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Post The rest of the Dream Team gets its turn

Tuesday August 28, 2012

It’s unusual for more than a handful of true freshmen to see playing time, but Georgia had no shortage of immediate needs in 2011. 15 of the 26 signees from the heralded 2011 “Dream Team” recruiting class saw action as newcomers. At least seven of those 15 saw what could be considered significant playing time. Several others became key members of special teams, and just a few were limited to mop-up duty.

The class had two players, defensive lineman Chris Mayes and linebacker Kent Turene, who did not qualify. Five others (Crowell, Harrow, Nick Marshall, Chris Sanders, and Sanford Seay) are no longer with the program.

Eleven players return who saw some degree of playing time as true freshmen. Some are already starters; others will emerge as important pieces of this year’s team.

  • OL David Andrews: After four years of Ben Jones, Georgia will have a new center. Andrews played in 10 games as a freshman, but the veteran Jones played almost all of the meaningful minutes. Andrews’ size coming out of high school was a concern, and as recently as spring there was talk about sliding Chris Burnette over to center if Andrews wasn’t ready. David made big strides during the offseason in both strength and technique, leading Mark Richt to declare that Andrews “has solidified that (starting) job.”
  • WR Chris Conley: A key third-down catch against Florida, a touchdown at Tech…Conley didn’t have a ton of receptions in 2011, but he made the most of them. The level-headed gym rat is well on his way to becoming a very reliable receiver.
  • OL Watts Dantzler: Dantzler has the frame you want in a tackle, and he saw limited reserve duty as a true freshman. He entered the offseason as a leading candidate to step in at right tackle after Kolton Houston’s status was put in question. Though it seems true freshman John Theus will earn the starting job by a very slim margin, Dantzler still looks to earn a lot of playing time as the first guy rotated in.
  • DE Ray Drew: Depending what position Mitchell plays, Drew might’ve been the top-rated defensive prospect in the 2011 class. He saw limited time as a true freshman, especially against Vanderbilt, and had a tough adjustment to the outside linebacker spot. Now he’s bulked up and moved down to defensive end where he’s more comfortable.
  • LB Amarlo Herrera: Herrera was called on early as injuries hit the defense. He played in all 14 games, started 8, and finished with 37 tackles. He’ll be fighting for a starting job at the deep ILB position.
  • DT Johnathan Jenkins: Georgia’s lone JUCO signee last year lived up to his billing anchoring the defensive line.
  • OL Hunter Long: Another true freshman who saw limited reserve time in 2011, Long was close to joining that primary seven or eight man rotation Will Friend wants on the line. A broken foot has sidelined Long until October at the earliest.
  • ATH Malcolm Mitchell: Scored in the season opener and never looked back. He was the team’s second-leading receiver despite missing time with a midseason injury. Now he’ll be looked to for a similar impact on defense – and he might even be a better cornerback than receiver.
  • S Corey Moore: Moore was primarily a special teams player as a freshman, but it’s hard to take playing time from Rambo and Williams. Moore is now the top reserve at safety, and he’s drawn praise for his offseason progress. He’ll be a likely starter in 2013, but he might not have to wait that long to start if Rambo is suspended.
  • DB Damian Swann: Swann, like Moore, was mostly used on special teams, but with Boykin’s graduation and the Commings suspension, he’ll be counted on early. He’ll likely be the starting nickel back and the first option to replace a starter at either cornerback spot. Swann’s progress could help determine how much time Mitchell spends on defense.
  • LB Ramik Wilson: Four tackles in eight games last season and a possible starter this year at OLB. After the year he’s had, we’re pulling for him.

So only eight players return to Georgia as redshirt freshmen. It’s a low total for a typical class, but this was anything but a typical class. Opportunities continue to open up, and several of these eight are expected to contribute as much this season as some of their classmates did a year ago.

  • DE Sterling Bailey: Bailey’s progress was slowed in 2011 with both shoulder and foot injuries. Now cleared to play, he’s added 30 pounds and moved, like Drew, from linebacker to defensive end. He’ll face a crowded depth chart there, but he’s already seen some second team work.
  • DB Devin Bowman: With brothers at Oklahoma St. and Alabama, Bowman’s lineage is well-known. Devin has had to put on weight, and he’s also had to focus on playing cornerback after spending much of his high school career on offense. Bowman, like Swann, will get a look early in the season with Commings out. If Swann moves over to the nickel back, Bowman would be the next option at corner after starters Smith and Mitchell and ahead of true freshman Sheldon Dawson.
  • OL Zach DeBell: A lot of guys struggle with the transition to college, and that seems to be the case with DeBell. When the position coach uses phrases like “He’s still got a ways to go” and “If he’s gonna be a college football player,” you know that DeBell faces a long climb up the depth chart. His 6’7″ frame earned him offers all across the South, and he was just 17 when he arrived at Georgia. There’s still plenty of time for DeBell to contribute.
  • QB Christian LeMay: The lone QB signee from 2011 was set to be the top backup to Aaron Murray this year as Hutson Mason redshirts. But concerns about LeMay’s development have made coaches more hesitant about putting Mason on the shelf for the year. Ideally LeMay will be allowed to work out the kinks in live action during a few blowouts. If the need for a backup arises in a close game, look for the redshirt to come off of Mason.
  • TE Jay Rome: The presumptive heir apparent at tight end will begin the year behind senior Arthur Lynch and on the field in two-tight-end sets. Rome’s potential has been obvious, and he’s athletic enough to play two sports at Georgia. But questions have come up about effort and blocking. There aren’t many options behind him other than true freshman Ty Flournoy-Smith, and that’s caused Richt to use the media to try to light a fire under Rome. Lynch will step in fine, but the Dawgs need Rome’s best effort to enjoy similar productivity at tight end to what we saw from the Charles-White combination.
  • WR Justin Scott-Wesley: Scott-Wesley arrived in 2011 as a high school track star. He spent his redshirt season adding strength and learning how to use that track speed. There’s a lot of depth ahead of him, but his speed should get him on the field especially if Mitchell spends most of his time on defense.
  • OL Nathan Theus: Also known as the big brother of incoming tackle John, Nathan signed as a long snap specialist. He might have to wait another year as Ty Frix enters his senior season as Georgia’s long snapper.
  • OL Xzavier Ward: Ward was a late-January addition to the class after attrition opened up room. He had prototypical tackle size at 6’7″, but his high school weight of 255 lb. made him a likely redshirt candidate. His progress was also slowed by recovery from high school knee surgery. Still, Ward has “really been a pleasant surprise” in fall camp according to Mike Bobo, and he’s giving the coaches a good problem to have when they try to nail down the rotation on the line.

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