Opening opponent Georgia got to work early, starting spring practice on March 2, and Tiger fans can get an early look at them on an ESPN3-broadcasted “G-Day” spring game this Saturday (1 p.m.).
Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt has changed it up this spring – spreading out the schedule much like Clemson, with even a couple more practices after G-Day.
“It's really been helpful for our coaches to spend the time evaluating what happened in practice,” Richt said, “and for them to cover that with players on the off day. If there's anything to install, we can go directly into installation in our meetings rather than trying to squeeze in other things all in one day.”
After winning back-to-back SEC East titles, the Dawgs return 10-of-11 starters from a record-breaking ’12 offense, and on defense, they look to some young guns to shoulder the load with key contributors gone at every position.
Saturday, they’ll get their chance in the final scrimmage, which will feature the first team offense versus the first team defense and the second team offense v. the second team defense.
More on the Dawgs…
2012 Record: 12-2 (7-2, SEC East Champs)
Plays Clemson: Aug. 31, at Clemson.
Returning Starters by Position (14)
Outgoing Starters: 8
Offensive Leader: QB Aaron Murray – A three-year starter, Murray is the active NCAA leader in touchdown passes (95), fourth in pass efficiency (158.55) and was the first SEC quarterback to pass for over 3,000 yards in three-straight years. .
Defensive Leader: CB Damian Swann – The rising junior is one of two main returning starters for the Bulldogs, after picking off a team-leading four passes and racking up 53 tackles.
Key Issues This Spring: 1) Replacing Jarvis Jones, restocking secondary – One Georgia defender Chad Morris doesn’t have to worry about game-planning for is NFL-bound Jarvis Jones, who amassed 14.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss last season. The Bulldogs only return three in the back-eight of the 3-4 scheme. Expected to man an inside linebacker spot, junior Amarlo Herrera is one of them, and he’s impressed with the youthful rotation (7-of-13 early enrollees on the defensive side). “We have all the young guys on the same page and they're working hard the way that we work hard,” Herrera said, who started nine games last season with 70 tackles and an interception. “I think we have done a pretty good job of that so far. Our job is to work hard and these young guys are hard workers. They go out and work hard and improve each day and you can see that in the way they practice. They're making plays.”
2) Finding the right mix and pressure on d-line – Inexperience is a common theme for Georgia defensively, and the d-line is no different. Senior defensive end Garrison Smith is the lone returner, after a 57-tackle 2012 season. He has lofty goals for his senior campaign. "I want to leave a legacy as one of the all time greatest teams to ever come through the University of Georgia,” said Smith. “We're going to have a lot of young guys coming through. Me being the lone senior on the defense, I would love to go out and bring a national championship to the University of Georgia and for Athens and the whole state of Georgia.” Standing out early to take over nose guard has been redshirt junior Mike Thornton (one tackle in two seasons), competing with junior college signee Chris Mayes (redshirted in 2012, No. 111 JUCO prospect by Rivals). At the other end, junior Ray Drew has turned heads this spring, a five-star rated prospect out of high school who compiled 23 tackles last season – competing with redshirt sophomore Sterling Bailey. Whoever wins the spots, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham should expect more production in sacks and tackles for loss from the unit. Georgia had neither a d-lineman in the top-five nor any in the top three coming back in either category.
3) Finding right rotation on o-line – On offense, Murray does have the luxury of all five starters back on the offensive line, but Richt says he’s “experimenting” this spring. “What's happening is that we are getting some of the younger linemen who are understanding more and getting in a better position to compete,” he said. “We're rolling things around to find the best five.” That starting five to close last season was made up of tackles John Theus (6-6 309 sophomore, 14 starts) and Kenarious Gates (6-5 318 senior, 14 starts), guards Chris Burnette (6-2 322 senior, 12 starts) and Dallas Lee (6-4 300 junior, 14 starts) and center David Andrews (6-2 295 junior, 14 starts). Helping out the competition, Burnette has been out this spring after labrum surgery and Theus has missed time after foot surgery. Gates has moved from left to right tackle, junior Mark Beard (6-5 302) has worked at left tackle (formerly a guard) and senior Austin Long (6-5 324) has worked a little at guard in Burnette’s absence before breaking a hand. Richt also says he’s been impressed 6-7 293 redshirt sophomore Xzavier Ward, who could compete at right tackle.
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