As I have said before, I am more uncertain than I have ever been leading into a Dawgs season opener. Usually by this point, I at least feel like I have a good idea of what kind of team we have…even if that idea sometimes turns out to be wrong (cf. 1997 and 2007). This year, I just have so many questions about such critical aspects of this team that I am no longer sure WHAT I think.
So, to help me sort it out, I decided to try and lay out what I feel like I DO know going into this season, as well as the factors that are causing me to flip-flop like a Democratic Senator.
- AJ Green is the truth. The most physically gifted receiver we have ever had, at least as far back as I can remember. Has supposedly put on an additional 10-15 pounds while not losing any speed. This guy will demand double teams and still put up big time numbers.
- Offensive line should be a position of strength. Sturdivant appears to be back to 100%, as does Vince Vance. The starting lineup of Sturdivant, Davis, Jones, Glenn, and Boling stacks up with anybody, plus some pretty good quality depth with Bean and Vince Vance as the first two reserves. A lot of versatility, as well, since so many of these guys have been forced to play different positions due to injury.
- Nobody should be able to run up the middle on us with any kind of success. Owens, Atkins, Weston and Tyson comprise a truly impressive rotation at defensive tackle, and Abry Jones may be too good to redshirt as well. Put Darryl Gamble, Rennie Curran, and a rejuvenated Darius Dewberry behind them, and you’ve got an extremely stout core to build around.
- We will be fast. Years of recruiting the best athletes in the country mean that this team will be the fastest I can ever remember us fielding. AJ Green, Michael Moore, and Tavarres King at WR. Orson Charles and Aron White at TE. Richard Samuel (who Bobo recently named as the fastest RB he can remember us having at UGA in his time there) and Carlton Thomas at RB. Rennie Curran, Darryl Gamble, Akeem Dent, and others at LB. Prince Miller and Brandon Boykin (not to mention Branden Smith) at CB. Bryan Evans (believed by many to be the fastest guy on the team) and Reshad Jones at safety. Cornelius Washington (my dark horse impact player candidate) at DE. Speed, speed, speed. Of course, I often say that if you’re not disciplined enough (as we obviously weren’t on defense last year), that much speed only means you get can get out of position REALLY quickly, but I don’t see us being “out-athlete-ed” at any point this year, and that includes the mighty Gators.
Now for the scary part…
- The schedule. I almost put this in the “Known” category, just because it is so widely recognized as being brutal. But, really, nobody knows at this point. Remember, at this time last year, we all thought that beating Arizona State on the road would really mean something. So, in the midst of all the hand wringing about the schedule, I just wanted to make this point…you really can’t judge a schedule’s strength until the season is over. Injuries, new coaching schemes, unknown new players (either freshmen or guys who are getting their first shot at playing time)…all of these factors could turn a game against, say, Georgia Tech from a tough task to a relatively easy week, or vice versa.
- Joe Cox. Let me reiterate…I love this guy. I love his attitude, his leadership, his ginger complexion…I love it all. But we have no idea what he is going to be like as the starting QB for this team. We’ve seen him start one game, against Ole Miss three years ago, and see significant playing time in only one other game, the great comeback against a terrible Colorado team the same year. I would love to think that his leadership, throwing accuracy, and knowledge of the offense will be enough to compensate for any other physical shortcomings. For that matter, I don’t think his physical tools are as lacking as a lot of people seem to…but we have no way of knowing until the bullets start flying.
- Can we get AJ Green some help? Because we know that AJ Green is a freak, we also know this…whomever the WR is that lines up opposite him, they are going to see tons of one-on-one coverage. Teams are going to scheme specifically to stop AJ, especially early on. The onus falls on somebody to take advantage of this. Michael Moore seems to be the solid #2. He played very well at the end of the year last year, culminating in probably his best game of the year in the Citrus Bowl. He also caught a couple of TDs in the spring game, if memory serves correctly. If he can take advantage of the one-on-one he is going to see a lot of, there will be plays to be made. We can also hope that T. King, Orson Charles, Aron White, et. al will find some additional room to roam over the middle. The point is, there will be opportunities to make defenses pay for paying too much attention to AJ…do we have anyone willing and able to step up and exploit them?
- Do we have enough at running back? Kind of an addendum to the last point. Our running game has to be enough to give teams something else to worry about. The offensive scheme favored by Bobo relies heavily on a successful running game to get in favorable down and distance and set up the play action. This will be especially important this year, now that we no longer have Matt Stafford’s canon arm to bail us out of bad situations at times. The O-line should certainly be providing room to run. Who is going to step into Knowshon’s huge shoes? Richard Samuel has apparently locked up the #1 spot for now, but how much of that was his performance and how much was the fact that Caleb King couldn’t stay healthy? Samuel showed flashes last year, but had well-publicized problems holding on to the ball. Supposedly, that has improved during fall camp, and as I mentioned earlier, Bobo speaks very highly of him. The one aspect of his game that apparently still needs work is his pass-catching, which is certainly not unexpected from a converted linebacker. Definitely look for Carlton Thomas and Caleb King to be called on to make plays in the passing game. The hope is that, between the three of them, we have enough to adequately replace what we’ve lost in Moreno, as well as just be the force that Bobo’s offense needs in order to be successful.
- Where’s the pass rush? Just like Bobo’s offense needs a dominant rushing attack to succeed, Coach Martinez’s defense needs ferocious pass-rushing defensive ends. This point was made PAINFULLY obvious last year. This one I truly have no idea about. Justin Houston supposedly had a great spring, but he’s out for the first two games due to stupidity. Roderick Battle has been unstoppable in scrimmages after being hurt much of last year, but he’s going against backups, and the QB hasn’t actually been live. I’ve mentioned before that I think Cornelius Washington could be a real factor…he was a beast in high school, and has supposedly put on around 30 pounds of muscle while still maintaining his speed. But, obviously, he has never done anything at this level. This may be the most crucial question mark for a defense that needs desperately to bounce back.
- The secondary. This area still scares me, too. At cornerback, we have one guy coming back with any kind of experience at all, Prince Miller. Outside of him, we are relying on young players with virtually no game experience. I have high hopes for Boykin and Branden Smith, but they are still extremely green. At safety, we have one converted cornerback (Bryan Evans) and one all-world athlete who has not yet shown the ability to transform athletic ability into football skills. Couple the inexperience and question marks in the secondary with an inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, and…well, you get the picture.
So, you see my problem…on one hand, I have always been what many message board vets would classify as a “Disney Dawg”…I am generally optimistic, I tend to give players/coaches the benefit of the doubt, etc. On the other hand, there is a lot about this team that I just truly can’t get a good handle on, and at some crucial areas. If it all breaks correctly…if Joe Cox turns out to have physical skills that match his mental fortitude, if the defensive end production returns to the level to which we have become accustomed, if Richard Samuel becomes more Robert Edwards and less Petey Jones, if Reshad Jones finally lives up to his massive potential, if, if, if….well, if all of that, or even MOST of that happens, then I don’t see anybody I’m skurred of, even (::GASP::) those Mighty Gators.
But since ifs and buts AREN’T candy and nuts, I don’t know that our Christmas will be completely merry. I’m going to chicken out, show no guts whatsoever, and predict 9-3, just like everybody else…
You know what? NO. Screw it. We go 11-1, including an immensely satisfying upset in Jacksonville, beat LSU (again) in the SECCG, and go on to beat Texas to win the MNC.
“Disney Dawg”, my butt.