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Post Preseason storylines – other than QB

Monday July 31, 2006

With the attention focused on the quarterback decision, there are some other important positional questions out there this summer that I’ll be watching as practice gets underway this weekend. Here are just a couple off the top of my head:

  • Who will be the other starting cornerback? For that matter, how about the other safety? Battle and Oliver seem fairly certain as two of the starters in the defensive backfield. From there, it gets a little messier. Kelin Johnson is a favorite to start at strong safety, but C.J. Byrd and Antavious Coates could play early and often. Thomas Flowers could reasonably start at the other corner position, but Bryan Evans and Ramarcus Brown could make that a tough decision. Asher Allen and Prince Miller might be the future at cornerback, but I’m skeptical about starting true freshmen at cornerback no matter how talented they might be. Even Champ Bailey didn’t really make an impact until the end of the 1996 season.
  • How will the running game depth chart shake out? The key decision here is the tailback rotation and the distribution of carries. Thomas Brown is at the top of the depth chart, and Kregg Lumpkin will be the most likely to challenge him. I won’t go over and over my same doubts about the tailbacks and the desire for one of them to grab control of the position, but I will say that I will be a little disappointed if we head into the season without some more clarity at tailback. What kind of an impact will a new position coach have on the position? How will Southerland and Williams share time at fullback?
  • Can Michael Turner get the job done at offensive tackle? Depth at offensive tackle is one of those hidden time bombs that could quickly derail a promising season. It will be tested immediately given Inman’s suspension. Even once Inman returns, the offensive tackle position remains one of the areas on the team that could least absorb a long-term injury.
  • The last chances. For guys like Mario Raley, Marquis Elmore, and Danny Verdun-Wheeler, this preseason presents an opportunity to set the tone for their senior seasons. Verdun-Wheeler seems in the best position as the "fourth linebacker" and a guy in whom the staff has a lot of confidence backing up most any linebacker position. Raley watched Bryan McClendon step up from relative obscurity as a senior to become one of the team’s leading receivers. Richt has set a goal for Raley to have a similar season. Elmore could be much-needed veteran depth at a young defensive tackle position, and he finally seems to be past the nagging injuries.
  • What will happen to the aging receivers? I mentioned Raley, but Gartrell and Goodman are also upperclassmen. Newcomers like Tony Wilson and Michael Moore will push for playing time. Younger receivers Massaquoi, Bryant, and Harris seem a bit more established. The injury to Bailey and the relatively open depth chart behind Massaquoi leave the door open for one of the veterans to have an impact, but can they?
  • The little things on special teams. Positions like snapper and holder that you never notice until they screw up remain open. Tereshinski probably won’t remain on the punt team if he’s the starting QB or even #2, and he handled that role well. Returning jobs seem open, too. If Flowers sees significant time at cornerback, will he still return punts with so much speed on the bench? Will a star like Thomas Brown return kickoffs, or will other speedsters get that chance? Byrd and Kelin Johnson were among the young players who made names for themselves on special teams as the first men down on kicks and punts. Who’s next in that role? Will kickoff returns improve from an abysmal 2005?

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