question marks might be.

(Now, before anyone jumps all over me for criticizing these guys, let me clarify what I mean here: These are the guys I think are both a.) question marks heading into fall practice and b.) vital to Georgia's success in 2009. None of that is saying they won't be great this season, just that there are question marks now.)

Mark Richt has made a point of not singling out a lot of individuals this year. It's all part of his "the star of the team is the team" mantra that seems to have become the unofficial motto of the 2009 team (just take a look at the cover of this year's media guide for further proof). But that doesn't mean that there aren't a few individual players who have a rather hefty burden on their shoulders this season.

The obvious first response to that would be to point to the running backs. With Knowshon Moreno gone to the NFL, there will be a lot of carries up for grabs in the Georgia backfield, but no one has used the opportunity to prove they are ready to provide the same type of production Moreno did.

While I'll admit, Caleb King, Richard Samuel and company definitely have some work to do, I tend to agree with Richt's assessment of the situation:

"I could probably blindly grab two or three of 'em, just pick 'em up, and I would have confidence whatever three I picked out, we will have success with them," he said. "Sometimes when you say no one has separated themselves from the pack, sometimes that's bad if your pack isn't very good. But if you got a pack of good ones, it's hard to separate also because you have some talented guys around you. I think it's more a situation of that than not having anybody outstanding. I think they're all pretty outstanding."

OK, "outstanding" may be a strong term, but there is definitely talent there, and I'm pretty sure the coaches will find a system that works, whether one guys stands out and gets the bulk of the carries or a handful of them share the load. The upside, too, is that King, Samuel and Carlton Thomas all offer somewhat different skills and could each compliment one another nicely.

"If it's one guy carrying the load, the majority of the load, I'm fine with that," Richt said. "If it's three guys sharing it, I'm okay with that, too. But we're gonna run the ball."

So who is Richt concerned about? Well, we pretty much agree on that, too.

"We need pressure off the edge," Richt said. "Defensive ends, I feel like they're hungry. They feel like they've got something to prove. Historically, since I've been at Georgia, our defensive end position has been highly productive. We've had many first- and second-team All-SEC performers. We've had guys lead the league in sacks. Last year we fell short of what was normal for us."

Well, that's an understatement, as I discussed in this post earlier this month.

But I'm not sure I like Richt's rationale for confidence. Yes, historically Georgia's defensive ends have been solid, but if anything, historical precedent says this year's group won't be. Essentially, the Bulldogs are using the same group as last season, and only Justin Houston has had a chance to show much progress. He'll be suspended for the first two games, by the way.

So that's my first two entries on the list of players who need to step up:

Justin Houston (So./DE) and Demarcus Dobbs (Jr./DE)

Houston had an impressive spring, but his suspension is problematic. For one, he'll miss two important games. Oklahoma State may be completely overrated, but that doesn't mean you can give the Cowboys' QB time to survey the field from the comfort of the pocket. Secondly, Houston's suspension certainly could hinder the growth he had made during the spring. It's sort of like going to the gym -- it takes a long time to get in shape and only a few days off to completely get out of the habit. But most importantly, the suspension -- particularly during an offseason when the pressure to stay out of trouble was so intense -- shows a lack of discipline on Houston's part that he'll have to prove he has overcome.

Dobbs had two of Georgia's most memorable defensive plays last season -- an interception he returned for a long touchdown against Central Michigan and a game-saving pick in the fourth quarter against Kentucky -- but he'll need to do more in 2009. With Houston out early and Rod Battle injury prone, Dobbs will need to be a steadying force at defensive end this season. Unfortunately, consistency has been his biggest problem during his career so far, and his spring injuries haven't helped. He has lots of potential, but he needs to play up to that potential more often this season.

So, who else is Richt (ever-so-slightly) concerned about? He says he's confident in Blair Walsh as his kicker, but Drew Butler's punting is a bit more worrisome.

"Butler is unproven as a punter," he said. "Butler has proved to me he can punt well enough to be outstanding in our league, just by observing him, but he hasn't proved that he can be consistent enough. So I guess what I'm saying is maybe last year he's five or six out of 10 that were outstanding. We got to get him to where he's nine out of 10, 10 out of 10, which he's been working diligently to be that."

I'll second that, which leads me to No. 3 on my list.

Drew Butler (So./P)

Butler's often gets overlooked, and since punters and kickers aren't a big part of spring practice, his new role replacing Brian Mimbs hasn't been the biggest topic of discussion. It should. Mimbs was consistently strong throughout most of the season last year, and given all the problems the Dawgs had on special teams, he was a lone bright spot. Considering Georgia's offense is likely to take a step back -- particularly in terms of big-play potential -- having a consistent punter that can help change field position could be crucial, and Butler needs to show he can be that guy.

So, who else?

"We need guys that can cover people outside," Richt said. "If you're weak in the middle, you got problems. I'm not disappointed by any stretch about our corner play or anything like that. I'm confident in them."

That doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, but I'm actually confident in them, too. As I wrote in yesterday's post, I expect big things from Brandon Boykin this season, and Georgia could certainly do a lot worse than Prince Miller at the other corner.

But No. 4 on my list does come from Georgia's secondary, and I'm guessing most people will agree with me.

Reshad Jones (Jr/S)

I think we all know what Jones' problems were last year. It's been discussed enough. After the season, Jones was literally a few hours away from declaring for the NFL draft before reconsidering. Yes, Jones has NFL ability. But at no point in his career has he shown he's ready to be a star at the next level. He needs to make that leap this season, and if he does, it would be a huge boost to the Georgia D.

Any final concerns from Richt?

"It just dawned on me, I think we only have three seniors on offense -- Joe Cox and Vince Vance and Michael Moore. I didn't realize that," Richt said.

Sure, that might be a bit concerning, but guess how many seniors Georgia had starting on offense last year. The answer: One. Mo Massaquoi was the lone senior starter, and there really wasn't another senior who was both consistently healthy and consistently contributing even in a back-up role.

So having three seniors this year should be a nice upgrade, and of the rest of the group, only the tight end depth chart lacks significant experience. Which leads me to my final entry on the list...

Aron White (So./TE)

White actually showed some nice flashes of potential last season (hey, White and Cox were Georgia's best offense against Florida) when pushed into duty due to injuries, so there's a lot of reasons for hope this year. But there are still concerns.

Bruce Figgins will miss the first six games, Arthur Lynch is a true freshman and Orson Charles isn't a prototypical tight end by any means. All of that means that White is likely to get the bulk of the early work in traditional sets, and he hasn't exactly shown he's ready to be a successful blocker.

"He has his moments where he does great, but most of the time, he's just battling his tail off," Richt said.

The good news is White has added some serious bulk this offseason and figures to be at around 240 pounds by the start of the season. He'll need it, and he'll need to show he can be more than simply a receiving threat in the passing game, particularly early on until Charles and Lynch have gotten a taste of life in the SEC.

Again, I'm hardly saying these players won't be good this year. All five could blossom into stars. But all are crucial to Georgia's success this year, and I still have serious questions about each.

So... what players will you be watching the closest this fall? What worries you? Am I crazy for being concerned about any of these guys?


Bernie said...

I think you've got a great list here. Reshad is definitely the biggest of those question marks for me. For all of them, I think having someone behind them to push will be key. But for one player, he's the one I'm most eager to see this season.

jferg said...

I like the list. I would throw in a few of the LBs that are going to be playing LB and DE. Unfortunately, we NEED them to step up and be productive (and I think they will).
RJ could be a game changer. A few rib-rockers and the WRs get alligator arms and start dropping balls. A few slobber-knockers and the RBs get a little gun shy to push into the secondary.
I think the sleeper here is Bryan Evans. I expect HUGE things from him. With his speed and vision (now that he's at FS) he should be all over the field making plays. And improved RJ and more well-suited-at-safety Evans will give nice support to our green Corners.

Anonymous said...

This is a money year for Reshad Jones. He knows he is playing for an NFL contract, and thus hopefully this year he will play with more focus and begin to reach his potential. Like you said, he has all the talent in the world & if he puts it together mentally he will be a star. Also look for Cornelius Washington to make an impact off the edge for us this year. He is extremely talented and is the prototypical speed rusher we have been looking for. With our lack of depth at DE, especially early on with Houston out Washington will get plenty of chances to show what he can do. I predict he will become a stud.

The Cuatro said...

Honestly, I am VERY confident that we will get excellent safety play this year. The safety position will be the strength of our secondary this year IMO. Even Reshad playing like he did last year is a pretty damn good season (76 tackles and 5 picks!)... I think the problem is we all know he can be an all-world safety so his bar is set that much higher than everyone else's. I think he'll play lights out alongside a breakout season from BE. I guess his biggest area for improvement would be consistency, and I think the dollar signs in his eyes will keep him focused as others have said.

I'd also probably switch RJ for Akeem Dent. And I'd probably single out CK out of the running backs who needs to play to his potential. Reason being, I could see CK rushing for 1k yards or I could see him fading into the background. He has the ability to dominate but he hasn't shown that killer instinct mentality that he used to have in HS. He's definitely my biggest question mark.

IveyLeaguer said...

LOL at Reshad Jones being good now with the potential to be great.

Unless he has undergone a metamorphosis, which is unlikely, Georgia needs Reshad Jones to step down, not up. My hope for this secondary, and for this defense, is for Nick Williams or another player to beat out Jones for the SS spot.

A little dose of reality, here. Jones play last year was horrible, and not just the last few games. A review of the game tapes show that. RJ is not a playmaker, his stats simply relate to the FS position. RJ DOES NOT HIT HARD. Sure, he hovers over ballcarriers after he hits them, but it's all a show. He's the primary reason our defense has been soft the past two years. I could go on and on. Right now, Reshad (Bonehead) Jones has zero chance of playing in the NFL.

Also, Jones is a player who is totally disillusioned with himself. He's a selfish player, which is why he does so many bonehead things that are detrimental to the team. He's was a cancer to last year's defense, with his play, attitude, loafing, half-hearted tackling, overrunning plays, and stupid penalties, and he'll be a cancer again, if he hasn't changed.

I've watched this guy play for two years. There is no way he could have ever played for Erk Russell, and I doubt he could have played for VanGorder. In 50 years on watching Georgia football, he's the only player whose play can be described as 'disgusting'.

Can a player completely turn himself around and be somebody he hasn't been before? I hope so, but don't think so. My main concern is not what RJ will do to help our defense, but what he will so to HURT the defense.

So unless there's been a huge change, we'll be better off with Nick Williams or Rambo, and with Bonehead on the bench.


Anonymous said...

AWESOME AS ALWAYS - YOUR READ IS A HIGHLIGHT OF MY DAY! My biggest concerns are Carlton Thomas not getting enough touches, Washington not getting enough time at defensive end, and Logan not getting enough time at QB. But I guess that's good- maybe too many good players to get in the game.

The Cuatro said...


A little harsh on your evaluation of RJ. Disgusting? Really??!

I give you he is selfish and not consistent, but he still makes plays most of the time. Just because he plays FS doesn't mean he is guarenteed to have nearly 100 tackles and 5 picks... those are some of the best stats in the league last year and the reason he made 2nd team All-SEC.

And by the way, RJ is the 3rd safety on most teams' boards right now (behind Taylor Mays and Eric Berry). He will play in the league, I would know.

IveyLeaguer said...


I realize how harsh it must sound but RJ's antics on the field last year warrant it. I've never been harsh like this on a player before, but it's the reality that's harsh, not me. The only way to comment on Jone's play and not be harsh would be to sugar-coat the reality. This is no freshman, we're talking about a 4th year player, and as the antithesis of what everybody wants a Georgia player to be, Jones doesn't deserve that.

I know poll voters and fans rely on stats and Jones doesn't look that bad through that lens. But stats are one of the worst ways to evaluate a player. For many years I've evaluated players, especially Georgia players, by watching film because the film doesn't lie. Stats do. That's why I believe he won't play in the League unless he does a complete 180 this year. NFL people watch film, too. Lots of it.

I won't go into great detail because it's much too lengthy for this format, but suffice to say that IMHO RJ was a cancer to our defense last year, and the film backs that up (if you're really interested click the link, I've written extensively about this elsewhere). Get the tapes out and compare the safety play of 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, & even 2006, and you'll see my comments could have been even more harsh than they were. I've never unjustly bashed a player and I'm not doing so now.

Nevertheless, here we are about to start a new season and it's time to move on. RJ is more than likely going to play and play a lot. So that makes him my player, and I'm going to pull for him and do my best to give him a fresh start. Regardless of what he did last year, he deserves that.

I very much appreciate your comment.