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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top storylines to emerge from spring

On the whole, spring practice didn’t move the needle much for the Georgia football team. There were no grand pronouncements about position battles, no starting controversies that were settled.

But a month of workouts and drills wasn’t totally uneventful. Here’s one man’s ranking of the most important stories in the aftermath:

1. Trinton Sturdivant’s injury

It’s never pleasant when the major event of a practice or game is an injury, and it was downright gut-wrenching when it happened a third time to Sturdivant. The senior left tackle now has to decide whether to continue his career, either by trying to get a sixth year or going pro. It remains unknown what he’ll do.

The immediate result to his team was a juggling of the line. Cordy Glenn became the left tackle by default, leaving center Ben Jones as the only player who will start at the position he had all of last year. Justin Anderson now seems the favorite to man right tackle, but that’s not settled yet.

The only good news for Georgia is that it won’t have to trot out a bunch of freshmen or first-year starters. Between the above three players, guard Kenarious Gates and possibly Chris Burnette (the favorite at right guard), there’s plenty of experience to go around.

2. Kwame Geathers’ emergence

Every spring, a player or two becomes The story only to end up a flash in the pan. But Geathers seems different. For one thing, he’s a Geathers; there’s sort of a history there.

The Georgia coaches also seem serious about getting Geathers on the field one way or another: either by subbing Geathers liberally in at nose tackle for John Jenkins, or playing Geathers at end in some alignments.

If Jenkins hadn’t signed, Geathers play’ this spring would have been even more pivotal. Now, it looks like the Bulldogs have gone from badly needing a big, physical nose tackle, to having two of them.

3. Alec Ogletree’s move to inside linebacker

This actually happened before practice started, but it qualifies for this list because Ogletree – who only played safety in high school – got his first experience at his new position in practice.

So what’s the early verdict? He seemed to play pretty well in the spring game, notching a couple nice tackles behind the line on run play. And defensive coordinator Todd Grantham concluded practice by saying it had convinced him that moving Ogletree there, and Jarvis Jones to outside linebacker, was “100 percent the right thing.”

Of course, it’s too early to say that for sure. Any conclusion on that will have to wait until the season – and not only to see how Ogletree fares, but the safeties.

4. Tailbacks: It’s still Crowell’s job to lose

Anyone was kidding themselves if they expected Mark Richt to suddenly have an awakening and say Washaun Ealey, Caleb King or anyone other than Crowell was likely to start. But you could have seen the coaches finishing the spring by singling out one or two incumbents to compete with the incoming freshman.

Instead, Richt and Mike Bobo both said that no one had separated themselves. That was easy to say with Ealey, who missed pretty much all of spring with a hamstring injury. But King had a strong spring from all reports, and Ken Malcome had a good finish on G-Day. Still, Richt said no one had won the job. Translation: Isaiah, we await thee.

5. Branden Smith’s increased role on offense

There was only one genuine surprise on G-Day, and that was how much Smith was involved in the offense. Statistically it was only four touches, but he did a lot with them, including a catch-and-run for the game’s first touchdown.

Afterwards, it was hard for Bobo to hide that he REALLY wants to use Smith on offense. Grantham said there was no fight to prevent that, but there was also no indication from Grantham or Richt that Smith would be more than an occasional weapon for the offense.

Smith also had a good spring at cornerback, so Grantham isn’t eager to give him up. It will bear watching this fall to see just how much Smith really gets to play on the other side of the ball.

6. Still issues at receiver

Marlon Brown didn’t quite grab the No. 2 job. The other incumbents, Rantavious Wooten and Israel Troupe, were quiet. And by the way, Tavarres King still has to prove himself as a No. 1 option. That could still end up being Orson Charles, the tight end.

Chris Conley, one of two true freshmen in camp, looks like he’ll be a factor, but didn’t quite make a huge leap. Redshirt freshman Michael Bennett had a solid, but apparently not spectacular, spring.

So expect Malcolm Mitchell to get a long look when he arrives this summer.

7. Christian LeMay’s development

The other early enrollee, LeMay got a chance to at least throw the ball around a bit. Remember, this is a kid who didn’t play high school ball last year. And his presence expanded the amount of scholarship quarterbacks to three, so Georgia is grateful for that.

But the spring did little to resolve how things will be handled this fall: Will LeMay redshirt, or will he be the backup so Hutson Mason can get his redshirt back? Stay tuned.

8. Sanders Commings’ possible move to safety

This has been rumored for awhile, and coaches pooh-poohed it right up until it happened late in practice. And only then it was still out of necessity, with injuries to Bacarri Rambo, Jakar Hamilton and Mark Deas. Then Commings got hurt too, and missed G-Day.

The indication is that Commings probably will end up at safety, but that’s by far a certainty.

9. New leadership in the locker room

The new leader of the defense is Christian Robinson at inside linebacker. As last year’s leader, Akeem Dent, watched for much of practice, awaiting his NFL draft fate, Robinson took on a larger leadership role. He knows the defense, and as he becomes a fourth-year junior also is taking on more responsibility in the huddle.

On the offensive side, quarterback Aaron Murray – a good friend of Robinson’s – took on a larger role. That’s what you’d expect from a returning starter at the most critical position. But Jones also emerged as a vocal presence, stepping into his role as a senior and the most experienced veteran on the offense.

10. Bigger, stronger and faster?

Whether or not the change in the strength and conditioning program pays off could end up being the story of the season. But less than four months in is too early to draw any conclusions, especially when the Bulldogs are only knocking each other around.

The safest way to put it right now is that players said the workouts were indeed tougher and were paying off, and Richt said he could tell a difference. But frankly you wouldn’t expect them to say anything else.

So, continuing the overall theme of this spring, stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

#11 - No embarrassing arrests.

Anonymous said...

Yada Yada Yada*

*until further notice (read: winning, but not the Charlie Sheen type of winning. The foosball winning...)

Anonymous said...

Commings will be the starting corner opposite Boykin all year long.