With a record-setting offense returning almost entirely intact and a defense that had most of last season's starters participating in the recent NFL combine, Georgia would seem to be in for several mismatches in spring football scrimmages.
That isn't a certainty, though, as the Bulldogs are having to be careful with their firepower.
Georgia will hold its first of 15 spring workouts Saturday without the services of backup tailback Keith Marshall, who pulled a hamstring at a track meet earlier this month. Marshall will miss at least the first four practices before the university goes on spring break, and starter Todd Gurley is the only other scholarship tailback until freshmen A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas arrive this summer.
"We can't let our competitive juices get us so much to where we want to win every drill and wear Todd Gurley out at the same time," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Wednesday. "We're going to have to be smart about it as coaches."
The Bulldogs and Texas A&M will be the first of the 14 Southeastern Conference schools to begin spring practice.
It was Georgia's offense that was forced to struggle behind a revamped line last spring, with head coach Mark Richt admitting Wednesday that he, Bobo and line coach Will Friend "needed some therapy" there for a while. Starting right guard Chris Burnette (shoulder) is out this spring and starting right tackle John Theus (foot) will miss at least half the workouts, but it's not near the rebuilding project of a year ago.
"You might gauge it as a first down or two first downs or a field goal, but you always try to build on any kind of success," Bobo said of last year's trials. "We wanted to coach them hard and grind on them every day, but any time we did something good, we praised them at the same time. The guys responded to that."
Georgia's offensive line this spring will consist of Kenarious Gates at right tackle, Austin Long at right guard, David Andrews at center, Dallas Lee at left guard and Mark Beard at left tackle.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is eager to see if his players are ready to start filling the holes left by those who soon will be playing professionally. The Bulldogs have four defensive starters back but have seven who have started at least once on that side of the ball.
Grantham estimates having 24 different starting lineups in 28 games as coordinator and believes six early defensive enrollees will be beneficial.
"Every year you're starting over. It's never the same," Grantham said. "Three years ago, Justin Houston was really successful in the SEC as a sack guy. He had 10 sacks, and you guys were looking at us not having anyone who could rush the passer. All of a sudden a guy named Jarvis Jones pops up, and in 2011 he had 13.5 sacks and in 2012 had 14.5 and was one of the most dominant players in the country.
"That's why you recruit. That's why you develop. That's why you coach this game, to have moments like that."
He added that young, energetic players who are learning to play aggressive could lead to some exciting times on the practice field. Richt certainly isn't ready to guarantee the offense will have its way between now and the April 6 G-Day game.
"It could, but I think an offensive line is harder to jell," Richt said. "I mean, all five of those cats have got to start doing it right, or you've got nothing. On defense, you might have two out of four do a great job and be able to blow up a play.
"So I don't know if it will take quite as long for the defensive guys to get to the point where they really compete well."
Odds and ends
Senior fullback Zander Ogletree will not play his final season due to medical reasons. Ogletree, who will remain on athletic scholarship, had seven career carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. ... Richt on the NCAA's decision last month to allow unlimited texts and calls in recruiting from coaches and support staff members: "I'm getting some feel that there is a possibility that they will not even be intact for August 1. Some of these things may get postponed and reevaluated." ... Grantham said that junior linebacker Ramik Wilson, who has worked both outside and inside, would stay strictly inside this spring. ... Richt said he no longer needs crutches following his hip replacement surgery earlier this month and that his limp is very slight.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...