After coming up a few yards shy of an SEC Championship in 2012, the Georgia Bulldogs had a largely disappointing 2013 college football season. Defensively, the Dawgs struggled to replace a host of departed stars. On the offensive side of the ball, injuries to a number of playmakers left the squad shorthanded.
While coverage deficiencies on defense and missing personnel on offense piled up to adversely affect the Bulldogs, one underlying detractor for the team was a lack of viable game-ready reserves.
That’s why head coach Mark Richt’s No. 1 goal for this spring is to develop depth.
In 2013, Georgia failed to adequately replace defensive stalwarts like Jarvis Jones , Alec Ogletree, Sanders Commings, Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo. While replacing NFL-ready talent is never easy, a lack of established reserves forced the Dawgs to rely heavily on young, unproven athletes.
This youth was most apparent in the defensive backfield. As true freshmen Brendan Langley, Shaq Wiggins, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger combined to make 25 starts in the secondary, veteran depth was largely missing. The growing pains of these young players was exacerbated—not alleviated—by the defense’s lack of options.
The longer fans bemoaned the lackluster performance of Todd Grantham’s unit, the more apparent the lack of depth became. For better or worse, it seems Grantham was playing his best guys. Developed alternatives weren't available.
Georgia’s defense enters 2014 with a completely new mindset and a brand new coaching staff. The Dawgs return 12 of their 15 leading tacklers and practically all key components with the exception of Garrison Smith (graduation) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (dismissal). And yet, developing a deeper rotation remains a priority for Jeremy Pruitt and his staff.
With Pruitt’s affinity for relentless quarterback pressure and reliance on instinctive play, it’s unrealistic for Georgia’s nine returning starters to play every snap. This spring, Georgia must develop quality backups who are capable of coming onto the field without dropping off in production level.
|Key Defensive Backups|
|Player||2014 Class||Position||2013 Tackles|
|Josh Dawson||Junior||Defensive End||8|
|John Taylor||Sophomore||Defensive End||9|
|Davin Bellamy||R-Freshman||Outside Linebacker||N/A|
|Reggie Carter||Sophomore||Inside Linebacker||8|
Heading into his senior campaign, Aaron Murray seemed to have all the weapons in the world. Then, over the course of the season he lost four wide receivers (Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Michael Bennett, Chris Conley), two tight ends (Arthur Lynch, Jay Rome) and two running backs (Keith Marshall, Todd Gurley) for significant portions of the season. In a twisted fit of poetic fate, Murray himself went down on senior night with a torn ACL.
Georgia will open the spring without the full participation of a number of projected contributors as Mitchell, Scott-Wesley, Rome, Marshall and Gurley all continue to recover from the plague of a 2013 season. Their collective absence will force the development of younger offensive weapons but could also serve as a foretaste of the 2014 season.
Gurley has been hampered all offseason, and Richt told Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer:
I really don’t know what to expect from Todd in the spring. Let’s say that ankle was 100 percent on Jan. 30th and he’s been doing fine and doing all of the offseason things, we’d hook him up and play ball with everyone else, but right now he’s been less than full speed. My guess is that unless he’s completely healed by March 18, there will be some modification to what he’s doing.
With Gurley limited, Marshall out and J.J. Green now playing defense, the onus of the spring load at running back will fall on rising sophomore Brendan Douglas and redshirt freshman A.J. Turman. While relief in the form of heralded recruits Sony Michel and Nick Chubb is coming in the fall, Douglas and Turman present the best chance of backing up Gurley when fall camp opens.
Meanwhile, the effectiveness of Mitchell and Scott-Wesley in 2014 is still unknown. Therefore, Georgia must develop players like Reggie Davis and Jonathan Rumph into consistent downfield receiving threats.
|Key Offensive Backups|
|Player||2014 Class||Position||Yards of Offense||Touchdowns|
|Brendan Douglas||Sophomore||Running Back||517||4|
|A.J. Turman||R-Freshman||Running Back||N/A||N/A|
|Reggie Davis||Sophomore||Wide Receiver||257||1|
|Jonathon Rumph||Senior||Wide Receiver||121||0|
|Jordan Davis||R-Freshman||Tight End||N/A||N/A|
|Greg Pyke||R-Sophomore||Offensive Line||N/A||N/A|
|Josh Cardiello||R-Freshman||Offensive Line||N/A||N/A|
|Aulden Bynum||R-Freshman||Offensive Line||N/A||N/A|
The Value of Depth
Jeremy Pruitt didn’t mince words when talking about an open approach to reordering the roster.
“I think competition is great,” he said in his introductory press conference, according to GeorgiaDogs.com.
In the short term, that’s the immediate value of added depth. While Georgia returns a plethora of starters on defense, that side of the ball will improve significantly if a second unit can push the mainstays. The new, unbiased eye of Pruitt will go a long way in opening a more competitive environment. The natural byproduct should be more quality depth and better starters.
Furthermore, the depth created this spring can minimize the impact of injuries in the fall. Last year, there was a noticeable change (for the worse) in the offense when Murray lost his primary receiving targets. If players can reduce the production gaps within each position group this spring, injuries will not derail the team’s aspirations in 2014.
Finally, added depth makes Georgia a contender—not just in 2014, but for the long haul. If more players can earn playing time by improving during the spring, then the roster won’t be left to completely rebuild following next season.
While there are plenty of questions to be answered and concerns to be addressed, adding depth is Richt's priority during spring practice. If Richt can further convert his highly touted recruiting classes into capable reserves, this Georgia Bulldogs team will be a force in the Southeastern Conference in 2014.