There is no question things are not the same in Athens. Since 2007, the Bulldogs have seen their win total dwindle each season. Georgia won 11 games in 2007, but it then dropped to 10, then to eight and last year they would compile a 6-7 record which would be the first time since 1996 the Bulldogs would have a losing season.
But things look to be different this year. With the return of quarterback Aaron Murray and a group of incoming freshman which were called the “Dream Team” during the recruiting process, the Bulldogs look to climb back to the top of the SEC mountain. It’s not going to be easy, especially with the team opening up with Boise State and follow that game with defending SEC East champion South Carolina. But with all the pieces in place, this team is poised to be back on top.
THE OFFENSE …
As far as the offense goes, it all starts and ends with Murray. Last season, Murray threw for 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns. With the success he had last season, he is considered by many as the best quarterback in the SEC.
What will make Murray better is a consistent running game, which is something Georgia hasn’t had the last few years. Georgia hopes that all changes this year as they brought in five-star recruit Isaiah Crowell to be the premier back. Crowell is fast, has great vision and is expected to have the same impact as Marcus Lattimore did for South Carolina last year. Richard Samuel, who was a linebacker last year, has moved back to running back to provide depth since Caleb King and Washun Ealey left the team.
Bruce Figgins will be the No. 1 fullback and provides great blocking and receiving skills. Figgins played tight end the last few years but like Samuel, he moved to fullback to add depth.
With A.J. Green gone, the Bulldogs now have to find a No. 1 receiver. All fingers point to Taverres King who had a solid 2010 campaign. According to Phill Steele, King is on his watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. Starting on the opposite side is Marlon Brown and the coaches are hoping this will be his breakout year. Rantavious Wooten will be the third receiver and should help the offense stretch the field with his speed.
But the best receiver may be tight end Orson Charles. Because of his size at 6-foot-3 and 241 pounds, Charles is nearly impossible to defend and always seems to find a way to get open. He should have another strong season, especially with Murray throwing him the ball.
The offensive line has had its ups and downs over the last few years, so that will be a question mark coming into the season. Center Ben Jones and tackle Cordy Glenn are two of the best in the conference and if both players stay healthy, the O-Line will be fine. Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and former nose tackle Justin Anderson round out the starting five.
THE DEFENSE …
Last year, Georgia was in its first year in the 3-4 and they had their share of growing pains. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham worked hard in the offseason to get the right players in place for this year, and the unit appears to be much improved from last season.
The defensive line will feature nose tackle Kwame Geathers and defensive ends Abry Jones and DeAngelo Tyson. Geathers looks to build on a productive spring, as he was named the MVP for the defense in the spring game. Tyson had a solid 2010 year which included 16 tackles against Georgia Tech. Jones had 35 tackles last season and six QB pressures. Also look for John Jenkins to share some playing time with Geathers at the nose. Jenkins is a transfer from Gulf Coast Community College and is expected to make an immediate impact.
The linebackers will be led by Christian Robinson and Alec Ogletree. Robinson is ready to be the leader of the defense and really came into his own last year. Ogletree played safety last season but the coaches wanted him to play linebacker so he could make more impact plays. Jarvis Jones and Cornelius Washington are the outside linebackers but don’t be surprised to see Ray Drew in the mix. Drew, a true freshman from Valdosta, Ga. has had a great camp before being sidelined with an injury after a scooter accident.
Brandon Boykin is the leader of the secondary and is the best cover corner on the team. He will likely match up with the opponent’s No. 1 receiver each week. Branden Smith will start the other corner spot and even though he is extremely fast, he does not have the same cover skills as Boykin. Sanders Commings and Shawn Williams will be the starting safeties for the opening game. Commings is starting in place of Bacarri Rambo for the first game because he will be suspended. Rambo improved as last season progressed and end the season with three interceptions.
It will be hard to find and special teams unit better than the Bulldogs. Punter Drew Butler is considered one of the best in the country, if not the best. Kicker Blair Walsh is one of the most accurate kickers in all of college football last year and he also could break the school record for most points in a career as he stands at 303.
The return game is also top-notch. Boykin has been one of the best kickoff returners in the county for the last couple of years and is the only player in SEC history to have three 100-yard plays of any kind.
The Bulldogs have all the tools to get back to the SEC title game. They have an elite quarterback, playmakers on defense and the special teams unit is one of the best in the country. But they have to limit the mistakes and play disciplined football, which is something they have struggled with the last couple of years. Head coach Mark Richt has done a great job in his tenure at Georgia, but he knows the pressure is on for him to win right now. Can the Bulldogs get back to the top and forget about what happened last year? Only time will tell.