Fans of the Georgia Bulldogs will get their first peek at Mark Richt's 2013 squad when the program plays its annual spring game on Saturday, April 6.
The team's offense will see many returning starters in 2013, including quarterback Aaron Murray. This unit scored nearly 38 points per contest last season. This bodes well for the team's defense—a unit that lost some key starters to the 2013 NFL draft.
Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones, Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and John Jenkins are all finished with their careers at Georgia, and Richt will need some younger players to step up in a big way.
The spring game will give fans a first look at some of the players who will be tasked with this monumental challenge.
Here is what you need to know about the Bulldogs' 2013 spring game.
When: Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia
Watch: Online at ESPN3 and on Comcast Sports South
Position Battles To Watch
As previously mentioned, the team's defense will undergo big changes in 2013.
Jones, Jenkins, Ogletree and Rambo were all invaluable members of last year's defense, and they'll be hard to replace.
Jenkins will be one of the top nose tackles taken in the 2013 NFL draft, and he'll be sorely missed in the middle of Georgia's 3-4 defense.
There are four players capable of sliding into his starting role: redshirt junior Mike Thornton, redshirt freshman Jonathan Taylor, JUCO transfer Chris Mayes and incoming freshman John Atkins.
Thornton has only tallied two career tackles and .5 sacks in his first two seasons with Georgia.
At 6'4" and 335 pounds, Taylor has ideal size to anchor the line.
Mayes spent the last two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he honed his craft.
Atkins may be a bit too young and green to make a big impact, and he will likely end up being redshirted this season.
Expect Georgia's offense to run the ball often so that Richt and his staff can get a good look at these four young players.
Rambo and Williams were two of the team's top tacklers a year ago, and they will be hard to replace.
There are a handful of players with the opportunity to take a nice first step towards earning starting spots with solid showings at the spring game: Connor Norman, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Corey Moore, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger.
Norman took over for Rambo last year when Rambo was suspended, so he'll have an early edge.
Harvey-Clemons could also make some noise, but he could also be in the mix for one of the linebacker positions.
The player to watch here will be early enrollee Matthews, who recently received high praise from Murray, per the Macon Telegraph:
“I’ve never seen anyone with that kind of closing speed,” Murray said. “He’s had some hits I’ve never seen before in my life, these past couple scrimmages. He’s laid the wood—I thought he killed Scott-Wesley. I really thought he was dead.”
This young man may end up becoming a starter as a true freshman. He is definitely one of the must-watch players when the team hits the field on Saturday.
Area In Need of Most Improvement: Pass-Rush
Last season the Bulldogs only generated 32 total sacks on defense, averaging just 2.29 sacks per game. Jones, who led the nation in sacks, contributed 14.5 of the team's 32 sacks. The rest of the players on defense only logged 17.5 sacks.
Jones is gone, and the team must find a way to bring more consistent pressure.
Sophomore Jordan Jenkins is Georgia's answer to Jones, and he'll need to step up in a major way to fill Jones' massive shoes.
ESPN.com's Chris Lowe caught up with Jenkins to talk about his expanded role:
“I know my role is going to have to expand and that this defense is going to need me to do a lot of the great things that Jarvis [Jones] did and some of the previous pass-rushers in this defense did,” Jenkins said. “If you’re going to play this spot in this defense, you have to be a playmaker and you have to make the kind of plays that take the air out of the other team.”
Jenkins was second on the team last year with five sacks, and he showed flashes of greatness. He, along with the team's other defensive linemen and linebackers, will need to play lights out in 2013 to not only make up for Jones' departure, but also to improve upon last year's numbers.
What To Expect in 2013
With Murray and nearly the entire offense returning this season, you can expect the Bulldogs to put up a lot of points on the board every week.
The defense will be a work in progress in the beginning of the year, and it might be exposed early in the schedule against Clemson and South Carolina.
Georgia won't face Alabama this season, unless it's in the SEC Championship game, but the schedule isn't easy. After Clemson and South Carolina, the Bulldog will host LSU and travel to face Tennessee and Auburn.
An undefeated season isn't likely, but it's possible.
A reasonable expectation for Georgia in 2013 would be for the team to finish the regular season with a record of 10-2.
If the team's young defense can come together and work as a cohesive unit, generating consistent pressure and playing disciplined on the back end, Georgia will be featured in one of the prominent BCS Bowl games next January.
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