It’s not that the Georgia offense has been abysmal during the first half of preseason camp, but the lion’s share of good news so far has had to do with the defense.
- The safety position. Departures have left the position a little thin, but those still on the team are having a heck of a preseason. The trio of Rambo, Hamilton, and Nick Williams has emerged as a strong rotation across the two safety positions. But even the other safeties are making noise. Shawn Williams “may be the most improved player” since spring. True freshmen Alec Ogletree is among the newcomers most likely to see playing time this year, even if it’s primarily on special teams at first. With all five getting positive reviews, you wonder if there will be some creativity involved to get them on the field. Nick Williams has spent time at linebacker, and Ogletree was considered another Thomas Davis type of player who could excel at either safety or linebacker. I’m not talking about more position moves, but it’s not hard to imagine the occasional use of a third “safety” as a rover or pass rusher. Experience remains a concern, and the group is just an injury away from having no more wiggle room with the depth chart.
- The emergence of Justin Anderson. DeAngelo Tyson is probably Georgia’s best and most versatile defensive lineman, but his placement as the nose guard was more out of necessity. He’s more suited for the end position in a 3-4. If someone has come along to the point of allowing Tyson to slide over to his more natural position, it’s great news for the defensive front. The rapid ascent of Anderson is even more impressive considering that redshirt freshman Kwame Geathers has reported to camp in tremendous condition and has stood out himself. A projected starting line of Dobbs, Anderson, and Tyson will do just fine. A second line of Abry Jones, Geathers, and Brandon Wood isn’t bad either.
- Competition at linebacker. You’ve seen how the coaching change has given new life to players like Darryl Gamble. Gamble’s been good enough to push presumptive starter Cornelius Washington. Injuries at inside linebacker have given Akeem Hebron an opportunity, and he’s recorded the most tackles in both scrimmages so far. Akeem Dent seems on track to return from an injured toe on, if not ahead of, schedule. There’s tight competition between Christian Robinson and Marcus Dowtin at the other ILB spot. We haven’t mentioned Justin Houston yet. Depth remains thin, and even a single injury like Dent’s has both ILB positions unsettled. But the play of Gamble and Hebron has provided coaches with options.
Contrast that with a couple of the major themes on offense. The offensive line has been hobbled by injuries and illness. The starting quarterback has looked fine in practice but has yet to really put it together in anything resembling a game.
To be fair, it’s not nearly all bad news. It’s important to remember we’re also limited to the information that trickles out. Practices are closed to the public and somewhat to reporters. The defense is new and unknown, so naturally there’s going to be a lot more reported about it. Some positive news we take for granted. You don’t have to be told this August that A.J. Green can do ridiculous things with the football or that Clint Boling might be the SEC’s best lineman. From Hutson Mason catching on quickly to Marlon Brown’s maturation, there are also positive stories on the offense.
I think expectations are largely at work here. If you had to sum up the narrative for Georgia entering the season, it would be a loaded offense that has to carry the team while the defense goes through the learning curve of the new 3-4 scheme. Georgia’s offense is presumed to be set with a question only under center. Green, Charles, Ealey, and King are all proven skill players. The line showed what it was capable of as it found its stride at the end of last season. With a defense expected to have some issues in its transition to a new scheme and coaching staff, the offense is supposed to be the strength of the team in 2009. It’s one thing to have questions at places where we expect them, but you also have to make sure that your strengths are really your strengths.
Remember the guiding assumption going into last year: a running game with Samuel and King behind a more experienced and proven starting line would remove a lot of the need for Joe Cox to be as much a part of the offense as Matthew Stafford was. Of course Sturdivant went out immediately, Samuel proved ineffective, King and Ealey were injured early, and Cox ended up with roughly as many passing attempts as Greene or Shockley did in their final seasons.
Which preseason assumptions will we have to revise this year once the season gets underway?