SEC spring football forecast: Georgia Bulldogs

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