Georgia heads into the 2010 season with more hope than answers. Even with the positive response surrounding the recent hirings of both Todd Grantham and Scott Lakatos, there isn't an unbiased eye on this program who feels that the Bulldogs are heading for an immediate turnaround next year.
There are those who feel the team's defense will be improved, but when you have the kind of production that the Bulldogs had last season, it's hard to go anywhere but up.
Don't get me wrong, the Bulldogs weren't the worst overall defense in the SEC or the NCAA, but their passing defense was horrible. Because of that, the overall value of the defensive line—including the run defense and the increase in sacks—was overlooked.
As we head into 2010, it's important to try to temper the enthusiasm with a little perspective as well, because although this team is on the right track, there is not yet a solid indication that it will start out on the right train.
What follows are just a few points to ponder while thinking Bulldogs.
This is a tougher decision than you might think. The odds-on favorite is Aaron Murray. He's the golden goose of the 2009 class, if not for a nagging shoulder injury last season, it's very possible that we might have seen him play after that debacle at Tennessee last season.
He's "Bobo's" guy, and he's got the edge coming into next season, barring any significant injuries.
Logan Gray could decide to make one final push for the job as well. It was thought that he would move to wide receiver to increase his shot at playing time, but Richt has stated recently that the decision is Gray's, and he hasn't made one yet.
If he does decide to make a play, his biggest asset will be his time within the "system." He's got more playbook experience and more time in execution than the others, but aside from that, there is little else that grants him an advantage.
Mettenberger is the dark horse, in my opinion. He's not as mobile as Murray, but the kid has a big arm and his understanding of the playbook is every bit as good as Murray's at this stage. Do not forget that this guy was considered a top-tier quarterback out of high school. And even though he doesn't have the so-called "it" factor that Murray brought with him, he's every bit as talented.
Some have even compared Mettenberger to former Georgia great—David Greene—that's a pretty nice compliment.
Depending on who wins out, I would not be surprised to see either one of these guys transfer; they are both THAT good.
Georgia also brought in Hutson Mason. He may not see time on the field this season, but do not think for a minute that he won't push his other counterparts to play even better.
He played in a spread-option system in high school, but as I've stated before, he's a good quarterback from a productive system, not a system quarterback; there is a difference.
It should be an interesting battle come spring and the decision will likely come down to chemistry and their overall comfort level on the field. Either way, I wouldn't want to have Mike Bobo's job when it comes time to tell one of them that they simply will not start this season.
New defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, stated from the outset that he would be responsible for the linebackers at Georgia. By doing so, he revved into motion speculation of a dedicated special teams coach being hired on at Georgia.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you really think about it, there is nothing wrong with Georgia's kicking game. We have the best punter in Division I football in All-American Drew Butler (pictured above) and a solid field goal kicker in Blair Walsh.
Add to that the return-game prowess of both Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith, and you have to wonder why the question of a special teams coach has entered the conversation at all. Well, the answer lay in the special teams defense, or lack thereof.
Georgia ranked 117th in kick-return defense and 82nd in punt-return defense last year. They gave up, on average, 22-yards per kick return. How much of that was due to the decision to use directional kicking is uncertain, but it definitely didn't help matters much.
However, consider this possibility. The recent hire of Scott Lakatos could serve a dual purpose. He was the special teams coordinator at the University of Maine before, at least on a surface level, some discussion about him taking on some special teams duties while at Georgia; we'll see how that pans out.
In the meantime, there is just as much validity in hiring another linebackers or line position coach that is familiar with the 3-4 defense. As of now, no one on this staff will be as versed in it as Grantham.
Whatever happens, it will be a crucial point of interest to fill out the staff with a guy who can be a long-term asset for the Dawgs coaching staff, and truthfully, a special teams coach doesn't necessarily fit that bill.
Ever since the defensive coordinator was fired, it seems like Georgia has seen itself looked upon in a negative light.
Media types questioned if the program was still in the upper-echelon of the SEC, or if Mark Richt was still secure in his post. Add to that the SEC coaching shuffle experienced by Florida and Tennessee, and it's fair to wonder if any prospect feels safe in honoring a commitment they gave a year ago.
Da'Rick Rogers (pictured above) is a prime-level talent and he has been committed to Georgia since last summer. However, in recent weeks, he has visited Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi St—all of whom are Georgia's competitors. Can we keep him?
We lost B.J. Butler to the new Charlie Strong regime at Louisville. We basically yanked his scholarship after he made it clear that he was interested enough in Louisville to commit on the spot if Strong were to offer.
Deon Rogers, the talented linebacker out of Florida, has been cagey since Martinez was fired. His most recent chat with coach Richt is promising, but he's by no means solid.
Nickell Robey—taking his other visits—became more and more antsy the longer the defensive coordinator search took, and it would be surprising to me if he didn't end up someplace else in 2010.
T.J. Stripling, the monster DE out of Southwest Dekalb is still solid, but that has not stopped the offers from coming his way.
Even some of the guys for whom Georgia was in the running are beginning to lean more towards the competitor than Georgia. Jeffrey Whitaker (OL) and Christian Green (WR) are likely to be at Auburn and Florida State, respectively, when the season begins.
Does this mean that Georgia won't close with a strong class? No. It just means that it's possible this class won't be as highly-ranked on the national level as it might have been prior to the defensive staff being fired.
Rennie was a beast. The leading tackler for the last two seasons and a hard-nosed football player.
Reshad was immensely talented but never fully realized his potential.
Both will be missed, and both likely left sooner than the coaches at Georgia might have liked, but that's how it goes in college football: when the NFL calls, many answer.
That said, with a new scheme coming into view next season, this is a chance for everyone to start on the same page. There won't be a readjustment for two seniors; there will be a learning curve for a ton of sophomores who can grow together in this defense.
Cornelius Washington was awesome last season, and in a 3-4 defense, he could be a monster. He has great speed off the edge at defensive end, and his ability to move so well off the line makes me wonder if they won't move him over to linebacker.
Justin Houston set the tone for a defensive line that was light on sacks in 2008 but better in 2009. He will only get better with competition and more repetition.
Prince Miller and Bryan Evans are both gone, but that opens the door for more Bacarri Rambo and the possible emergence of the big-hitting Shawn Williams at safety.
Georgia has the talent. Forget the chatter about who has better talent—Tennessee, Florida, LSU—it's about coaching. I don't care how many five-star guys you have on your roster; if you can't coach, then they may as well be two-star. Period.
I expect the culture of coaching to change at Georgia next season, and I hope the result is a better product on the field, despite some key losses at some big spots.
All you hear and read about lately are articles predicting the fall of the Georgia program under the diminishing skills of coach Mark Richt. If you read the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, which most Dawg fans don't, you'd find reasons to constantly deflate Georgia at every possible turn.
Well, please adjust your computer screens because the high-resolution answer to the question of whether or not Mark Richt was on any kind of a hot seat after the 2009 season was "NO."
Any Georgia fan will tell you that they broke the "bend but don't break" mentality that came with the Willie Martinez era for the lack of respect that Georgia began to accumulate in the SEC.
It started in 2008 with a loss to Georgia Tech, and it followed into this season with losses to both Kentucky and Tennessee.
Fans weren't calling for Mark Richt's head; they were calling for Mark Richt to use his head and FIRE Willie Martinez. He did that, and all was forgiven.
Did the coaching search take longer than fans liked? Yes. Did that mean they were questioning Richt's leadership? In some instances, maybe; but they still weren't calling for his job.
Coach Richt has had one mediocre season in 10 years. Even with that, he managed to get his team to a bowl game and finish second in the East. He's not on the hot seat—and won't be on the hot seat—until he starts to perform in a mediocre way on a regular basis.
The problem with excellence is you come to expect it rather than appreciate it. Richt, if anything, is a victim of his own success. But as far as most within the Bulldog Nation are concerned, there isn't a better man for the job, and they feel confident that he has a plan to get this team back on track.
Georgia is stockpiling talent at the tailback position, and it does not look like clamoring for carries is going to let up anytime soon.
Last season saw four young men vying for field time: Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas (pictured), Washaun Ealey, and Caleb King. Well, by the time the smoke cleared on the Tennessee game, it was clear that the only two players who would be handling the rock were Ealey and King.
Where will that leave Carlton Thomas? Dontavius Jackson? Richard Samuel? Or even the incoming Ken Malcome? Well, there will be a logjam of talent at the tail spot, and not everyone will be able to get their hands on the ball. Therefore, it will be important for every back to bring his "A" game, and that could mean even better things for Georgia in 2010.
I see Ealey and King continuing to play "Tag, you're it!" with the carries. They both bring something unique to the run game, and that won't be hampered by sharing the load.
Carlton Thomas will be at the mercy of Mike Bobo's playcalling decisions, but he is quick and has the ability to make plays in space. It won't surprise me to see more specific packages made up for him to utilize those special talents next season. More pitch-outs and screen plays are possibly in his future.
Dontavius Jackson is intriguing because he simply got lost on the depth chart last season, so it's hard to know if he really was given a chance to show what he can do. He will be given more of a shot this season, but he will still be facing stiff competition from newcomers like Ken Malcome.
As for Richard Samuel, the rumor mill has him making a move to the defensive side of the ball, but that is not set in stone. It is very possible that Samuel remains in the mix for some carries if he can improve on his technique. We will just have to see how things pan out.