Last year, one presiding factor dictated the disappointing conclusion to the Georgia Bulldogs’ season: injuries.
In 2014, the Dawgs’ fortunes won’t be quite so binary or as solely dependent on good health. To the contrary, the hopes for Mark Richt’s squad this upcoming season rest squarely on the shoulders of an obviously talented group of offensive weapons, a defense in desperate need of answers and two players who’ve changed positions since their last outing in 2013.
Without question, this team’s success will be a by-product of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and his plethora of weapons.
For Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior, this will be his lone season as a full-time starter under center, but concerns about replacing Aaron Murray are few and far between. A stable of capable runners and receivers have given Georgia fans great cause for optimism as the page is turned forward.
Todd Gurley, a potential Heisman candidate, is back for his junior campaign, and if healthy he’ll be a front-runner for a number of postseason awards. He’ll be joined by Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas, two more than capable SEC runners, and a pair of superbly talented incoming freshmen in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
Ironically, the only thing standing between Gurley and a Heisman may be his fellow running backs, who are sure to command a few carries.
In the passing game, Mason will find a number of familiar targets. Chris Conley and Michael Bennett will once again find openings downfield, and Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley should also be fully recovered in time for the fall.
Assuming the offensive line can develop cohesion and depth, 2014 should be business as usual for Bobo’s offense, and that’s a very good thing. Perhaps more importantly, that’s what Bobo expects next season. Earlier this offseason, Bobo offered the following assessment of his coaching philosophy to Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer:
I still coach the same way, I still recruit the same way. Still go about my business the same way, with how we prepare. There’s stuff we do different every year as far as scheme-wise, and stuff like that. But no, I think you’ve gotta believe in what you believe in. I think guys that are successful in this business have a plan they believe in, and they stick with it. And kids know that you believe in it, and they buy in it and believe, that’s when you have success.
Success should once again define this offense in 2014.
|Returning Georgia Offensive Stars Career Stats|
|Player||Position||Career Yards of Offense||Career Offensive TDs|
|Todd Gurley||Running Back||2,932||33|
|Malcolm Mitchell||Wide Receiver||1,292||8|
|Chris Conley||Wide Receiver||1,281||12|
|Keith Marshall||Running Back||1,207||11|
|Michael Bennett||Wide Receiver||1,203||13|
|Brendan Douglas||Running Back||517||4|
|Justin Scott-Wesley||Wide Receiver||446||3|
Georgia’s two biggest weaknesses from 2013—the defensive secondary and special teams play—remain concerns moving forward.
In the secondary, attrition has plagued an already questionable unit during new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s first offseason with the Dawgs.
Safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews along with cornerback Shaq Wiggins all started games for Georgia in 2014; none of them will be on the roster moving forward. Additionally, Brendan Langley, who started a few games at cornerback last season, has moved to wide receiver.
The answer to the secondary’s woes is clear but also easier said than done. Pruitt must find playmakers in the secondary. Corey Moore, a rising senior, must establish himself as an All-SEC safety, and fellow safety Quincy Mauger needs to continue showing the promise that occasionally seeped through during his freshman season.
Cornerback Damian Swann needs a season comparable to his 2012 campaign, and someone—perhaps walk-on Aaron Davis or Reggie Wilkerson—needs to step up on the opposite side of the ball.
Additionally, depth must come from somewhere. J.J. Green, who moved from running back to defensive back, should be able to contribute as a corner or at Georgia’s star position. Sheldon Dawson and Devin Bowman, two juniors, need to add depth at the cornerback spot while Tramel Terry gets ready to play at safety.
Fortunately, Pruitt leans toward a simpler, swarming scheme than former coordinator Todd Grantham. Finding answers should be a relatively quick process of elimination.
On special teams, the Bulldogs need to minimize mistakes that consistently plagued the squad in 2014. There will be no room for poor long snaps, blocked kicks and poor kick coverage. Many of these errors are mental in nature, but a greater emphasis on these finer points during practice will go a long way.
Two players who recently changed positions could have noticeable impacts for Georgia in 2014.
In 2013, Quayvon Hicks had something of a breakout season at fullback for the Dawgs. Although he was seldom used, he racked up an impressive 139 yards of offense on just 15 touches. Now, he’s cross-training as a tight end.
With Jay Rome being the only returning Bulldog tight end with game experience, Hicks will get opportunities at his new position in 2014. If he proves reliable in blocking, he may even compete for the starting spot as his ability to catch and run has already been established. Last year he hauled in five catches for 67 yards.
In any event, the depth and versatility he can add at the position will add another dimension to Bobo’s increasingly spread-out offense.
Similarly, J.J. Green could have a drastic influence on Georgia’s secondary. In March, Green told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, “I just wanted to hit people again. I got tired of being hit.”
That mentality combined with the athleticism he displayed as a true freshman running back last season makes Green a compelling figure in the secondary. For a unit in desperate need of answers, Green just might fit the bill.