April 21, 2011

Predicting the starting Offense

Now that G-Day has come and gone, it's time to look back at the now completed spring drills, examine what players made some steps forward, maybe some that didn't and what everything means as it pertains to the season-opener in the Georgia Dome against Boise State.

Today, we break down the offense. We'll examine the defense on Friday.

Offensive Line: With Trinton Sturdivant's ACL injury, senior Cordy Glenn assumes the starting job at left tackle. No stranger to the spot, Glenn started four games at left tackle in 2009 while Sturdivant was recovering from his second ACL injury. The question is, who backs him up? Wednesday, head coach Mark Richt mentioned Kenarious Gates, Justin Anderson and A.J. Harmon as possible candidates, but neither one of those players has taken a single snap at left tackle in an actual game.

UGASports Projected starting lineup: Glenn (left tackle), Gates (left guard), Ben Jones (center), Chris Burnette (right guard), Anderson (right tackle).

Concerns: Depth. The Bulldogs have four offensive linemen (Glenn, Jones, Gates and Anderson) with starting experience on the offensive line. But after that, Harmon has only appeared in three contests in limited action, while redshirt sophomore Austin Long (back, shoulder), redshirt freshman Brent Benedict (knee) and Dallas Lee (asthma-like condition) haven't taken a single collegiate snap. Ditto for redshirt freshman Kolton Houston, while it remains unclear if any of the six freshmen signed to play offensive line will be physically ready for early action. Although the talent is there, much of it is unproven. New offensive line coach Will Friend has his work cut out for him.

Quarterback: There's not a whole lot that needs to be said about quarterback Aaron Murray, as the redshirt sophomore should put up some of - if not the - best numbers of any player at his position in the SEC. Yes, Murray will no longer have A.J. Green to throw to, but that shouldn't keep the Tampa, Fla. native from posting statistics similar to last year's campaign when he accounted for 3,213 yards (3,049 passing, 167 rushing ) and 28 touchdowns (24 passing, four rushing).

UGASports Projected Starting Lineup: Murray, Huston Mason (second team), Christian LeMay (projected redshirt).

Concerns: The biggest concern is obviously that something happens to Murray. No, that wouldn't be good, although offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has stated on numerous occasions he has complete confidence in sophomore Hutson Mason to handle the Bulldogs' entire offensive scheme. Just the same, nobody wants to see Murray hurt to find out. As for LeMay, he showed flashes during camp but his complete grasp of the offense remains limited, plus coaches no doubt will want to sit the North Carolina native if for no other reason than to get a year's separation between the freshman and the two sophomores (Murray and Mason) ahead of him.

Running backs: No doubt this will be the most watched position by Bulldog fans when heralded freshman Isaiah Crowell reports to camp, as many expect the former Carver-Columbus star to don his Superman cape, step on the field and become an instant star.

While there's no doubt Richt hopes that is the case, there still figures to be plenty of competition for the starting job from Caleb King, Washaun Ealey and Ken Malcome - either of whom could win the starting job.

This will be an intriguing battle to watch. Neither of Georgia's incumbent backs exactly did anything during spring to warrant being the clear-cut starter, which would certainly appear to leave the path open for Crowell to claim the job with a strong fall.

Granted, Ealey missed much of the spring with a strained left hamstring so it might not quite be fair to assume he won't hold onto this job. But after all the off-the-field shenanigans that resulted in his suspension, will he so readily be handed back the starting job? The thinking here is Ealey still has to prove himself to Richt just a little bit more.

As for Crowell, Richt said he learned his lesson when he didn't play Knowshon Moreno as a true freshman. He won't make that mistake with Crowell and went as far to say during his Signing Day press conference that the freshman running back would get the first carry against Boise State. One way or the other, the guess here is that Crowell will do enough in fall camp and become the first true freshman to start a game at tailback in the Richt-era at UGA.

Malcome may have actually been the most impressive of the backs this spring. The former Southwest DeKalb standout was impressive during the G-Day game, despite a groin injury that lingered through the spring.

Junior Carlton Thomas will continue to get a look or two but needs to do a better job holding onto the football.

UGASports Projected Starting Lineup: Crowell (I'll drink the Kool-aid), Malcome, Ealey, King and Thomas.

Concerns: The biggest is that Crowell does not initially live up to the lofty expectations being placed upon his shoulders. Also, will all the running backs compete in harmony, or will position coach Bryan McClendon struggle to give four backs enough carries to keep them happy?

Wide Receiver: Like running back, competition is expected to be fierce at wide receiver as the battle to replace A.J. Green as the team's top wideout is expected to rage throughout the fall. Granted, nobody is expecting any of the returnees to BE Green, but the Bulldogs and Murray will at least need some reasonable facsimile to shine.

Junior Tavarres King figures to be the main target at wideout for Murray, but it's also time for Marlon Brown to become the receiver many expected when he signed three years ago. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Michael Bennett was lauded by most everyone since the first day he arrived on campus last year. That leaves returnees Israel Troupe and Rantavious Wooten to step up their respective games, while freshmen Chris Conley, Justin Scott Wesley, Malcolm Mitchell and Sanford Seay will all receive their opportunities as well.

UGASports Projected Starting Lineup: Split end - King, Mitchell; Flanker - Brown, Bennett.

Concerns: The concerns are two-fold. No. 1, will King emerge as the "go-to" receiver that Green was last year? King isn't being asked to be Green, but the Bulldogs still need him to assume the leadership role among the receivers and be the guy that Murray can count on when he needs to complete a pass for a big play. No. 2, how quickly will the freshmen adjust? Mitchell posted some very impressive numbers his senior year at Valdosta High, not to mention a penchant for the big play which the Bulldogs certainly need.

Tight End: This is one position where coaches won't spend much time worrying about who's going to line up where. Junior Orson Charles is a physical freak at 250 pounds and is primed for a huge year. Senior Aron White can stretch the field, while Arthur Lynch is back off his redshirt year and at 272 pounds, will see plenty of action whenever the Bulldogs line up in a two-tight end set. He's also a better receiver than many give him credit for.

As for freshman Jay Rome, the future couldn't be any brighter for the former Valdosta star. Although he'll be given plenty of opportunity come fall, Georgia's depth at the position might give Richt cause to redshirt the freshman.

UGASports.com Projected starting lineup: Charles, White, Lynch, Rome.

Concerns: Not a whole lot here except for injuries. On paper, this could be the best group of tight ends in the SEC, one the Bulldogs will need to take better advantage of than they did last year.

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