Friday, August 31, 2007


I am not sure if this was a service to mourn the passing of Michael's career or if it was just another "Karaoke Night" down at the Ebenezer. There is "making a joyful noise unto the Lord," and then there is this...

As we say, the spirit moves people in mysterious ways. Can I get an Amen?

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Here's why...

Enough has been said all over the Dawg Blogosphere about our green offensive line, small defensive ends and inexperienced linebackers and defensive backs. An equal amount of virtual ink has also been spilled about the juggernaut that is the Oklahoma State offense with weapons all over, great running game, great passing game and Boone Pickens shitting money all over the athletic program. Like 2005, Georgia has become the media favorite to get upset in a home opener by an offensive buzzsaw looking to gain national recognition in a "statement" game.

I will admit that there is a compelling case to let these reports worry you if you follow the bouncing ball of the marginally knowledgeable pundits. However, if you will stop staring at the spinning wheel and tune out the metronome you will easily recognize that the scenario that has Georgia losing to the Cowpokes always neglects the inescapable reality that for a large part of the game, the OSU defense will have to take the field and try to stop a Georgia offense that has an arsenal of weapons equally as impressive as OSU, if not more. Even with an inexperienced offensive line, the Georgia offense will score many points on OSU. Coach Mike Bobo will have a gameplan that works to the Dawgs' strengths and minimizes the impact of having such a green offensive line.

OSU couldn't stop anybody last year, so all of their games became track meets. The Georgia defense will make enough plays to keep this from becoming a track meet. I believe that OSU will score about 24 points, at most. Georgia will score over 30. The line is 6.5, which seems about right in my view. However, in the end, Georgia will prevail by about 10 points. My prediction is 34-24.

Key players for Georgia... I am expecting the three headed tailback of Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Knowshon Moreno to combine for a big day on the ground. Also, we will get the standard outstanding play from our fullback Brannan Southerland. Green o-line or not, we will run effectively on Saturday and that will make it easier for Stafford to make some plays throwing the ball. Mike Bobo will likely call a game with nearly equal plays running and passing. But, when it is in the books, it will be the ground game that impressed the most in this game.

On defense, I am looking for surprisingly good games from both ends who have been ignored after the loss of Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson to the NFL. The speed of Rod Battle and Marcus Howard should help contain OSU QB Bobby Reid while our beef inside will get a great push upfield all night. There is no way that OSU will run inside against Owens, Weston and Atkins. I am sure that OSU receiver Adarius Bowman will expose our small corners a time or two. But, I also expect Asher Allen will come up with an interception at some point as well - possibly in the end zone to kill a threat.

Finally, with Mikey Henderson returning punts, it is not a question of "if" it is a matter of "when." He is always a threat to go the distance and I will not be surprised to see him do that early on Saturday.

My pick for surprising performance of the day is Marcus Howard. He will chase Bobby Reid and OSU running back Dantrell Savage behind the line of scrimmage all evening and he has the speed to catch them. He will be fun to watch with his sub 4.5 speed coming off the edge.

GEORGIA 34 - OSU 24.

Here is Jody's preview of the Dawgs opening contest against the Cowboys of Oklahoma State...

Well, here we are. Pinch yourself folks, it’s football time in the South. Well, it’s football time everywhere, and its pretty big most places, but as we all know, in Athens, it’s pretty much everything. Enough foolishness, on to the stuff…

About our Visitors

Hailing from Stillwater, OK, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming to Athens for the first time since 1946. I decided to take a quick look at Stillwater and found a few things out. One, it’s a lot like Kansas…flat and generally devoid of distinguishing characteristics. Two, the whole dang city looks like it’s laid out on a perfect grid oriented north-south and east-west…Athens might as well be Paris or Rome (I’m making assumptions those cities aren’t grid-like because they’re old) when it comes to crazy side streets after looking at Stillwater so if you see a lost OSU fan, just point them in the general direction of Sanford. Three, apparently they gave us the fast food chain Sonic, which has given us some pretty funny commercials…that’s kinda cool. Four, Billionaire T. Boone Pickens’ donated money ($165 million or some such ridiculousness) has gone to make some pretty impressive upgrades to their athletic facilities. Their stadium (a little small by SEC standards) has a beautiful exterior and they’ve now added an amazing basketball facility adjacent to it. Impressive.

Lastly, take a look at their stadium and its immediate environment…they have parking lots, big ones, right near the stadium. To any OSU fans making the trip, don’t expect many of those at the door of Sanford. I imagine Pickens probably bought Winder or Watkinsville for traveling OSU fans to use as housing, but that’s about as close as you’re getting to park. Oh and another thing, Athens isn’t flat, so don’t expect that typical Big XII type thing where you see the stadium for 10 miles in all directions.

OSU Offense

· The OSU offense presents significant challenges for a UGA defense with more than a few questions that need to be answered. They have a devastating ground game featuring several speedy RBs, a mobile QB and an All-American level WR. Last season they were the 16th ranked total offense and the 7th ranked scoring offense. Not too shabby. They were held to 20 or less only once (Texas) and put 34 on the board 7 times…consequently, each of their 7 wins.

· At QB, former UGA recruiting target Bobby Reid is a dangerous pass-run threat entering his junior year. He’s a quite nimble load at 6-3, 235 but also an effective passer with a career completion percentage of 53%. He threw for over 2,000 yards last season with a sporty 24-11 TD to INT ratio. A closer look at the stats reveals some pretty erratic numbers. Digging deeper reveals that most of this is because the guy battled injuries. He got knocked out of the Texas A&M and Oklahoma games. Tossing those games out and looking at other comparable defenses to UGA, it really boils down to Texas and Alabama (Nebraska isn’t the Nebraska of old yet so they’re excluded here, good scoring D, bad yardage D…for the record, statistically speaking, UGA had better Ds than both Bama and Texas last year in both total yardage and points…I digress). In those two games (Texas and Bama), Reid only managed 26-57 (46%) for 334 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. Rushing-wise in those games he only managed 18 carries for 52 yards (under 3 ypc). Honestly it’s hard to get a feel for how good a runner the guy is as he was sacked 17 times last season and in the NCAA that counts against rushes. For the season, he averaged 4.2 ypc…Stafford averaged 4.1…Reid just runs a lot more. He’s a solid passer but he racked up 30% of his season’s passing yardage in 2 games (juggernauts Houston and Kansas). Heck, add the opener against Missouri St and you’ve accounted for half of his passing TDs (12) in those 3 games. He also admitted that he gets really nervous and amped up before games. Backup Zac Robinson is a Reid clone, very athletic and solid.

· Columbus native Dantrell Savage comes into the season as the starter at RB. While he won’t be scaring any of Barry Sanders’ OSU records, he is a very fast, smallish back that averaged an impressive 6.5 ypc. He split carries last season with a number of backs, otherwise his stats would be even more impressive. He’s not a tremendous receiving threat, averaging fewer than 1 reception per game. Backup Keith Toston had nearly as many carries as Savage and provides a little more muscle while having a nice 6.0 ypc. 3rd string RB Mike Hamilton transferred to GA Southern. UGA fans liked to talk about the 3-headed monster of Ware, Lumpkin and Brown…OSU actually had one, with Savage, Toston and Hamilton each going for over 540 yards on the season and averaging over 6.0 ypc combined. Throw in Reid’s 500 yards and this is a potent ground game.

· OSU’s major weapon on offense is WR Adarius Bowman. Like Calvin Johnson, Bowman is a big (6-4, 220), athletic WR that creates all kinds of difficult matchups just off his size and natural strength. Bowman transferred from UNC 2 years ago and broke onto the scene in a big way last year with 60 catches for almost 1,200 yards. With those prodigious numbers, it might surprise you that he only topped 100 yards receiving in 2 games…Houston and Kansas (again). He went absolutely crazy in that Kansas game, snagging 13 passes for 300 yards and 4 TDs. There’s a long list of potential complimentary WRs, but Bowman is clearly the star, snagging roughly a third of their completions and nearly half the yards last season. TE Brandon Pettigrew is solid, pulling down 24 passes last season with 3 TDs. At 6-6, 260 he’s a nice-sized target.

· OSU replaces two starters along the OL this season and features a varied unit with two sophomores, 2 juniors and a senior. LT Russell Okung started as a true freshman last year and is the most talented lineman they have. Opposite him will be converted LG David Koenig who will be adapting to the OT position. They average just under 300 pounds amongst the starters…not the biggest OL we’ll see, but not small be any means. They return 7 of their top 10 from last season, with 4 having started 5 games or more last season so there shouldn’t be a tremendous dropoff from last season’s performance although replacing all-Big 12 OT Corey Hilliard won’t be easy.

· Bottom Line: This is a balanced offense. They threw for 2,411 yards last season and rushed for 2,497…both great numbers. Granted, a chunk of those yards were against questionable competition, but they were gained nonetheless. As strong as their running game is, Reid is the key to the offense. When he’s on, these guys can score with anyone. Bowman is as good a WR as you’ll find, but it’s kind of the Calvin Johnson effect in that statistically it appears he disappears in big games, but it mostly has to do with his QB struggling to get him the ball. For him to do his job and take the game over, the OL has to protect and the QB has to execute. Against better Ds that’s obviously going to be harder to do each down. Their spread attack will move the ball, but against faster teams, they’ll struggle to put a ton of points on the board. They have some serious speed in the backfield and certainly have the offensive weapons to move the ball so this will be another challenge for Martinez.

· Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: Can we pressure Reid and when we do get pressure, can we contain him? Their OL did give up 19 sacks last year even with Reid and Robinson’s mobility. The more pressure we can put on him, the tougher it will be for them to get the ball to Bowman, who could really be a matchup problem for some of our smaller CBs. We’ll just have to avoid the mad upfield pass rush that opens up massive running lanes for Reid.

OSU Defense

· As lethal as the OSU offense was last season there had to be a reason they only finished with 7 wins. For reason #1, I present the OSU defense. They finished 89th in total defense (364 ypg) and 82nd in scoring defense (giving up 25.6 ppg). They struggled equally against the run (72nd) and pass (54th). They bring in a new DC, Tim Beckman, who was the Ohio State CB coach the last 2 years and was on staff with Urban Meyer before that.

· The 2007 OSU defense poses the age-old question, is losing 4 starters off a bad DL a bad thing? We’ll find out because that’s the case. The returning pass rushers at DE actually appear to be pretty solid, with Sr. Nathan Peterson being a potential all-conference selection. He racked up 8 sacks last season. Opposite him will be fellow senior Marque Fountain who pulled in 4.5 sacks and 13 TFLs last year. Both have battled injuries through their careers, thus muddying their career numbers. UGA fans are quick to point to the lack of size from Marcus Howard…Peterson is listed at 6-2, 240, exactly 5 pounds heavier than Howard (I say heavier, Howard is somehow now listed at 250, which can’t be right…he’s gained good weight, but not that much). Converted MLB Rodrick Johnson provides depth with Peterson. JUCO transfer Tonga Tea (great name) manages the NT spot and at 6-0, 310, he’s a load, but it’ll be his first game playing big-time college football (which works nicely since the same is true of a chunk of our OL depth chart). Maurice Commings gets the nod at DT and his 6-4, 275-lb frame will provide the pressure from the interior but eh senior has been largely unproductive in his career, managing only 1 start and 8 tackles.

· The LB spot for OSU is a source of considerable attention due in large part to the presence of former SLB Chris Collins. Collins moves to MLB this year. He’s a tackling machine when healthy and was leading the team in tackles last season before going down with a torn ACL 6 games in. On the football field he’s a terror at 6-2, 240. Off the field he’s a lightning rod for controversy considering the looming specter of his part in the rape of a 12-year old girl in his hometown. He’s been under investigation since May of 2004. It’s pretty sickening, but until it’s resolved, he’s playing, although probably a step slower until his knee completely recovers. WLB Patrick Lavine stepped in last season as a true freshman and managed to finish 2nd on the team in tackles but is listed as a co-starter at one of the OLB spots (fighting a nagging injury) with Jeremy Nathon who played well once Collins went down. Moving to the other OLB spot is converted FS Donovan Woods, who also happened to start at QB in 2004. Woods is a tremendous athlete and should adapt well, but he’s new to the position.

· Sophomore SS Andre Sexton is a burner at safety. He’s also a sure tackler, who led the team in tackles last season and managed 8.5 TFLs as well, not too shabby for a DB, especially a freshman DB. Converted WR Ricky Price has won the starting job at FS. Obviously he’ll have solid ball skills (I don’t know, maybe not, some WRs can’t catch a cold), it’ll just be an instincts issue back there for the first time. At CB, senior Martel Van Zant begins his final season. He had a solid 67 tackles last season with two INTs. Opposite Van Zant will be Jacob Lacey, a junior of nondescript experience who had a good Fall practice.

· Bottom Line: The defense actually returns several starters somewhere in the unit, the problem is some of the starters have shifted to other positions and/or lost their jobs, so the whole “they’re returning 8 starters on defense” thing isn’t entirely accurate. While this might be a good thing considering the shakiness of the D in general last season, it destabilizes some of their experience. Starting a converted WR at safety and a converted safety at LB should speed up the overall defense but there will be an adjustment period. I expect us to present a balanced attack on Saturday, a tenant of the Richt era in Athens. I wouldn’t be surprised (given our young OL) if we don’t try to simplify things early on and just run the ball at them to open up the pass later. I’m even more inclined to think this way after looking at the shakiness of their interior DL. Load up behind Velasco and let’s just keep those RBs fresh. Heck, with Bobo back there, who knows.

· Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Can this oh-so-young OL of ours (with so much potential) manage to open holes for our RBs while closing holes for their D? If we can establish a ground game, it will make Stafford’s life that much easier once we start to throw it some.

The OSU Game Overall

I’m not going to make the overdone comparison of Oklahoma State being 2007’s version of an over-hyped opponent (Boise St) coming into Athens looking to prove themselves and trying to win a statement game. This is a much better team than the one Dan Hawkins brought here two years ago. Oklahoma State is a quality opponent with an explosive offense that plays in a BCS conference. While Sanford will be intimidating, it’s not like playing in Lincoln or Austin or Norman is a walk in the park. I would equate this team to Kentucky. Questionable defense, explosive offense, right down to the oversized QB. Could they beat us? Absolutely (seems like that happened not too long ago). Should they beat us? No, we’re simply a deeper, more talented, mo-better team. I’m not saying that from a point of pride or arrogance, I’m simply stating what history has proven. Oklahoma State won seven games last year and it’s resulted in people talking about them as a hot team. UGA won 9 games last season and people were wondering what was wrong with them.

Take a closer look at what the Cowboys did last season and you’ll see a few things pop out at you. We’ve already talked about how much their defense struggled last season, but averaging giving up nearly 31 per game over your final 9 games is horrible, no matter who you’re playing, and it’s not like they got to that average by giving up 60 to Texas or anything like that, they were consistently bad, giving up 30 or more 6 times (for reference, under Richt, UGA has given up 30 or more 4 times…since he arrived…6 seasons ago). The least amount of points OSU gave up in that 9-game stretch was 24 in a blowout win over Baylor. The most was 36 to Texas. They somehow managed to give up 34 to Houston, a team that lost to Lousianna-Lft. I guess their best defensive performance of the season was managing to only give up 27 against rival Oklahoma.

For even more warm and fuzziness, take a gander at a few of Richt’s pertinent records. One, in openers, Richt is 6-0, including 3-0 against OOC opponents that wear orange (Clemson twice and BSU once). Two, Richt is 25-2 in non-conference games, with neither of those losses coming in Athens (both in bowl games). This is a coach that knows how to prepare his teams.

Look, I know that reading this it may or may not come off like I think we’re going to destroy OSU. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the outcome and I try to write about these things as objectively as possible, but this is a team that lost on the road to Houston and Kansas St. Their first road game last year was Ark St (who travels TO that place?)…after that game (where they gave up 7), in their final 5 road games, they gave up 30 or more in EACH contest (including Houston, KSt, Kansas, Texas and TT)…that’s not good. These guys have some offensive punch and it kept them in a bunch of games. Outside of Texas their worst loss was 9 points, but their defense kept the other teams in as well. If we can force some turnovers and keep our offense on the field, I like our chances.

Positional Notes

· I was more than a little disappointed to hear that Moreno has been putting the ball on the ground some lately. It’s the first chink I’ve heard in this guy’s armor.

· It looks like Figgins will start at TE in Tripp Chandler’s suspended absence. He’s still drawing praise from Richt for his blocking prowess, so something tells me that’s why he got the nod. Ward’s not far behind.

· Bailey sitting early this week with a concussion is frustrating because I think he’ll really add a nice dimension to our passing attack. It looks like he’ll play, but I want everyone loggin mintues right now so the WRs and Stafford can be clicking.

· The loss of S Antavious Coates to his 4th (that’s right, 4) ACL injury doesn’t really impact the depth chart as he was fighting for 3rd string, but it’s difficult to see a kid who tried so hard so many times to see the field, only to be unable to do so for physical reasons. That’s tough.

· You all know about the OL. It’s young and the backups are younger. Richt is convinced that new OL coach Stacey Searels is the best in the country. He’ll certainly be given every opportunity to prove it with all these youngsters in the mix.

Random Thoughts

· In writing this, I was looking back over the writeup for the Sugar Bowl. I made the comment that “Some of these bowl games are just bad. New Mexico was playing San Jose St the other day. I couldn’t even watch it.” I’d kill to watch that game right now I’m so ready to see some meaningful football after watching completely meaningless NFL preseason games.

· So I take it Sports Illustrated has bought into the whole “Saban is the 2nd coming” thing. I mean, they already put the guy on their cover and he hasn’t even lost to Auburn yet. I think they did it because he’s already outlasted the Mike Price tenure.

· I’m about ready for Tennessee to stop scheduling these out-of-conference games against schools where the SEC’s rep is at stake, making me pull for them. For the record, the national media seems to have fallen right back in the trap they fell in last year with regards to that game. Here I am again, stuck (grudgingly) pulling for UT.

· OK, I’m sure during the broadcast we’ll be inundated with a ton of references and comparisons to the two great running backs in OSU and UGA’s histories, Barry Sanders and Herschel Walker. You’ll probably also encounter a few OSU fans who are interested in exploring this comparison. Be patient with them. The fact of the matter is, there’s no denying Sanders was a special player, easily one of the all-time greats, and his best collegiate season certainly eclipses anything anyone else has ever been able to do (for one year). He was also a much better pro RB (although Herschel was a better pro than many give him credit for). With all that being said, Herschel is still the better college back overall. I say that without question because Sanders simply didn’t do it for long enough. His one great year can’t surpass what Walker did over 3 seasons where he was arguably the top player in college football each year. Sanders was a backup for his first two seasons. I understand he was backing up another future hall-of-famer, but if you’re the best ever, you don’t sit for two seasons behind anyone. Sanders’ 1st two seasons resulted in 1,000 yards combined rushing. Look, don’t get me wrong, Sanders is/was an amazing RB, and it’s debatable about what would have happened had he been allowed to start for 3 years, all I can tell you is this: Barry Sanders never competed in the Olympics…enough said.

· Ho-hum, another year, another Little League World Series champion from Georgia.

· I guess I thought T. Boone Pickens was going to look like a cross between Yosemite Sam and Boss Hogg…I mean the guy’s an oil baron from Oklahoma. Well, he doesn’t. He looks like Locke’s dad from the TV show Lost. If you don’t watch Lost, you’re too late. You’re simply not going to catch up now…and you might be better of for it. I won’t bother telling you which is which.

· I love the tradition of the honorary captain for each home game. I always look forward to seeing who they’ve brought back to speak to the team. It’s the little things guys.


Here is a preseason write up that I received from a friend of a friend. I hope the author, Jody, will not mind that I am posting it here.

We’re almost back around to the time of year we all look forward to. It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 months since we watched that amazing Peach Bowl comeback. It’s also hard to believe we’re just over a week from watching football in Sanford again. For those of you familiar with my diatribes, take this for what it’s worth, one fan’s perspective on the team. I don’t pretend to know everything. This is merely for fun and hopefully it will be an enjoyable read to get you more ready for the season (as if you needed help on that).

The State of the Program

It’s really hard to fathom that this will be Richt’s 7th season between the hedges. He’s developed nicely from an un-trained, oft-questioned first-year head coach into a man widely regarded as one of the top coaches in the country, much less the SEC. His greatest strength might very well be that he’s willing to acknowledge his weaknesses (recall that he got some offseason coaching after 2001 because he felt he had some in-game clock management issues), and this year marked perhaps the largest step Richt has taken towards improving a perceived flaw as he handed off Playcalling and Offensive Coordinator status to QB coach Mike Bobo. While fans had clamored for Richt to step aside from these duties off and on for the entirety of his tenure, there are still some questions as to how exactly this whole thing will play out.

Bobo coordinated two games last season, both wins, with one being a solid, if unspectacular, win over a good GT defense (with a brilliant final drive) and the other a veritable offensive explosion against another good defense in VT. It’s widely accepted that the players love what Bobo is doing with the offense and we can expect to see more motion, more formations, etc., but I don’t expect a wholesale departure from the offense that has been extremely successful in most all statistical categories since Richt’s arrival. While we never really saw the offense many thought he’d bring from FSU that some assumed would set the SEC on its ear, that can be attributed to a couple of things…one, the better defenses in the SEC and two, the rule modifications made by the SEC to curtail the use of the no-huddle (rules that specifically referenced Richt on their arrival).

While the defensive staff underwent no changes (stability has largely been a hallmark of the Richt staff), the offense saw a significant change in addition to the announcement of Bobo as OC with the departure of Neil Callaway and the addition of Stacy Searles. Searles comes to Athens from LSU where he managed to put together a string of amazing offensive lines. He is a young, fiery coach that has already left his mark on the OL by abandoning the Split-Tight designations favored by Callaway to the more traditional Left-Right designation. Early returns are that the players love him. If you were going to change OL coaches, now would be the time as we brought in a ton of OLs in the recruiting class and return only two upperclassmen. Before you get completely freaked out, we returned absolutely ZERO upperclassmen OLs in 2003 and managed to win the East (while setting a record for sacks allowed along the way).

Don’t ask me what the season holds this year, there are plenty of questions, and I don’t think anyone has any idea what the answers will be until the whistle blows, but if nothing else, Richt has earned my trust that he’ll trot out a team that we can be proud of and one that won’t give up no matter what. It would’ve certainly been easy for UGA to roll over last year after the UK loss, but they rallied to beat 3 straight ranked opponents, leaving us all with a much sweeter taste in our mouths this offseason. I’m not so blindly optimistic as to think we’re going to win every game, we’ve simply got too many question marks along the OL and at various places in the defense to expect that, but every team has questions and it’s certainly possible that we could pull off a miraculous run. Certainly not probable, but possible.

Quick Position Rundown…I’ll try to keep it quick…

QBStafford certainly has all the things you look for in a QB…massive arm, mobile enough to stay upright (that might come in more handy this year), smart, charismatic, etc. He made big strides late in the year last year and from all accounts he’s continued that progression through the offseason. He managed to pull these stats together in the most recent scrimmage against our #2 D…14-17, 218 yards and 4 TDs to 4 different receivers. Now that’s exciting. Behind him, Joe Cox has been so good that Richt has announced Cox will get in for a series in the opener. Cox is the steady, confident backup every team wants. He’s a team favorite and he’s got a great approach to being the backup. We’re in a great spot at QB this year

  • Top Question: Will Stafford make the next step towards fulfilling his promise?
  • Future Star: You still have to go with Stafford.

RB – loaded again. Lumpkin returns for his senior season and Thomas Brown amazingly appears recovered from his ACL tear to be pushing for the start. They both are good, steady backs, with neither being a pure breakaway threat we’ve lacked for a few years. The buzz around redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno is as loud as any in recent years. True-freshman Caleb King is as talented a 4th string back as you’ll find and could be the homerun threat we’ve appeared to lack in recent years although camp hamstring injuries have kept him off the field and possibly heading for a redshirt.

  • Top Question: Will Moreno live up to the hype?
  • Future Star: Knowshon Moreno appears to have it all

FB – Southerland is beyond solid. He returns and brings two touted redshirts with him in Munzenmaier and Chapas. We’ve been blessed with excellent FB play under Richt, but Southerland is more than just a blocker, as evidenced by his lengthy reception in the G-Day game and his constant inclusion on short-yardage rushes.

  • Top question: Who wins out the #2 spot behind Southerland?
  • Future Star: Fred Munzenmaier has the size you want plus a great football name.

WR – This is a strength in numbers position. We’ve got 13 guys (literally) that are vying for time and hopefully out of that bunch we can pull enough solid contributors to avoid the inconsistencies that dogged the position last season. MoMass struggled at times but closed the year with a series of clutch catches in the win over GT. Kenneth Harris has the measurables but disappeared often last season. The return of Sean Bailey and Demiko Goodman from injury should help to stretch the field. Youngsters Mike Moore and Tony Wilson will add a physical presence. AJ Bryant has always been on the cusp of a breakout. There’s a ton of talent in this unit, we just need for it to start showing.

  • Top question: Who steps up to become the go-to guy and can we catch the ball consistently?
  • Future Star: True Frosh Walter Hill has been generating some buzz but will likely redshirt

TE – Milner is gone to ATL. For the first time in years we don’t appear to have a true weapon at the TE position. Tripp Chandler is a solid option but he’s not going to be a guy that defenses key on like Watson, Pope or even Milner for that matter. NaDerris Ward has the size and speed, but he missed a chunk of spring, hindering his development. Figgins has been impressive early. Aron White is like Weapon X (whatever that is)…he’s a hybrid that the coaches want to get on the field.

  • Top question: Can Ward emerge as the next great UGA TE?
  • Future Star: Bruce Figgins appears to be a blocking machine

OL – This is where things start to get shaky. Gone are Inman, Shackleford and Jones, stalwarts of the OL for a number of years. In their place, we’re going to trot out a mixture of OLs that will likely result in not a single returning starter (at the same position) as the lone 2 returnees (Velasco and Adams at both guard spots) are presently slotted for OC and RT. A talented incoming freshman class and well-chosen JUCOs have resulted in enough bodies to fill out the depth chart, but it remains to be seen how this will affect the quality of the line. Given the nearly complete turnover in the depth chart (in addition to the departed starters, backups Watts and Smith are also gone), now is as good a time as any to bring in a new OL coach with his different schemes, nomenclature and techniques. Searles comes as highly regarded as an OL coach possibly could. If he manages to put together an effective line with this group, he’s worth every penny we paid him. Early Camp injuries to Adams (RT) and JUCO signee Scott Haverkamp (RG), together known as Team Extreme (self described), resulted in a line that consisted of 1 senior (Velasco), 1 redshirt-Frosh (Chris Davis) and no fewer than 3 true freshmen (Sturdivant, Boling and Bean). While that’s great for the future, it’s a significantly scary proposition for the immediate present. With injuries being such a potential issue for depth, Kiante Tripp offered to move over to OT from his DE spot. Richt has raved about the sheer athleticism Tripp brings to the spot and if he’s able to add a few pounds, don’t be surprised to see him out there, he’s going to be special. Don’t forget, he was a highly rated OT recruit out of HS.

  • Top question: Can Trinton Sturdivant adequately handle LT as a true freshman?
  • Future Star: Kiante Tripp has NFL OT written all over him

DT – Gant, Elmore and Dixson are gone. In their place we added JUCO signee Corvey Irvin and Ricardo Crawford and Brandon Wood from the redshirt ranks. Jeff Owens is the clear leader of this group, bringing quickness and surprising strength for his somewhat under-sized frame. He didn’t have quite the year last year many expected, mainly because expectations were so high. Kade Weston still has the potential to shine given his size and our needs. Geno Atkins seems to be a favorite of DT coach Rodney Garner. Last year was his first as a DL and he managed to see the field. I expect good things from him although he’s somewhat undersized as well. Jarius Wynn has cross-trained here as well and should provide some interior pass rush.

  • Top question: Can Irvin contribute immediately, shoring up our depth?
  • Future Star: Geno Atkins was impressive last year and should continue to improve

DE – Moses and Johnson didn’t have quite the season everyone pegged them to have, but they were still players that opposing OCs had to gameplan for. Right now, we don’t have anyone that is going to scare anybody right away. I feel like I should be more worried about DE than I am, but the last time I was concerned about DE was when I was wondering how we were going to replace Charles Grant’s QB pressure when it appeared an unathletic converted DT was slotted for his spot. That DT was Pollack and if you don’t remember, he turned out OK (3 time AA). The apparent starters right now are Howard and Battle, neither of whom is overly large, with Howard being downright small at 6-2, 235. Battle has been impressive in limited action, but he’s yet to prove he’s an every down DE in the SEC. There are a couple of impressive bodies in the redshirt freshman class in Dobbs and Lemon as well as redshirt sophomore Jeremy Lomax who has begun to add weight to his lanky frame. Dobbs in particular has been mentioned as developing nicely. Given the departure of both Tripp and Wynn from the DE position battle, the coaches have to feel pretty good about the situation there.

  • Top question: Can Battle turn his good numbers in limited time into an all-conf season?
  • Future Star: DeMarcus Dobbs sounds like he’s ready to step it up

LB – Jackson, Taylor and Verdun-Wheeler completed what seemed to be their 8th years of eligibility last season. Taylor will be most difficult to replace as he blossomed as a playmaker last season, making several clutch INTs and a particularly memorable fumble recovery and TD in the win over GT. After a brief, and somewhat misleading, fling at MLB, Brandon Miller moves back out to his more comfortable SLB spot which he’s manned for 3 years now. With that taking place, Ellerbe moves inside to MLB and Dewberry kicks over to WLB, where he could really raise some havoc. Ellerbe apparently go the coaches extremely excited with his play at MLB. Given his size (6-1, 235) and number (33), let’s hope for an Odell Thurman type season (on the field). Rennie Curran has been all that was advertised and appears to have nailed down the backup slot at WLB. Marcus Washington had a good camp and is entrenched as the backup at MLB after struggling with injuries and weight in his first two seasons in Athens. Akeem Dent is a very solid backup at SLB. LB is a solid 2 deep talent-wise but aside from Miller there’s not a whole lot of experience.

  • Top question: Can Ellerbe make an impact at MLB?
  • Future Star: Rennie Curran just screams future fan favorite

S – Tra Battle’s undersized body and oversized heart graduated. In his place, C.J. Byrd gets the nod initially to join Kelin Johnson as a starting safety. Both guys have good size and solid ball skills, but their backups are what have Dawg fans salivating. Reshad Jones showed at G-Day why he was the nation’s top rated safety out of HS. He’s got a nose for the ball and isn’t afraid to hit anybody. His fellow backup Quintin Banks appears to be the next in line for the Thomas Davis-Greg Blue guided missile award. Safety is in good shape.

  • Top question: How does Martinez get Jones on the field?
  • Future Star: Reshad Jones is living up to the hype so far

CB – Losing Oliver is tough, but if we could absorb the loss of a projected AA at any position, it would have to be CB. Even with his loss, we’ve got 4 young guys that I would feel comfortable seeing start in Allen, Miller, Evans and Ramarcus Brown. Allen has really had a good camp so far and Evans was starting to grow into his considerable talents before tweaking his hamstring. He really looked good at the end of last season. Prince Miller saw the field as a freshman last fall and is no slouch either. As if from nowhere, nearly forgotten senior Thomas Flowers appears to have taken a starting spot with Allen backing him up. Baldwin will provide depth. Vance Cuff took forever to get on campus but has drawn rave reviews from players and coaches and could possibly see the field. Brown sits the first two games but when he returns, he’ll provide another uber-talented underclassman body with starting experience to the table…we’re stacked at CB.

  • Top question: Is Evans ready to take his game to the next level?
  • Future Star: You pick...Allen, Evans, Miller, Brown and Cuff are all young…and good

ST – Coutu is everything you want in a kicker…big leg, no fear. He’s just unflappable. His injury might have been the most damaging injury we’ve received in recent years. He’s probably also our best punter but I’d be surprised if we asked him to do it. Mimbs and Kevin Butler’s son Drew are still battling it out for the job. Ely-Kelso struggled at times last season, so I wouldn’t expect a big drop off. Henderson and Flowers might be the top pair of punt returns in the country. We’ve got lots of weapons to try at the kick return spot. The new rules will likely force more teams to go to a directional kickoff, something we’ve been doing for years.

  • Top question: Who will win the punting job and can they excel? (OK, that’s two)
  • Future Star: Given his pedigree, I wouldn’t vote against Drew Butler

The Incoming Class

Not everyone out there obsesses about UGA as much as we (ok, I) do so for those less addicted fans (what’s wrong with you?) here’s a rundown (with numbers!) of our incoming freshman class, grouped into their likelihood of seeing the field. Given that Richt recently did a rundown of about half these guys, this is a fairly sturdy limb I’m climbing out on.

The Locks

  • OT Trinton Sturdivant (#77) – our starting LT since spring
  • OG Scott Haverkamp (#70) – our starting RG from JUCO
  • OG Justin Anderson (#79) – prep-schooler hasn’t dominated, but provides mobile beef
  • OT Vince Vance (#72) – already redshirted at JUCO
  • OL Clint Boling (#60) – backup guard and tackle has really impressed, helps with depth
  • LB Rennie Curran (#35) – backup at WLB, could be a special teams enforcer
  • TE Bruce Figgins (#89) – has shown incredibly developed blocking skills
  • DT Corvey Irvin (#90) – adds beef in the middle
  • DL Jarius Wynn (#99) – a solid addition, will play inside and out

The Bubble Guys

  • TE Aron White (#87) – coaches really seem undecided here…he’ll be a mismatch though
  • LB Charles White (#43) – an injury away from the 2-deep, he came in ready
  • CB Vance Cuff (#25) – has gotten good reviews, but the secondary is loaded
  • P Drew Butler (#13) – obviously if he wins the punting job, move him up

The Likely Redshirts

  • RB Caleb King (#22) – crowded backfield and injury have held back future multi-threat star
  • WR Walter Hill (#80) – very impressive, but raw…when polished he’ll be dangerous
  • WR Isreal Troupe (#28) – victim of crowded WR corps
  • DE Neland Ball (#92) – 6-5, 220 lb DE has to gain weight
  • QB Logan Gray (#19) – if he plays, something’s gone horribly wrong
  • OG Ben Harden (#76) – all of the incoming OL can’t play
  • OG Tanner Strickland (#54) – see Harden, plus Tanner was hurt
  • OT Chris Little (#73) – see Strickland, plus he came in a little heavy (think darker Fulmer)
  • LB Justin Houston (#42) – move to LB pretty much locked down a redshirt
  • S John Knox (#32) – latest arrival because of academic questions, shape a concern

5 Potential Breakout Players

Two things to look for in a breakout player…1) opportunity and 2) talent. These guys have the opportunity to help out this season coupled with the talent to take advantage of it. Breakout doesn’t necessarily mean All-American, it might just mean a significant improvement over expectations or past performance. This is where I go out on a limb (some sturdier than others…these are all pretty safe this year) and say whom I think is due to take advantage of their opportunity by applying their talent.

1 – Sean Bailey – This guy has been tabbed for a breakout for years now. Coming off injury, he’s probably the one guy of our baker’s dozen of WR prospects that is a pure deep threat. He’s got speed and always seems to have that knack for getting behind a DB. If he and Stafford can get on the same page, look out.

2 – Bryan Evans – Evans was likely to start opposite Oliver anyway, but with Oliver gone, there will be that much more focus on him. He had an excellent bowl game and really appeared to be ready to fulfill the promise he had coming in as an Army All-American. He’s always had the speed and has now added the strength after becoming one of the strongest DBs on the team.

3 – Dannell Ellerbe – Ellerbe has always had the physical ability but his playing time has always been blocked by Tony Taylor or Jarvis Jackson. With their graduation, Ellerbe finally has a clear path to playing time. He certainly looks the part, now it’s time to just step up and get it done. He’s an aggressive, fierce LB that (especially given his move inside) will remind you of Odell. He’s even had a few off-field issues in his past to cement the comparison. In all seriousness, most everyone has just been waiting for this guy to bust out and this is his shot.

4 – Trinton Sturdivant – Last year I went with a “hope so” pick (Weston) that was a guy who I hoped would succeed more than I honestly felt he would. If ever a guy was put in a position to either fly or crash, it’s a freshman LT in the SEC. Considering he pretty much walked onto campus and immediately too over the LT spot, he’s living up (at least moderately) to his considerable advance billing. I say modestly only because it’s not like he unseated a gaggle of upperclassmen, seasoned vets. He was already comfortable with Searles techniques and has the athleticism and length you look for in the position. He’s done nothing to get passed at LT, so I feel confident saying he’s going to be a good, maybe great one for us, the only question is when.

5 – CJ Byrd – He came in with all the accolades you could hope for and has patiently sat behind others, learning what Martinez calls the toughest position to get down in our system. With the departure of Tra Battle and the subsequent opening at safety, Byrd gets first crack at becoming the next great UGA safety. Fans (myself included) can’t wait to see redshirts Reshad Jones and Quintin Banks back there, but we can’t forget that Byrd has great ball skills and pretty much everything you’re looking for in a safety in addition to more time in the system, which hopefully will translate to fewer blown assignments. I really don’t like pegging a buy for a breakout by saying I hope he’s going to have fewer blown assignments.

Random thoughts

  • It occurred to me when I sat down to do this that this makes 5 years worth of Random Thoughts. I’m pretty sure that means I’ve cycled through everything, so if you’ve read it before, humor me. Oh, as always, ignore the typos, they’re like my calling card.
  • Not sure if you caught it or not, but my constant beef (no pun intended) with stadium concessions at Sanford is in the process of being addressed. Apparently they are adding a Zaxby’s for next season (2008). I can only imagine the lines at that place. Zaxby’s is already slow…now add 90,000+ folks tired of eating the same gas station nachos and hotdogs for a decade and I think we’re going to have to come up with some kind of call ahead system. It seems they are also adding a Starbucks,
  • I told myself I wouldn’t touch this topic, but I had to. The whole Nick Saban thing is reaching a level of absurdity that can only be reached by football in the state of Alabama. Saban, just by being his smug self (look at the guy…every single picture of him you just know he’s thinking he’s Caesar) has achieved multiple things without even coaching a game yet. 1) Auburn fans, despite having a 5-game win streak, are completely beside themselves trying to fight back their inadequacy issues 2) he’s made Bama interesting, in a bad way, as in I’m interested to watch Bama lose only to see this pompous jerk fall on his face 3) he’s made the SEC west even more of an incestuous, hate-filled division which I didn’t think was possible…think of it, Tubberville left Ole Miss for AU, Saban left LSU for his dream job (which he abandoned after 2 years) to end up in Bama…you already have the whole AU-Bama thing anyway…it’s like professional wrestling, only less believable and with the exception of Orgeron, steroid free.
  • So I was talking to my old college roommate who is now an ECON professor (I have smart friends) and he was explaining to me that UGA is inadvertently responsible for the monster that is Notre Dame football. Walk with me here. In the early 80’s (I think), UGA (along with Oklahoma…maybe) challenged the existing standards that prohibited colleges being televised more than a few times each season, with TV revenues being shared. At the time, college football was becoming a more viable TV option and UGA saw the considerable potential advantages (there’s probably an econ term he used here, but I didn’t take his class). Anyway, they challenged and had the rule overturned. The end result was no restriction to the number of appearances, leagues could get their own TV deals and so could, as it turn out, teams. ND eventually was able to make a deal with Satan…I mean NBC, which allowed them to not only appear on national TV weekly, but also to earn enough money in doing so that they could avoid advances from conferences seeking to have them join (that would be the Big 10/11). Not exactly sure how they were able to negotiate the fraud of a BCS deal they have, but I’m sure it was tied in somehow and I just forgot. We had this conversation at the Taco Stand in Athens a few Fridays ago, so I’m piecing it back together as best I can. Anyway, there you have it (mostly), impress your friends.
  • I have to say I’m really looking forward to the OSU game for a lot of reasons. 1) it’s the start of the football season (seriously) and 2) I love having new, out of region opponents come to Athens. I say that because these out of region games don’t have that built-in hate that conference games or other regional matchups do (see Clemson and GT). Colorado was a great example. Great folks. Judging from this picture I saw online, OSU fans seem to be a little different. I have to say I always pictured cowboys wearing the non-foam variety of hat.
  • Given that temps have hit 100 or higher what seems like 25 out of the last 20 days, imagine my surprise when I checked the extended forecast for the weather in Athens and saw that the projected high is only in the upper 80s. That’s going to feel like 60s given what we’ve been through. Especially if it’s overcast (which it’s supposed to be) with an evening kickoff.

Well, I’ve rambled enough for now. Forgive my preseason sloppiness; I’ve got another week to get in shape…