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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Big Questions of 2010

Well, we're in the heart of speculation season, which means plenty of questions about the future. But I'm not a big fan of making blind guesses as to what will happen, so instead, let's take a closer look at 10 key questions Georgia will face between now and the start of the 2010 season that will have a major effect on what kind of season the Bulldogs can have next year.

1. Can Georgia close strong on the recruiting trail?

The Bulldogs already have a top-five class, but the job is far from done. Georgia has 18 commitments for 2010, headlined by five-star wideout Da'Rick Rogers, defensive back Alec Ogletree and defensive linemen Garrison Smith and T.J. Stripling. That appeared to be a pretty full class a few months ago, but the departures of Bryce Ros, Neland Ball, Kevin Perez and Ricardo Crawford free up additional scholarships, and certainly further attrition could (and likely will) occur. With a good number of top recruits, like linebacker Jeff Luc, still considering the Dawgs, there's plenty of chance to close with some flair the way Georgia did last season, landing Marlon Brown on Signing Day and Kwame Geathers and Orson Charles afterward.

2. What will the coaching staff look like?

This is the question of the hour (and seemingly a never-ending stretch of hours) but even if Mark Richt announces a change at defensive coordinator today, that may not be the whole story. Should Willie Martinez leave -- voluntarily or otherwise -- the question then becomes, what happens to the rest of the defensive staff? Will other coaches follow Willie out the door? Will a new DC decide he wants to make further changes? And while Georgia fans may not love all of the Bulldogs' coaches, there may be a few other programs around the country who do. It certainly wouldn't be surprising to see teams come after Rodney Garner and Stacy Searels yet again, and even Bryan McClendon had a nice season this year and could probably earn a hefty raise from a team that sees him as a bargain hire. And if changes do happen, there's always the question of how much Georgia will spend to bring in top-notch replacements or who would be interested in the job.

3. Will Rennie Curran and Reshad Jones stick around?

Neither player has stated a decision yet, but even optimistic fans seem to be preparing for life without both players. Jones flirted with the NFL last year, and he has clearly improved his game dramatically in the past season. He hasn't been perfect, but he's been among Georgia's most consistent performers, and Mel Kiper currently has him listed as his No. 5 junior safety in the country. Curran isn't likely to be a first-round pick, but that will have little to do with his ability and everything to do with his size. He won't get any taller by playing his senior season. If both players leave, there is talent waiting in the wings, but Jakar Hamilton, Christian Robinson and others will have high standards to live up to.

4. Will Georgia be able to stop the run?

There could be a lot of shake-ups on defense with as many as seven starters leaving Athens. But of that list, the toughest to replace will be Curran and Georgia's trio of senior defensive tackles. Coincidentally, those players have also been Georgia's best assets at stopping the run this season. Jeff Owens and Kade Weston have been a brick wall up the middle and Curran is Georgia's best tackler when it comes to lateral pursuit. The Dawgs have been solid against the run this season -- third in the SEC at 127 yards per game and they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season -- which is a big improvement over last year. Owens' return and Weston's development have been a big part of that, but that job will fall to DeAngelo Tyson and Abry Jones next season. Tyson and Jones are immensely talented, but neither has much experience. In fact, five of Georgia's seven experienced DTs will be moving on. Considering Georgia may be replacing three-quarters of its secondary, the Dawgs can't afford to be soft up the middle against the run.

5. Who's going to lead this team?

Joe Cox, Owens, Curran, Bryan Evans and Michael Moore have really been the most vocal leaders this season and are widely credited for keeping this team together despite a ton of turmoil. There's a good chance all five will be gone next season. It's great for Georgia to have played so many youngsters this year because they'll be experienced and will know what to expect next season, but it's not exactly clear who, if anyone, has stepped up into the leadership roles that will be necessary throughout this offseason and into next year.

6. Will the Dawgs stay out of trouble?

Yes, there have been a few in-season arrests, but emerging from an alley and drinking as a freshman aren't exactly in the same ballpark with knocking over a convenience store. Still, two years ago the off-field incidents were a constant distraction and probably played a big role in the team's disappointing season. The seniors (and Rennie) did a great job of making last offseason all about business, and the result was an arrest-free spring and summer. But without that leadership in the locker room and fresh off a season in which the off-field trouble disappeared, will the lessons of 2008 still be fresh in the Bulldogs' minds or could the focus start to slip a bit?

7. How good can Aaron Murray be?

Yes, Zach Mettenberger could win the starting job, but most fans' attention is squarely on Murray, and for good reason. Coaches have raved about Murray's attitude, enthusiasm and work ethic, and the decision to move Logan Gray to wide receiver ($$$) speaks volumes to their confidence in Murray's ability to handle the job. Fans should be confident, too, but history is not on Murray's side if he hopes to take Georgia to the ultimate heights. No freshman quarterback has led a team to an SEC title since Danny Wuerffel in 1993 and Bernie Kosar is the only freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national title, way back in 1983. That would be some elite company for Murray to join.

8. Will special teams be special?

Please. Kick. Deep. OK, there's a lot more to it than that, but it would be a nice start. Yes, Georgia had a key PAT block and a key FG block, both of which had a big effect on winning games. Georgia also had a kick returner that had two 100-yard TDs and set a school record for kick-return yardage. And the punter and kicker both were finalists for national awards. All of that, and Georgia's special teams still cost them games this year. First, those turnovers haven't been relegated to offense. Three have come on special teams (including two Branden Smith fumbles). Second, the kick coverage has been disastrous. Again. Third, the Logan Gray experience on punt returns. You know the story, and you know it needs to be better next year.

9. What will Georgia's offense look like?

Since Mark Richt arrived in Athens in 2001, he has almost exclusively employed a similar pro-style offensive attack. Aaron Murray certainly has the arm that can handle that type of offense, but he also has the athleticism to do much more. While Georgia has dabbled in elements of the spread and Richt allowed D.J. Shockley to exploit his athleticism during his career with the Bulldogs, the 2010 team will feature so much multi-dimensional talent on offense -- from Branden Smith to Orson Charles to Murray -- there's room to add a number of wrinkles to the playbook that Richt hasn't used before. It would be a departure from the past decade at Georgia, but it wouldn't necessarily be a departure for Richt or the SEC. Looking back through the past decade of championship offenses, the vast majority have had running QBs, and Richt helped make Charlie Ward a Heisman winner at Florida State.

10. Will Mark Richt ask the tough questions?

Let's face it -- a lot of the signs of this year's struggles were evident last year. We all saw a few, and we all ignored others. No doubt, Richt did, too. But rather than address some of the ongoing issues, he routinely went back to his standard response about the defensive failures in 2008: The injuries prevented the team from tackling in practice, and the fundamentals fell apart. He was right, but that was hardly the only -- or the biggest -- problem, and what we've seen unfold this year has been a result of overlooking those other issues. As this season has progressed, Richt seems to have latched onto the turnovers as this year's biggest problem, and indeed, they have been an issue. But wondering what might have happened if Georgia hadn't gone through a season with a minus-17 turnover margin does no one any favors. The truth is, the turnovers aren't the problem -- they're a symptom of other problems. Richt needs to realize that and make some essential changes in terms of culture, preparation and execution -- and that goes well beyond simply changing a coach.

So, what other questions are at the forefront of your thoughts? Which of these are you the most concerned about? How well do you think the Bulldogs will do at addressing these concerns?


Anonymous said...

Christmas Vacation, Christmas Vacation, We're so glad it's Christmas Vacation!!!!

jt said...

Howabout "Will Mark Richt ANSWER the tough questions?"

Or will he just tip the wheel barrow over and start shoveling?

Anonymous said...

#4 and #10 are my biggest concerns. Unless there are a couple of big JUCO DTs on the way run defense may be frightening. We need a Cody.

As for #10, well at this time last year some of us were where the majority of fans seem to be now- a very cynical place. This was in many ways a needlessly wasted year. Don't waste another one Coach.

devildawg said...

OT: what's this about UGA being bumped down to Shreveport b/c for some inexplicable reason the Outback is going to choose Auburn? If it's true, what'd Chizik do to swing that?

PS - I'm also concerned about Richt's accountability. The injuries sucked a year ago, but I don't view the turnovers as flukes. They're systemic.

jferg said...

I'm not too concerned with replacing our DTs because Jones and Tyson filled in quite nicely and Geathers is our "Cody" for next year. I think we'll miss their leadership more than their production.

Honestly, my biggest question is will this team, as a whole, act and play like champions? Or will they act and play like a mid-tier-SEC-East team? The athletes are present, now we need coaching (mainly on defense).

I am excited about our Offense who returns everyone but Cox (starter) and Vance/Moore (back-ups). OL plus the 3-4 combo plus AJ, WOOT, TK plus likie!

Anonymous said...

jferg, while I'm interested to see Murray play; I'll be reserved where the offense is concerned since playing a RS Frosh at QB is going to be... well, interesting?

Now, if the staff leans on the OL and RBs and doesn't ask Murray to win games like it's asked of Joe all year, then we might be on to something. I suppose we'll see how our offensive coaches approach Texas A&M.

(And if there's a silver lining to getting Shreveport, it's that we won't be playing Wisconsin. Again. But playing A&M whom we haven't lined up against in many years.)

-- Paul

Mark said...

Frustrating as this year has been at times - and even with all the pieces we're losing and all the questions you mention - I think things are shaping up for a big year for the Dawgs.

I still trust CMR and think he's finally acknowledging the issues. I think what's going to happen with the staff is the biggest question we're facing. Feel bad for Willie, but his time is done. I've very interested in what happens with Bobo. He has shown some signs of improvement as the year's gone on, but I'm not sold he knows how to best utilize all our talent.

Georgia will be back in the national discussion before you know it. Go Dawgs!

MT said...

David, first time I've seen anything in print on Logan Gray moving to WR. They're not even going to spin the wheels on him during spring practice?

It definitely sounds like Garner is going to leave if he's not bumped up to DC. That plus Willie moving on means a slight recruit hit in the future.

As for Searels, the fact that he is so media-adverse means that 1)his name won't be out as much and 2)programs would be less likely to make a move on him, since media handling is such a big deal nowadays.

The Realist said...

At this point, one thing has to be certain: the status quo can no longer be maintained. The status quo delivered a 7-5 record and a possible trip to Shreveport in a year where the SEC (outside of Florida and Alabama) was mediocre at best.

It's not what could have been that Mark Richt should be pondering. It's what should have been.

They were up 15 on SC in the 3rd and needed a miracle from Rennie to win. They traded scores with Arky throughout the 2nd half. They were up 14-3 against ASU after the first quarter and needed two field goals and a blocked field goal late to win it. After finally taking the lead against Auburn, with all of the momentum on their side, they give up a 99-yard kickoff return TD to allow Auburn to tie the game in the 4th quarter. Georgia was up by 14 with a quarter and a half to play against Kentucky, turned the ball over 3 times in the 4th quarter and lost. Against Tech, Georgia was up 14 in the 3rd, and Tech still had the ball at the end in Georgia territory with a shot to win it. When you let a team stick around, it should come as no shock when one up and bites you like Kentucky. This team could easily be 8-4, but, as Phil Steele would say, they were +2 in close games. If two plays were different (Rennie's block & AJ's leap), they could have been -2 and 5-7. Then where would he be?

David Hale said...

Hey guys... my email is screwed up so sorry that I haven't responded sooner...

DevilDawg: No clue how Auburn pulled this one off. I assume they have some scandalous photos of bowl reps somewhere or perhaps the CEO of Outback has a lot of money invested with Bobby Lauder.

MT: I've tried to get in touch with Logan and get the full story, but no luck yet. Both Scout and Rivals have reported the story though, and I'm assuming that is largely from talking to recruits who have been told that.

Realist: Love this line, "It's not what could have been that Mark Richt should be pondering. It's what should have been."

Anonymous said...

If Gray is moved to WR and we are not recruiting a QB this year, we will only have two scholarship QB's for next year. Neither of those have played a down of D1 football. I hope those guys are up to the task.

MT said...

Thanks for the update, David.

I assume Logan-moving-to-WR is also why the AJC is reporting that we offered the Carver-Columbus QB that we pulled a scholarship offer on earlier in the year.

park place said...

Martinez is out according to ESPN