This is the week where the 2013 season begins for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The players have reported to camp and will start practice on Thursday. The expectations for the Bulldogs are high, so head coach Mark Richt has to be sure the players are working hard on and off the field.
The Bulldogs come into fall practice with many aspects of their game intact. But there are some things the Bulldogs have to iron out when they start their season in one month.
Here are five goals the Bulldogs need to meet during the preseason.
If there has been a glaring weakness for the Bulldogs the past two seasons, it would have to be the play of the special teams.
Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 10th in punt returns, 11th in punting and 13th in field goals.
But what the Bulldogs need to do first is find a kicker to start the season, as Marshall Morgan will miss at least the season opener due to his arrest for boating under the influence in mid-July.
This means Adam Erickson will have to step up in one of the biggest games the Bulldogs will play all season.
The Bulldogs have been able to get away with below-average special teams play the past two years. But if they can’t find a way to improve during this month of preparation, it may come back and bite them during the regular season.
It’s hard to imagine the offensive line has to be solidified, especially when all five starters from last year return.
But offensive line coach Will Friend said the left tackle spot is up for grabs, and John Theus, who was a freshman All-American last year, is the No. 2 right tackle behind Xzavier Ward.
Odds are that Theus will earn his way back into the starting rotation. But with Kolton Houston being reinstated, it just made both tackle positions very interesting.
These two spots could be the best positional battles for the Bulldogs during the preseason. Kenarious Gates and Theus were players who started all 14 games last season. Now they are both in danger of riding the bench in 2013.
The defensive line is another area where some spots are up for grabs. Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey are fighting for starting defensive end, while four different players are looking to start at nose tackle.
If I were to guess, the defensive starting lineup would be Garrison Smith starting at defensive end, Drew starting at the other defensive end and Mike Thornton getting the nod at nose tackle.
However, Chris Mayes, Toby Johnson and John Atkins are all looking to be the big guy in the middle, while Bailey and Johnathan Taylor are poised to start at end.
No matter which way defensive line coach Chris Wilson goes, it will be a smaller look because they won’t have Kwame Geathers, John Jenkins or Abry Jones-type size on the line.
There is no question the loss of Jarvis Jones will be huge for the Bulldogs. He notched 28 sacks and 44 tackles for loss the past two seasons and was the team’s most valuable player.
So the Bulldogs will have to find someone who can rush off of the edge consistently. The likely choice would be Jordan Jenkins, who tallied five sacks last year. James DeLoach could be another candidate, as he will start along with Jenkins at outside linebacker.
It would be good if the defensive line could generate more of a pass rush as well. Drew and Bailey can get after the quarterback along with Smith. But because they are not 4-3 defensive ends, it’s more difficult for them to get off of the edge than Jenkins and DeLoach.
Regardless, there has to be a player or two who can produce close to the same numbers Jones did the past two years. If that happens, everything else for the defense will fall into place.
And when I say everything else on defense will fall into place, that does include the secondary.
There will be three new starters to help cornerback Damian Swann man the last line of defense, so there will be some growing pains no matter how talented the group is.
Tray Matthews is listed as the starting free safety and Sheldon Dawson is listed as the starting corner. But with players like Brendan Langley, Shaq Fluker and Shaq Wiggins coming into the mix, nothing is set in stone yet.
The Bulldogs will also have to find a strong safety and nickel cornerback because Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for the first game against Clemson. That could go to either Corey Moore or Connor Norman. Both players are veterans and know Todd Grantham’s system very well.