The Georgia Bulldogs return a host of starters and experienced players on both sides of the football, but spring practice has already yielded fierce battles within two key position groups.
On the offensive side of the ball, the departure of a handful of starters has left holes to be filled along the offensive line. Most notably, both guard positions are still very much up for grabs.
Defensively, new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has opened competition—even among veterans—and as a result, the cornerback positions remain unsettled.
To be sure, these unresolved position battles are not necessarily indicative of a lack of answers. Rather, they may reflect a surplus of depth that was unknown when the 2013 season ended.
Here's a closer look at how the battles are shaking out.
Georgia’s offensive line has the benefit of having experienced players dispersed throughout the unit. Kolton Houston and John Theus have both played extensively at the tackle positions (28 combined starts), and David Andrews has started 27 consecutive games at center. The two open spots, however, will be occupied by much greener talents.
Thus far, a number of players have gotten looks at the open guard positions.
Senior Mark Beard, who flirted with transferring earlier during the offseason, opened spring practice as the starter at left guard. However, junior Zach DeBell occupied the position toward the end of last week and got the starting nod in Georgia’s first scrimmage on Saturday.
When a guy goes right down the middle of him, it’s kind of tough on him at times. When you’ve got to pull and get out in front of a screen pass or pass protect, people trying to edge rush him, he does very well.
Meanwhile, the right guard position remains equally unsettled. Rising senior Watts Dantzler was expected by many to occupy the position, but as of late, he’s been resigned to a reserve role.
Brandon Kublanow, who played extensively as a backup as a true freshman in 2013, seemed to have a firm grip on the spot before a stomach illness held him back. But even after Kublanow’s return, it has been Greg Pyke who’s been getting reps with the first-team unit.
For what it’s worth, the urgency with which these players are competing is not lost on teammates. Quarterback Hutson Mason sympathized with the frantic push for playing time, telling Weiszer, “I can appreciate the situation they’re in and all the effort and the practice reps that they’re giving. I’m sure they want to get out there on Saturdays, too.”
For now, the two guard positions are still there for the taking.
By all accounts, Damian Swann—who has started 28 career games—will occupy one of the starting corner spots.
The other side of the field, however, is much more open. Brendan Langley has supplanted Shaq Wiggins as the current starter opposite Swann. Langley started the first four games at the position in 2013 before ultimately losing the job to Wiggins.
While their final positioning last year is obsolete, there’s significance in these players' back-and-forth under Pruitt. It’s telling in that it reinforces Pruitt’s approach to open competition.
Last week, rising senior linebacker Ramik Wilson extolled the value of open competition within the defense by telling GeorgiaDogs.com:
We need competition. It's only going to make us better. (Coach Pruitt) is going to put the best 11 guys out there. Since Coach Pruitt has been here, the energy at practice has been there every day. It's never been like that before since I've been here. It's like a game experience out there every day, and that's only going to make us better. We're out there pushing for jobs and trying to compete.
Wilson added, “The scrimmage should be the same (as practice). We’re going to come out with high intensity. Coach (Pruitt) is going to see who can tackle and who can make plays and who can execute.”
With that in mind, the cornerback position battle could be even more open than initially expected. After all, J.J. Green—a recently converted running back—led the team in tackles in Georgia’s first scrimmage.
Furthermore, as Seth Emerson points out in The Telegraph of Macon, Ga., Swann is playing inside at a pseudo-linebacker position in dime packages. To successfully operate within a dime formation, Georgia will need a host of game-ready defensive backs to fill the six spots.
With Swann playing inside on dime scenarios, Green is already contending to lock up a third cornerback spot—alongside Wiggins and Langley. And given Georgia’s deficiencies on obvious passing downs last season, it’s not a stretch to assume Pruitt will rely on this package heavily on 3rd-and-long situations.
Most likely, Langley and Wiggins will continue to duke it out for the full-time starting spot not occupied by Swann. But don't be surprised to see Green emerge as a specialist in nickel and dime scenarios.