The Georgia Bulldogs open spring practice on Tuesday, March 18, with a compelling balance of returning star power and unanswered questions.
Here's a primer heading into the first week of spring ball.
News Heading into Spring Practice
Most recent news heading into spring practice involves player personnel.
On the offensive side of the ball, the extent of Todd Gurley's participation over the coming weeks is still unknown. Running back Keith Marshall will not practice as he continues to recover from his torn ACL. On the bright side, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell may get some work—at least in non-contact situations.
Defensively, several players have changed positions. Most notably, former running back J.J. Green will now line up at cornerback. Two outside linebackers (James DeLoach and Josh Dawson) are slated to move to defensive end. As new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt told Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph, "The big thing right now is we're gonna give everyone the chance to play where they want to play. If they're happy where they're at they're going to give you a little better effort and a little better attitude."
Key Position Battles
Arguably the most intriguing upcoming position battles will occur in the defensive backfield. With Pruitt hoping to give everyone a fresh look, cornerback and safety positions are very much up for grabs.
Presumably Damian Swann has the inside track for a starting cornerback spot (he's been there for two years already), but the opposite side of the field needs to be addressed. Shaq Wiggins played well late last year at the position and if he continues to improve, his aggressive playing style could lock the spot up early. Brendan Langley, a starter in the early portion of 2013 as a true freshman, will also look to reinsert himself into the rotation.
At the safety position, Tray Matthews (the most talented defensive back on the roster) will be in the starting lineup. But following Josh Harvey-Clemons' dismissal, the other spot has opened up. Corey Moore, a rising senior, boasts extensive experience and started seven games last year. Quincy Mauger, on the other hand, has tremendous upside and also started seven games last year as a true freshman.
Offensively, most of the skill positions surrounding new quarterback Hutson Mason are set in stone and with Bobo's prolific attack, everyone gets plenty of opportunities even if they don't start. There are two spots, however, on the offensive line that must be filled. David Andrews will be back at center, and Kolton Houston and John Theus figure to occupy the tackle positions. Neither guard spot has been filled, though. Look for Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Brandon Kublanow to duke it out this spring.
While a rebuilding project isn't always fun, it's hard to dispute the direction that Georgia's defense is heading.
The whirlwind started by Todd Grantham's departure created tumultuous times, but at each turn Georgia was able to capitalize:
- Grantham was replaced by Pruitt, who coordinated Florida State's national champion defense last season.
- Pruitt assembled a highly respected coaching staff.
- Georgia closed well on national signing day—particularly by attracting defensive end Lorenzo Carter.
- Already, Pruitt has lured one of the team's most talented offensive players (J.J. Green) to the defensive side of the ball.
Where Grantham once ran a complicated scheme, Pruitt hopes to simplify and players are keen to that notion.
Cornerback Damian Swann told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, "He's going to be a great coach. He's very fundamentally oriented and he expects a lot out of us already and we haven't even put on pads yet."
Odds and Ends
Georgia players enjoyed spring break this week, but Pruitt wasn't shy when addressing what was expected of them next week. "Hopefully these guys will work out three to four times this next week and they'll come back in shape. We're going to go out there and hit it running," he told Marc Weiszer.
Todd Gurley worked out—if jet skis count. In any event, it looks like the team had some fun this week.
And to be fair, some time off was well-deserved following a brutal season of conditioning.