Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Georgia.
Spring Practice Starts: March 20.
Spring Game: April 14
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 9 defensive, 0 specialists
Three Things To Look For:
1. Are the Dawgs listening to the hype? Mark Richt is hardly the only major football coach who seems to do his best work when expectations are low and the pressure is on, but 2011 took that reputation to a new level, what with Richt going from "fired coach walkin'" after the season's first two weeks to "toast of the SEC East" by the end of his team's 10-game win streak. The only problem with that resurrection? The expectations are back, and at their highest point for the Dawgs since they opened the 2008 season No. 1. (No less an authority than our own Bruce Feldman placed Georgia atop his Tuesday list of sleeper bets for the 2012 national title.)
In the past under Richt -- as in 2008 -- that's often equaled a distracted team during the offseason and a disappointing campaign. The good news for Richt is that with leaders like Aaron Murray on offense, Jarvis Jones on defense, and Todd Grantham now securely in charge of what should be one of the nation's best defenses (and defensive schemes), the Bulldogs should be just about immune to the debilitating effects of the hype-cloud. But that's easy to say, and tougher to do; a focused spring camp capped by a crisp performance in the Dawgs' spring game will do a world of good for Georgia fans already worried about the offseason attention the team is receiving.
2. Can the offensive line be rebuilt? Losing three starters from a quality offensive line is always cause for concern, but that goes double when two of them are the All-SEC caliber likes of departed Bulldog center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn. The guard positions are set -- Kenarious Gates and Chris Burnette should rank as one of the SEC's better tandems at that position -- but because of Glenn's and Jones's durability, few of the candidates to fill the three holes have much at all in the way of experience; only guard Dallas Lee and center David Andrews earned enough snaps for a letter.
Offensive line coach Will Friend enjoyed a quality first season with the Bulldogs in 2011, as an injury-wracked unit that many expected to be the team's Achilles heel more than held its own. But with losses like Jones and Glenn, taking the next step -- going from holding its own to becoming an outright strength -- will require an even more impressive effort from Friend. A big spring from the likes of Gates and Andrews is almost a must.
3. Where will Malcolm Mitchell settle, if anywhere? This much we know: the rising sophomore is one of Georgia's most talented athletes -- maybe the Dawgs' most talented athlete -- and we understand why a defensive backfield besieged by suspension could use Mitchell's help. But any kind of permanent move for one of the Bulldogs' two most productive 2011 wideouts might do just as much harm to the Georgia receiving corps, one already thinner following the loss of Orson Charles to the draft. So could he follow in the ironman footsteps of Dawg great Champ Bailey and play both positions? Maybe, but having him split time between offense and defense might just ensure he doesn't reach his potential for either. Richt had made his choice for this spring -- Mitchell is learning the corner position -- and it doesn't sound like Grantham is willing to give him up without a fight. If Mitchell excels as expected at corner this spring, it's possible Tavarres King and Michael Bennett will have the receiving position nearly to themselves come fall.
To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.
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