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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Focus on the Future

I have an article in today's Telegraph in which I polled some of this year's top players to get an idea of the players they thought might break out next season. That got me to thinking about what next year might look like, particularly if Georgia's draft-eligible underclassmen don't return. While I know there's still a bowl game to play, there's nothing wrong with looking ahead a little. Here's what Georgia's lineup might look like when the Dawgs kick off 2009 in Stillwater, Okla.

Projected starting lineup for 2009:

QB: Joe Cox (or Matthew Stafford)
RB: Caleb King (or Knowshon Moreno)
FB: Shaun Chapas
FK: Kris Durham
SE: A.J. Green
TE: Bruce Figgins
LT: Trinton Sturdivant
LG: Vince Vance
C: Ben Jones
RG: Clint Boling
RT: Bean Anderson

DE: Demarcus Dobbs
DT: Geno Atkins
DT: Kade Weston (or Jeff Owens)
DE: Rod Battle
Sam: Akeem Dent
Mike: Darryl Gamble
Will: Rennie Curran
FS: Reshad Jones
SS: Quintin Banks
CB: Asher Allen (or Brandon Boykin)
CB: Prince Miller

QB: Joe Cox. This assumes Matthew Stafford won't be back, which is certainly no lock. What is a lock is that Stafford will be a top-10 pick, and that's tough to turn down. If he does leave, however, it may not exactly be the end of the world. Cox has a big arm and has some good experience under his belt. He showed during his freshman year he could come in and win a ballgame (vs. Colorado) and has looked sharp in mop-up time the past two years (he had Georgia's only TD pass vs. Florida this year). More importantly, he'll likely be playing behind a significantly improved offensive line, and any quarterback with enough time in the pocket can win ball games. The SEC showed this year that a first-year starter at QB can be the undoing of your team, but I think Cox can be the exception to the rule.

One other point to note at this position: I loved what I saw from Logan Gray during fall camp this year, and I think a platoon of Cox and Gray similar to what Richt did with David Greene and D.J. Shockley could be an interesting weapon for the Dawgs' offense next year. I'd be surprised if Aaron Murray didn't redshirt.

VERDICT: B- (A if Stafford returns)

RBs: Caleb King, Richard Samuel.
Both guys have gotten touches this year, although not a ton. Clearly both can be playmakers though, as evidenced by many of King's big runs and Samuel's 5 yard per carry average this season. Both need to work on their blocking and their reads. It's the subtleties that will turn their talent into production, and both have struggled with those little things this season. Samuel is just 17 and the experience he gained this year could pay huge dividends with another offseason under his belt. Regardless, neither one of these guys will be Knowshon Moreno, but both have a chance to be very good backs.

Of note: The talk about Dontavius Jackson and Carlton Thomas has been good this year, and I really like the potential of Thomas as a nice change-of-pace back who could really develop into a Jacquizz Rodgers type.

(A if Moreno returns)

WRs: A.J. Green (split end), Kris Durham (flanker), Michael Moore (slot). There's no replacing the leadership of Mohamed Massaquoi, but there's a lot to like here. Green is a star, and while there's no doubt that Massaquoi's presence helped him tremendously on and off the field this season, there's no reason to think Green won't be able to put up similar numbers in 2009. Durham has battled injuries this season, but he's big, he's surprisingly quick and he's willing to go over the middle and take some big hits. He's no Mo Mass, but he can be a productive receiver. Moore has had a nice season in limited duty and could develop into one of the SEC's top possession receivers with in a bigger role next year.

Tavarres King has loads of potential, too, and could easily overtake Moore or Durham on the depth chart. Israel Troupe hasn't played much this year, but he'll be in the mix as well. If Tony Wilson can make a full recovery from his ankle injury, he can develop into an exceptional slot receiver, and more importantly, fill a big part of the leadership void left by Massaquoi. Along with DE, however, the WR position more than any other needs help from a strong recruiting class.


FB: Shaun Chapas.
No one wanted Brannan Southerland to go out the way he did this year. It's a shame, as he has been a great player for a long time in Athens. Still, it gave Chapas his chance to show what he can do, and he has been one of Georgia's most impressive newbies. Fans will miss Southerland, but there's no reason to expect any fall off without him next year.


TE: Bruce Figgins.
Tripp Chandler was hurt much of this year, but even when he was healthy, he wasn't exactly productive. Figgins, on the other hand, has done a great job of staying in the lineup despite a shoulder injury that will require surgery once the season ends, and he has clearly proved he's ready for the full-time gig. Aron White showed some flashes of what he can do as a pass-catcher, and while Georgia won't want to tip its hand on offense by which tight end is in the game, White and Figgins have the potential to make a good run-pass platoon.


O Line: Trinton Sturdivant (LT), Vince Vance (LG), Ben Jones (C), Clint Boling (RG), Justin Anderson (RT).
This seems the likely lineup as best I can figure, although Vance's recovery might not be 100 percent by the time the Dawgs open fall camp, which would leave left guard open to Cordy Glenn or Chris Davis. Sturdivant's rehab has gone exceptionally well according to all reports, while Jones has really been one of the nicest surprises this year for Georgia. Boling has done an exceptional job at left tackle, but he's far more comfortable at guard and his veteran leadership would work well on the right side next to Anderson. Kiante Tripp, Josh Davis and Tanner Strickland could all see some playing time, but with as much experience as the Dawgs are likely to have on the O line next year, all three are now pretty far down the depth chart.


DEs: Rod Battle and Demarcus Dobbs.
If you want to point to one thing that has hurt the Georgia defense this year (besides tackles), it is the lack of pressure the defensive ends have gotten this year, so rolling out the same cast of characters (minus Jeremy Lomax) next year doesn't exactly seem like a plus. Still, Battle was banged up nearly the entire season and should be far more productive next year if he can stay healthy. Dobbs had some huge plays this year, but he was inconsistent. That's to be expected from most young players, and it's safe to assume that will change as he gains more experience. Georgia could do worse than these two up front.

Justin Houston didn't develop as quickly as fans (or Richt) hoped this year, but the potential is clearly there for next year, while Toby Jackson and Cornelius Washington could certainly step into a starting role early in their careers and make an impact. I really like Washington, who might struggle a bit against the run, but could be a force as a pass rusher. Georgia doesn't need another Marcus Howard to be successful, but it needs the group to come together and provide similar production.


DTs: Kade Weston and Geno Atkins.
Hard to know at this point whether Jeff Owens will be back next year, but a number of people seem to think he'll leave. If he doesn't, the Dawgs interior D line immediately becomes the biggest strength of the team, but even if Owens does head to the NFL, Weston and Atkins can make a pretty dynamic duo inside. DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Wood and Ricardo Crawford have all seen action this year, which adds plenty of depth for next season, but Atkins' decision to return to school was huge news for the Bulldogs' 2009 season. He'll be the backbone of the Dawgs' front four.

VERDICT: B+ (A+ if Owens returns)

LBs: Rennie Curran (Will), Darryl Gamble (Mike) and Akeem Dent (Sam). This will be another strength for Georgia. All three played significant snaps at key moments this year, and given the injuries to Dannell Ellerbe, the Dawgs might as well look at this as returning all three starters at linebacker.

Curran is among the top defensive players in the SEC and you couldn't ask for a better defensive leader. It was a role he took upon himself midseason this year, but there won't be any question about who is in charge next year. Gamble was superb filling in for Ellerbe, and his two-INT performance against LSU was one of the best defensive games by any Bulldog in 2008. Dent wasn't an on-field regular as Georgia employed a lot of five-DB sets, but when he did play, he looked pretty good. It remains to be seen how well Charles White, Akeem Hebron or Marcus Washington can return from injuries, but all will add depth at the position.


DBs: Asher Allen (CB), Prince Miller (CB), Reshad Jones (S), Quintin Banks (S).
This assumes Allen returns for his senior year, which in some ways could have an even bigger impact on Georgia's 2009 fortunes than the decisions of Stafford and Moreno. Allen is Georgia's only real playmaker in the secondary, and while Brandon Boykin and Vance Cuff could certainly find some success at corner, neither are ready to replace Allen.

Miller has had his moments this season, but hasn't been consistent. Nevertheless, he has established himself as the clear starter. Bryan Evans can still play some corner, but he seems to have taken to safety and will likely stay there. There just isn't enough depth at corner to make finding a replacement for Allen an easy task. Boykin, however, is a favorite among teammates, and Sanders Commings could have an impact once he gets healthy.

Reshad Jones is Georgia's biggest enigma. He has all the talent in the world and he says he wants to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Davis and Greg Blue, but for some reason, he doesn't like hitting people. Jones has had some highlights this year, including some big-tackle days and a team-high four interceptions, but he also has been the biggest culprit when it comes to failing to wrap up ball carriers. More than any other player on defense, Jones needs to decide he wants to be a hard-nosed physical player, and if he does, he could be the key to turning around Georgia's defense.

The other safety position is really up for grabs. Quintin Banks would seem like the logical choice -- as he actually IS the hard-nosed, hard-hitting player Jones needs to be -- but Banks has battled injuries all season and it's hard to say how far behind that has put him. John Knox has seen a lot of action this year, and his role has increased as the year has progressed. He has potential, but even after a full season, he hasn't exactly earned the coaches' trust. Baccari Rambo gets rave reviews from teammates and coaches, Nick Williams has gotten lots of special teams action this year, and Makiri Pugh has potential, but all are wild cards when it comes to the secondary in 2009.

VERDICT: C- (B if Allen returns)


The Cuatro said...

if Toby Jackson qualifies early and gets to Athens this Spring, I could see him starting by midseason at DE. If not, another one of the freshman, namely Washington could make a push.

Anonymous said...

I don't see chris davis giving up his spot. I thought he became one of the main leaders on the line this year.

I'm also excited to see what joe cox can do. I think he's capable of being a very good college qb.

David Hale said...

I think Davis becomes a sort of jack-of-all trades guy in the interior. You'll see him sub for Jones at center and get in at guard with Boling subbing for Bean sometimes. The fact is though -- who is Davis better than? I can't see CMR benching Jones or Bean given how they played at such a young age, and Sturdivant, Vance and Boling -- if healthy -- are locks for the starting lineup.

Chazington said...

Cordy Glenn will not be on the bench. He is a future all American. He will man one of the tackle positions. He is out of position at guard.

The coaches will move Bean inside to guard, his natural position and Glenn will start at RT or LT (until Sturdivant gets back).

David Hale said...

I like the discussion on the O line, but the fact remains, there's only 5 starting spots and UGA will have 8 worthy starters. Someone has to sit. My guess is that Cordy and Chris Davis will likely be on the bench, but I could be wrong. We've got a long way to go before that point. I'd just like to point out though that Jones has Center locked up and Bean beat out Cordy this season after three games. Sturdivant and Boling are definite starters, and if Vance is completely healthy (which he should be by September) it's hard to sit him. Just goes to show how deep the unit should be.

Anonymous said...

Man, what a great BLOG! None of the trash on other sites, real football talk, imagine that!

Do you think we have a chance in getting Brown out of Memphis. What about Massey out of Hargrave? Any 2009 guys have the chance to impact like AJ did this year? Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Next year comes down to defense and special teams. The offense will be good but with Stafford and Moreno gone there will be a drop off. No offense to the other guys but these guys are 1st round picks and that is hard to replace.

I must admit the thought of CWM's defense going against OK State in the opener scares me to death.