These aren’t key players in the sense of Aaron Murray or Jarvis Jones, and some might not even start the entire season. But these three players could be answers at some of Georgia’s most uncertain positions, and the degree to which they’re successful could help to sort out additional questions on both sides of the ball.
1) Kolton Houston. Who is Kolton Houston? Does he exist? At least Mudcat played once or twice. The redshirt sophomore was named a possible contributor heading into the 2011 season before a puzzling and unspecified “eligibility issue” kept him out for the entire season.
Houston showed his potential value to the 2012 team during a strong spring in which he established himself as a likely starter at right tackle. Houston’s status is still up in the air, and Mark Richt wasn’t able or willing to provide anything concrete during SEC Media Days.
Houston’s availability is a domino that could affect the rest of the line. If he’s able to go, Georgia will have the depth at tackle to bring promising freshman John Theus along at a proper pace. With Houston, Gates, Dantzler, and Long available, the Dawgs will have some options. Those options could trickle over to guard and even center depending on Andrews’ readiness and the need to shuffle around the interior line. Without Houston, Georgia will have less flexibility on the line and might have to dip into its younger pool of players sooner.
2) Marlon Brown. Is he a senior already? It was considered quite a coup when Brown chose to head to Georgia from his hometown of Memphis after Signing Day in 2009. The recruiting battle was so heated that Brown was booed by the Tennessee crowd when the freshman made a brief appearance in Georgia’s 2009 loss in Knoxville.
Brown’s career has been slow to develop with just 28 receptions through three seasons, but he made some progress as a junior. Brown accounted for 15 receptions, 234 yards, and 3 touchdowns in 2011. His biggest contribution came at Vanderbilt – four receptions, 121 yards, and two long touchdowns. That performance in Nashville was a revelation, but it didn’t turn out to be a breakout game for Brown. He didn’t notch more than two receptions in any subsequent game.
The outstanding 2011 recruiting class ensured that youth would contribute at several positions, but no position depended on newcomers more than receiver. Veterans like King and the tight ends had their impact, but try to imagine the 2011 season without Bennett, Conley, and, of course, Mitchell. This receiving corps will return intact for 2012, but their workload will likely increase given the changes at the tight end position.
That increased workload will come, at least at first, with a lot less Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell will spend the first part of the season at cornerback, and his skills – especially as a deep threat – will be missed. Bennett and Conley (if healthy) will get plenty of opportunities, and Justin Scott-Wesley and Rantavious Wooten should contribute as well. Brown might not have the speed of Mitchell, but he’s a large target. If King and Scott-Wesley can stretch defenses, Brown could have some room in which to operate. Georgia will have a much more potent passing attack with Mitchell on the field, but a strong senior season for Brown should help ease the impact when Mitchell isn’t available.
3) Damian Swann. Swann is on the other side of the Malcolm Mitchell tug-of-war. Though Mitchell’s role will be fairly clear early on during the Commings suspension, it’s the development of younger defensive backs such as Swann that will determine Mitchell’s primary position later in the year.
With Commings in the lineup and Smith locking down the other cornerback spot, Swann will still have an important role as a third or nickel defensive back. There isn’t much help on the way from the incoming class, but Sheldon Dawson could get a look. It will be up to Swann and Devin Bowman and possibly even Blake Sailors to shore up the depth when Commings returns. Marc Deas might be able to slide over from safety and help in a pinch.
Even with Commings, the cornerback spot isn’t all that deep. It seems unavoidable that Mitchell will have to be used in some capacity throughout the season. With the departure of Smith and Commings following this season, Swann will be looked to as a likely starter in 2013. Whether he can play like it in 2012 will have a lot to say about where Mitchell spends most of his season.