SEC spring football forecast: Georgia Bulldogs

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Georgia.

Georgia is one of three teams to start spring practice tomorrow, and the Bulldogs’ annual spring game will be held on April 12th.

What’s changing?

Georgia has experienced a defensive coaching personnel change. The scheme and ideology isn’t changing much, but the leadership is. And that’s what’s important. I was surprised when Mark Richt didn’t make a defensive coaching change after another under-achieving season from Todd Grantham. Thankfully, Grantham is out, and Georgia somehow pulled Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State (I’d like to see an SEC Storied on how this went down). The defense also loses its top player in Josh Harvey-Clemons, who was dismissed from the program. With Pruitt now in charge of the defense, it’s hard not to argue Georgia as the favorite in 2014.

RELATED: See where UGA finished in SDS’ final 2013 rankings

Position of concern

The most immediate concern that will be addressed this spring is the secondary. Georgia’s secondary play was about two missed tackles away from being atrocious in 2013. And it loses its best player in JHC. The secondary, however, is Pruitt’s strong suit, and the play will improve this season. But how much? The Dawgs couldn’t cover receivers; they struggled tackling when they did, and the communication was awful. Corner Damian Swann returns to headline the group, and he could be one of the SEC’s best corners. Safety Tray Matthews has to get healthy, as he was injured much of the 2013 season. Several players are returning with experience, but how many are game changers? Shaq Wiggins played well as a true freshman, and he could win the job opposite Swann. Assuming Matthews nabs one safety spot, Tramal Terry could be the player to watch here. Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger will also be involved in position battles this spring.

Position of strength

Georgia has the SEC’s top linebacking unit. What more could the Bulldogs want? The SEC’s top returning tackler Ramik Wilson racked up 133 last year to lead all tacklers. Two of the country’s top rush linebackers in Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins both return a combined 21.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. And don’t forget about Amarlo Herrera, who racked up 112 tackles in 2013. This unit has everything Pruitt needs to be very powerful and explosive this season.

RELATED: SEC Pre-Spring Power Rankings

Three signees who will get you excited

1. Lorenzo Carter, DE/OLB: How much of an impact Lorenzo Carter will make as a freshman is questionable, but he’ll be a big-time player before it’s over. Carter has elite athleticism and should excel in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense.

2. Sony Michel/Nick Chubb, RB: With Keith Marshall questionable for the season, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb will both get meaningful carries. Michel is a burner in the open field who can house it on any play, and Chubb is the do-it-all back who most compare to Todd Gurley.

3. Jeb Blazevich, TE: The Bulldogs are looking to replace Arthur Lynch, and Jay Rome hasn’t exactly stayed healthy during his career. Blazevich is the total package at tight end, and he’ll be an impact player as a freshman.

MORE: Georgia’s National Signing Day recap

Spring’s primary position battle

The Bulldogs have to replace left tackle Kenarious Gates. He wasn’t a premier left tackle, but he was experienced and started 33 consecutive games for the Dawgs. John Theus will get the first crack at the position, and Kolton Houston could also get a look, too. Other players such as tackles Zach DeBell and Zxavier Ward and guards Aulden Bynum, Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler could also slide outside. The beautiful thing is Mark Richt and position coach Will Friend have options. Realistically, Richt and the offense want the position vacancy filled before the start of fall camp.

Emerging spring player prediction

After a big freshman season and a so-so sophomore year, John Theus will win the left tackle job. Mark Richt signed Theus for this very reason – to be his left tackle. He was one of the highest ranked Richt signees, and it’s his time to help solidify the offensive line at left tackle, protecting Hutson Mason’s blindside.

Offseason’s burning question

Is Hutson Mason stepping into the best spot as a new quarterback starter of any SEC team in 2014?

Bulldogs’ offseason crystal ball

Georgia received a blessing in disguise when Aaron Murray went down with a season-ending knee injury. Yes, it was awful and you never want to see a player go out like Murray did, but getting Hutson Mason snaps in a comeback win over rival Georgia Tech and a bowl game against Nebraska is invaluable. You’d rather Mason struggle against Nebraska than struggle week one against Clemson, right? The best thing going for Mason will be the players returning around him. Todd Gurley and a cast of receivers that includes Malcolm Mitchell all return, and with a better defense, UGA can afford not to rely on Mason like the did Murray.

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • Going into this season I am more excited than I have been last few seasons. While they have won east two of last three years I was not as excited going into those seasons. I think they have as much potential as any in recent memory. Lets hope for a healthy season and a strong start.

  • Harvey-Clemons was hardly our best player on defense. He wasn’t even settled at a permanent position. True he was being counted on as (finally) a regular starter this year at safety and he had plenty of upside for the coming year, but there are plenty other candidates for the “Best Player” distinction, including either one of our returning inside linebackers, Ramik Wilson or Amarlo Herrera, possibly Leonard Floyd at OLB, or even one of our D-linemen like Ray Drew at DE. We lose one of those guys and it’s a MUCH bigger deal.

    • Should have clarified myself. Maybe he didn’t have the best numbers (because he missed two games), but no doubt he was packed full of potential, the most potential of any player on the defense (my opinion). Great tackler and even better athlete. Wilson had a much better year numbers-wise, as did Jenkins or Floyd. But thought JHC had All-American potential.

      • He was easily our best player last year. Always around the ball and not afraid to light someone up. But geez if Herrera had 112 sacks last year how did he not win the Heisman?!

        • 112 tackles for UGA doesn’t even give you the most on the team. Wilson had 133! Crazy how much linebacker talent the Bulldogs have.

  • http://onlineathens.com/breaking-news/2014-03-17/uga-players-taylor-deloach-lemay-arrested-charged-theft-deception

    4 UGA football players arrested, charged with theft by deception

    By Marc Weiszer updated Monday, March 17, 2014 – 11:00pm

    Four Georgia football players, including promising safety Tray Matthews, have been charged with multiple counts of theft by deception and have bonded out of the Clarke County Jail on Monday night after being booked.

    Also charged are defensive linemen Jonathan Taylor and James DeLoach and wide receiver Uriah LeMay.

    Matthews, a sophomore from Newnan, is facing at least three misdemeanor counts. Taylor and DeLoach are facing two misdemeanor charges and LeMay four, according to the online arrest log for the jail.

    The news comes on the eve of Georgia opening spring football practices on Tuesday afternoon.

    Matthews was the talk of spring practices last year and started six games during a freshman season in which he was slowed by a hamstring injury. He made a career-high 12 tackles against Auburn. He had 36 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble last season.

    Georgia’s defense already lost starting safety and third-leading tackler Josh Harvey-Clemons this offseason when he was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. Harvey-Clemons had served one game of a four-game suspension after being suspended for the opener last season after an incident involving marijuana in his dorm room.

    Taylor, a redshirt sophomore from Jenkins County High School, had nine tackles, a sack and a pass breakup in 10 games last season. He had seven tackles and two sacks in last year’s G-Day spring game.

    DeLoach, a junior from Jenkins County who was a high school teammate of Taylor, had four tackles in five games.

    LeMay, from Matthews, N.C., is a redshirt freshman receiver and brother of former Georgia quarterback Christian LeMay.

    Taylor was booked into jail at 8:41 p.m. Monday, LeMay at 8:56 p.m., Matthews at 9:06 p.m. and DeLoach at 9:22 p.m. They all bonded out late Monday night.

    Taylor and DeLoach were released on bonds totaling $3,000, LeMay on bonds totaling $6,000 and Matthews bonds totaling at least $4,500.

    Georgia officials did not immediately responds to messages left for comment on the arrests.

  • John, you forgot to predict how many suspensions we’ll have in the first few games.