It doesn't take too much analysis to understand why Georgia fans are excited about the Bulldogs' offense in 2014.
Hutson Mason, a new starter, but a fifth-year senior, will quarterback an offense led by one of the deepest running back units in the nation, and in the passing game he'll have three targets with more than 1,200 career yards to their names.
The fire power that has come to define coordinator Mike Bobo's offense is there. But if some major questions aren't answered soon, this offense may struggle to produce the results Dawg fans have grown accustomed to.
Everyone knows names like Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett, and newcomers Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are asserting themselves into the conversation now, as well.
But can the average Georgia fan name the Dawgs' five starters at offensive line? Probably not, seeing as the Bulldogs coaching staff has thus far been unable to settle on a lineup. David Andrews is a lock at center, but every other position is in limbo with the following personnel contending for spots:
- John Theus: Left or Right Tackle
- Watts Dantzler: Tackle or Guard
- Kolton Houston: Tackle or Guard
- Brandon Kublanow: Guard
- Greg Pyke: Guard
As an extension of the offensive line, the tight end position remains a major question mark. Jay Rome was expected to carry the torch passed down from Arthur Lynch in a long line of successful Bulldog tight ends. Unfortunately, his struggles with injuries have continued. If he's unable to perform at a high level, the Dawgs will be left with a number of less desirable options.
Quayvon Hicks certainly has the athleticism and tenacity to play the position, but he's never done so in a game. Hicks was a fullback prior to this spring. Jordan Davis was highly recruited but has struggled to pick up blocking schemes and boasts no game experience. Jeb Blazevich, a true freshman, is performing well in practice and is looking more and more likely to contend for early playing time.
To be fair, all of the players above (as well as Joseph Ledbetter, a late addition to the roster) may prove more than capable within this offense.
But Rome offered such an obvious solution. He knows how to block, he's athletic enough to get down field and has tremendous hands. Combine those traits with his preexisting rapport with Mason, and the tight end position could have been another spot defined by security and high expectations.
Instead, it's an unknown variable.
Equally up in the air is the fullback position. Hicks' move to the tight end and H-back role has left junior Merritt Hall isolated as the lone player with meaningful experience at the position. Hall has been out of practice and, as Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week, he could be out for a while.
His absence has resulted in Taylor Maxey, a senior walk-on with no game experience, getting reps with the first team. Additionally, freshman linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes is cross-training at the position.
The common denominator among Georgia's unanswered questions at offensive line, tight end and fullback is that all three position groups play a pivotal role in blocking within Bobo's offense. That point may be redundant and overtly obvious when discussing any team's offensive line, but at Georgia fullbacks and tight ends do not see the field if they are not willing and able to block.
Accordingly, if these three units operate at less than optimal capacity, suddenly the capabilities of Georgia's most prolific playmakers could be stunted.
Even a running back of Gurley's caliber would be limited by downgrades at tight end and fullback and a non-cohesive offensive line.
In the passing game, Georgia tends to rely heavily on tight ends. That option could evaporate in the hands of an unproven offensive threat. And Mason's dream senior season could turn to a nightmare without protection.
Fortunately, Bobo and the rest of the offensive coaching staff have built enough goodwill over the past few seasons to merit confidence in identifying solutions. Prior to the opening of camp, Bobo told Ethan Burch of Scout.com that the focus for camp was simple: everyday improvement. "That's our job as coaches - to keep them focused on that," he offered.
His job's not done yet. Georgia has all the weapons in the world offensively. But the Bulldogs won't be fully loaded until these concerns are addressed.