Georgia Bulldogs: Team Overview
By Jess Nicholas
August 30, 2009
Georgia must rebuild – and rebound – following a season in which the Bulldogs found themselves getting beaten physically by both Alabama and Florida, exposing the Dawgs as pretenders in the SEC East. An upset loss at the end of the season to hated rival Georgia Tech only poured salt in the wound. Although the Bulldogs seemed to have as much talent as Florida, LSU and more than Alabama, the psyche of the Bulldogs didn’t allow head coach Mark Richt to put everything together.
This is still a team that doesn’t quite believe in itself, and it’s been that way in varying degrees since the departure of Vince Dooley long ago. The problem for Georgia hasn’t just been the losses, but the way some games have been lost. Alabama and Florida physically dominated Georgia, and the loss to Georgia Tech came against a scrappy, physical team that shouldn’t have been within 20 points of Richt’s team. Things don’t get any easier this year as Georgia rebuilds its offensive backfield.
Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (SE, LT, LG, C, RG, RT)
Returning Defensive Starters: 6 (LDT, LDE, MLB, LLB, RCB, SS)
Returning Specialists: 1 (PK)
Projected Overall Record: 8-4 (LSU, UF, OkSt, GaTech)
Projected SEC Record: 6-2 (LSU, UF)
Projected SEC East Record: 4-1 (UF
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Running Backs: Av
Wide Receivers: Av
Offensive Line: Vg
Defensive Line: Vg
Defensive Backs: Av
Special Teams: Av
Richt mixes and matches the old Florida State spread with a traditional pro-set attack. In theory, this should make the best use of his available talent, which on the hoof looks like a NFL team in miniature. But problems with execution and some iffy playcalling over the years have betrayed Georgia in key situations. Even though Georgia will be breaking in a new quarterback and starting tailback, the base philosophy doesn’t figure to change.
Joe Cox was Matthew Stafford’s backup for three years; now is his chance to sit in the driver’s seat. Cox isn’t overly impressive physically, nor does he have the strongest arm in the world. But he’s an effective game manager and doesn’t force passes. In short, he is somewhat like former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. Behind Cox is sophomore Logan Gray and a pair of freshmen, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger has Stafford’s size, while Murray and Gray more closely resemble Cox. Gray is probably the most athletic of the bunch. As long as Cox plays things close to the vest, he’ll retain the job. If Georgia starts to falter and Cox is part of the problem, however, look for the Bulldogs to use 2009 to audition a starter for 2010.
This could actually devolve into a problem spot. With the departure of Knowshon Moreno prematurely to the NFL, Georgia, for the first time in several seasons, can’t just elevate the next great running back. Caleb King was supposed to be the next great Bulldog back, but he’s been too inconsistent and ordinary. On top of that, a troublesome hamstring injury figures to keep him on the sidelines for a while. As a result, it appears Richard Samuel will get the starting nod, with freshman scatback Carlton Thomas the top reserve.
Freshman Dontavious Thomas adds depth. But the real name to watch may be Washaun Ealey, a signee who has a big “wow factor” going for him and could be the next Moreno. At fullback, juniors Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier provide probably the best 1-2 punch in college football this year. Georgia’s success will likely hinge on the tailback position, and the sooner the Dawgs find a solution there, the better.
Although it was downright criminal that A.J. Green toppedAlabama’s Julio Jones on freshman all-SEC ballots last year, the fact remains Green is one of the best young receivers in the country and will be a worthy challenger to Jones throughout both players’ careers. The problem for Georgia is the fact the Bulldogs can’t seem to find a reliable receiver to complement Green. Senior Michael Moore looks like the best of the bunch, and the depth took a huge hit when Kris Durham was ruled out for the season after a shoulder injury. Freshman Tavarres King figures to be the third man up along with sophomore Israel Troupe, but Troupe and King together have just six career catches.
Signee Marlon Brown and journeyman senior Vernon Spellman add depth. Tight end is a question mark for the first time in years, as Aron White holds the job for the time being. White is not a big body, however, so Georgia will often need blocking help in key situations. Bruce Figgins, who has been suspended for the first half of the season,might be the designated blocker, but two signees, Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch, won’t stay on the sidelines for long. If some of the second-line receivers step up, Georgia should be OK.
The Bulldogs have the best line in the conference in 2009, and certainly the one with the most experience. Five starters return. Trinton Sturdivant and Clint Boling anchor the tackle slots, while Ben Jones starts at center flanked by Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson at guard. Chris Davis is a huge weapon coming off the bench, as he played a starter’s role for much of 2008 after Sturdivant got hurt. In fact, Davis is still embroiled in a battle for a starting position with Anderson. Tanner Strickland is another quality reserve guard, as is Vince Vance. The only question mark is depth at tackle, where freshmen Josh Parrish and A.J. Harmon are battling with undersized junior Casey Nickels for the spots. Senior Kevin Perez offers an experienced substitute behind Jones. Georgia has practically two full teams of SEC-quality linemen to choose from.
Defensive co-coordinator Willie Martinez may be the most hated man in Athens, as fans have targeted him for blame for Georgia’s often-soft play. The Bulldogs finished mid-pack in the SEC last year in total defense (6th in the conference, 22nd overall) and didn’t stand out either against the run or the pass. Continued concerns in the linebacker corps could hurt Georgia’s chances in 2009. The Bulldogs utilize a 4-3 base set.
Up the middle, few teams are stronger. Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins anchor the middle, and both are hard to move. Roderick Battle gives Georgia speed off the edge, while Demarcus Dobbs fills the other end slot. Dobbs isn’t as mobile, but his wide body has the effect of a tackle playing end. Depth is good behind the starters, with Kiante Tripp and Justin Houston backing up the starters (although Houston has been suspended for the first two games), with Cornelius Washington and converted linebacker Marcus Washington offering more depth. In the middle, senior Kade Weston could start for many teams. A trio of other players, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Wheeling and Ricardo Crawford, add to the numbers.
Outside of Rennie Curran, there are question marks here. Curran is one of the league’s most active outside linebackers, but the rest of the group is somewhat in flux. Akeem Dent gets the call at middle linebacker again, but needs to make more plays. Darryl Gamble and Darius Dewberry figure to fight it out for the other position, although Dewberry could also challenge Dent in the middle. Marcus Dowtin has a bright future, and sophomore Nick Williams can do some things. Overall, this group must get better, particularly against the pass.
Cornerback Prince Miller leads this group, which could take a step back in 2009. Reshad Jones is at times the most impressive and the most disappointing safety in the SEC. His play from game to game must solidify if Georgia wants to win big. The other two starters are somewhat question marks. Bryan Evans gets the call at free safety; he’s been a role player for years. The other corner slot will go to sophomore Brandon Boykin, who is getting a lot of hype in the press but is still a bit of a wild cart. The real issue is that the second-teamers at corner are likely to be a pair of signees, Jordan Love and Branden Smith. Smith, in particular, has a strong pedigree but there is no substitute for experience. The reserve safeties have two of the greatest names in the business: Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo.
Placekicker Blair Walsh hit all his extra points, and was a respectable 15-of-23 on field goals in 2008 (65.2%), but his misses came from all distances, even from close range. He’ll need to improve his consistency in 2009, or one of five others, led by JUCO transfer Brandon Bogotay, could get a battlefield promotion. The punter job will go to Drew Butler, but he isn’t a proven commodity and Trent Dittmer could step in if Butler falters. Prince Miller will return punts, which Georgia excelled at in 2008 (4th nationall). Kick returns need improvement.