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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fierce Fall Competitions

In my post this morning, I mentioned the battle for playing time at inside linebacker between Christian Robinson and Marcus Dowtin, which got me to thinking: With fall camp only six weeks away, which spots on the depth chart are still up for grabs?

Theoretically, the coaches will probably tell you all of them are up for grabs, but here's my take on what the best battles will be during the month of August, from least intriguing to most intriguing.

Wide Corner

Going into spring practice, this looked like a moot point, with Branden Smith the shoo-in for the gig. Then Vance Cuff decided he liked how new secondary coach Scott Lakatos was handling things, turned in a monthlong performance that outshines anything he had done during his first three years on campus, and now we have ourselves a real competition. Cuff ended the spring atop the depth chart, but the battle will no doubt continue into the fall. What takes some of the excitement away from this competition, however, is that both are likely to see plenty of playing time, with Brandon Boykin sliding into the nickel role on obvious passing downs.

Tight End

Four potential starters, one starting job. That should make for a fun competition this fall. Orson Charles is the guy atop the depth chart, and judging by his strength numbers at the end of the spring -- 26 reps of 225 on bench -- he's bulked up a bit to improve his blocking. Charles had a very strong start to his career last season while splitting time with Aron White, and he'll be an instant mismatch every week. Still, his blocking was a mixed bag in 2009, and White has plenty of skills as a receiver, too. Add to the mix the return of Bruce Figgins, the team's best blocking tight end, and Arthur Lynch, who showed a ton of flash on G-Day, and there's reason to think the coaches should try to find some PT for all four of these guys.


Truth be told, I'll be surprised if someone other than DeAngelo Tyson wins this job, but there might be a bit more competition there than you'd think. Tyson is easily the most experienced of anyone vying for PT at the nose, and he's certainly got a lot of talent -- but at just 6-foot-2 and a touch under 300 pounds, he's certainly not the prototypical build for the job. On the other hand, 6-foot-6, 325-pound Kwame Geathers could be a nice fit, and he's made some very big strides since arriving late last fall out of shape and unprepared. Geathers would be more of a work-in-progress, but I liked what I saw from him as the spring progressed and he might be ready to push for the starting spot by September. Then you have the wild card in Justin Anderson, who has yet to officially practice on the defensive side of the ball since moving from the O line in January. An injury kept him on the sidelines all spring, but Mark Richt raved about the possibilities of having Anderson at nose this season despite the fact that he's yet to see the big man at work. "He is a big, giant, powerful man," Richt said of Anderson. "And if he can take to it, I think he's going to be tough to block."

Punt Returner

Now that Warren Belin seems to have a better take on how to cover a kickoff, there's every reason to believe Georgia's special teams could be absurdly good this year. But while Brandon Boykin returns after taking three kickoffs to the house, Drew Butler returns to defend his Ray Guy Award, and Blair Walsh hopes to go from finalist to winner of the Lou Groza Award… there's still a question as to who might be returning punts.

Of course, there's no lack of candidates. Branden Smith handled kick returns last year and has the breakaway speed to be a star. Of course, he also had some fumbling issues, including one that keyed the second-half collapse against Kentucky last year. Then you have Richard Samuel, who has also shown some ability in the return game. And he's also had fumbling problems. Plus, Samuel could end up in a redshirt in 2010. Then there's Carlton Thomas. Except he's had some issues with fumbling, too. Oh, and then there's the idea of maybe, possibly, just-for-kicks using A.J. Green for the job. That seems risky to me… but is it any riskier than using three guys who have a propensity for putting the ball on the ground? Bacarri Rambo, Rantavious Wooten and (gasp!) Logan Gray could all be option, too.

Left Tackle

OK, this is a bit of a misnomer here because there's no chance Clint Boling ends up on the bench. But that doesn't mean he'll be playing left tackle either. Mike Bobo told us pretty explicitly this spring that if Trinton Sturdivant is healthy enough to start in the fall, he'll be playing left tackle. That's a big "if" though, and we won't know the answer on that for a while -- maybe not even for a few weeks into the season. Of course, if Sturdivant does come back, that shifts Boling -- either to right tackle or right guard, most likely. So what happens to Josh Davis or Chris Davis then? Talking to Josh Davis last week, he said he's not concerned with any possible shake-ups -- and given how well the line played after he entered the lineup midway through the season last year, he's probably in good shape regardless. But how do you bench Chris Davis after the guy has started all but one game for the past three years? Don't get me wrong -- having six worthy starting O linemen is a good problem to have, but it's still a problem without much of an answer right now.

Inside Linebacker

I discussed the Dowtin-Robinson battle in my post earlier today -- and, of course, Richard Samuel and Daryl Gamble could add some wrinkles to the depth chart, too. I suspect, however, that Dowtin's real battle will be with himself. If he's learned a few tough lessons this spring and offseason and can prove to Warren Belin that he'll be a consistent performer, it's going to be awfully tough to keep him off the field.

Strong Safety

In my humble opinion, there's not a better battle this fall, and the good news is that there are plenty of worthwhile candidates. Nick Williams currently resides atop the depth chart, and he has the potential to be a Thomas Davis-like hitter with good speed to boot. He's got the biggest smile and brightest attitude of anyone on the team by far… but on the field, he can be a bad, bad man. I like that. Then you have JuCo transfer Jakar Hamilton, who earned the nickname "The Hit Man" at GMC after laying out one devastating blow after another. He seems to have picked things up quickly this spring, and he's got a future in the NFL if he continues to progress. Then there's Alec Ogletree, who theoretically could move to linebacker, but is currently practicing at safety and is easily Georgia's best true freshman. Add in darkhorse candidates like the veteran Quintin Banks or improved sophomore Shawn Williams and you've got a fantastic position battle and an absolute wealth of riches.

And while those are likely the only starting jobs really up for grabs, here are a couple of intriguing questions farther down the depth chart…

Outside Linebacker

The position is so thin that there will definitely be some playing time to be had for a few of the true freshmen -- Brandon Burrows, Dexter Morant and T.J. Stripling. How quickly that trio can progress likely determines how much PT they'll see, and it also will have an effect on where Gamble lines up throughout the fall.

Wide Receiver

The reports on Kris Durham and Tavarres King are so encouraging, it'd be tough to envision anyone other than those two handling the starting split end and slot positions. Still, Marlon Brown appears to be making strides, Rantavious Wooten really came on as the season progressed last year, and Israel Troupe will be in his fourth year in Athens. The wild card, of course, is Logan Gray. If he can do enough this summer and fall to secure some serious playing time, that probably makes his future a bit more clear. If he's buried behind Troupe and Michael Bennett on the depth chart, however, perhaps he decides QB is where he wants to be, which bumps Hutson Mason back down to third-string… maybe. Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how this shakes out.


It's doubtful anyone other than Shaun Chapas or Fred Munzenmaier will see much action this season, but both will be gone in 2011, and it'd be nice for Georgia to get an idea of who might step into their place. Fullback has probably been the most consistent position of any on the field during the Mark Richt era, but 2011 remains up for grabs. Charles White doesn't appear anywhere close, but the addition of newcomer Zander Ogletree could be just what the Bulldogs are looking for. If not… it's anyone's guess as to who follows in the impressive legacy left by Verron Haynes, J.T. Wall, Brannan Southerland and the two guys currently residing in Georgia's backfield.

So, what battle are you looking forward to watching the most this fall?


NCDawg said...

The battle for UGA. I know many are being considered, but only one is chosen. What is happening with our I12th man?

Anonymous said...

Safety and TE will be fun to watch, because we have so much depth. Nose, WR and OLB will be interesting, too . . . but probably in more of a "pacing, muttering, nail-biting, impulsively destroying kitchen appliances" sort of way.

Woolly Butts said...

David, welcome back! Gone only one day? Seemed like a month.

I don't think it's a big deal who starts, or even who finishes. Aside from QB, you need to go 2-3 deep at each position. If guys can play, they will. Geno Atkins played "behind" Weston and Owens last year but got drafted ahead of both. Did it matter who took the first snap, when RG rotated guys in on the first series?

On TE in particular, it's a matter of formation more than anything else. With the shortage at WR, we may run lots of 2 TE sets with Charles or White split out, or monster sets with Figgins and Lynch plus one more for short yardage or goal line. All can play, and will. And Figgins has shown pretty good hands and has mostly played injured, so he may end up being the most complete of all the TEs.

Same with DBs and LBs, depending on down and distance. Focusing on who starts overlooks who will play in what scheme against what formation, and how that is adaptable to other teams' personnel packages.

So, at the risk of undermining excitement in June by saying these things don't matter that much, I simply make the case that guys who can play, will play, and I look forward to seeing them all kick some booty this fall.

Go Dawgs!

Andy said...

This post shows how much talent Georgia has. Many of these battles consist of 2 or 3 all-SEC calibur players. Regardless of how the o-line, dt, safety, cb, and tight end races come out, we have championship talent as long as the players pick up the new defense well and Murray protect the football. Even if an SECOND championship is slightly out of reach this year, good thing lay ahead for the dawgs.

As for the position battle I find the most interesting, I think that has to be safety. Williams, Hamilton and Ogletree could all have break out years, and it will be hard to pick one over the other 2.

Andy said...

Sorry about the all caps "SECOND" in my post. Dang blackberry auto types it when I type "SEC".

Carter said...

I would speculate that the position battles on the DL and ILB won't be sorted out until mid-October. ILBs in the 3-4 have to cover less ground horizontally but more ground vertically than in the 4-3, if that makes sense. Also, if we struggle at nose the ILBs play becomes all the more important. If Reuben Faloughi and a freshman or 2 can step up at OLB, I think we would be better off having Gamble kick back inside. I really wish TJ Stripling's HS had placed a stronger emphasis on weight-training and nutrition.

The key to success for this season will be how mentally prepared and poised Murray and the defensive front 7 are. Mistakes are going to be made, so we have to limit them and pray for fortuitous timing when they do occur.

David said...

David - I know this is off the subject, but what's the story on Gordon Beckham? The Braves are playing the White Sox tonight and I just heard they have brought up a new hot shot third baseman. That can't be good.

Woolly Butts said...

David (not Hale), Beckham was moved to 2nd base in the offseason--his 3rd position in 3 years, which I assume has contributed to his troubles at the plate this year (hitting about .200 and at one point considered for demotion to the minors) and in the field (quite a few errors, which is typical of players who keep getting moved around). But 2nd base is a good position for him--the CWS like the young talent at SS and 3B, and 2B-men rarely hit as well as Beckham will once he settles into the position.

David said...

Thanks Woolly

Anonymous said...

David don't go!

Jeffrey said...


Make sure your replacement is good---worst news of my day.

David Hale said...

Yup... Sorry guys. I'll post something about these vicious (though reasonably accurate) rumors in the morning.

Kathleen said...

What? I haven't heard the rumors...



fuelk2 said...

Man, gonna miss you. I guess you decided to move on after Lost went off the air, huh? Understandable.

In all seriousness, this is a big hit to my daily reading routine. Great job and best of luck.

I'll always remember the time you asked CMR a question related to a comment I posted. That was awesome.

Jeffrey said...

Yea dude, seriously, congrats on the new job. A little jealous of Phillies fans (although if you look at the standings, ur picking a loser).

Couldn't have done this job any better. The UGA community will miss you.

Red said...

I have never really been a commenter but always an avid reader and a big fan of your work David. Best beat-writer on the internet and always someone that we dawg fans could rely on to bring us the most in-depth and unbiased news. Remember us when you reach the top, and hopefully we instilled a little Red and Black in you. Wish you the best.

Muckbeast said...

I must say I am not looking forward to the story we are about to read. I haven't even read it yet and I am sad.

David, you have been a HUGE asset to us. You will be heavily missed.

Lucid Idiocy said...

If Logan Gray earns "serious playing time" at wide receiver this year, I will drive to Deleware and eat a copy of the phillies roster.

Also, I liked this line for understated analysis: "and Israel Troupe will be in his fourth year in Athens."