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Post Preseason pessimism dump

Monday July 29, 2013

I’m generally a pretty upbeat fan, and I’m really excited about this coming season. That said, when you have all offseason to think about these things, some doubts never fail to pop up. Since practice starts tomorrow, I’m going to get them all out of my system now. There are obvious concerns like all of the youth on defense or the ever-present threat of a key injury, but here are a few others:

Murray’s head. Any questions about Aaron Murray’s ability to make throws went out the window years ago. His improvisation at the end of the first half against Ole Miss was one of the most impressive individual plays I saw last year. Where Murray stands to make the biggest gains as a senior is in his mental approach to the game.

Murray tends to be an emotional player. His habit of getting too “juiced up” at the start of games has been tough to shake. To his credit, he’s spent time working on himself. He worked on the quarterbacking part over spring break out at Oklahoma. But he’s also taken the initiative to work on his leadership, solicit feedback from his teammates, and apply his industrial-organizational psychology academic work to the team’s offseason program.

He took a big step forward last year in terms of production and efficiency. It’ll be tough enough maintaining that level of play. The loss to Alabama hit Murray hard, and I’m sure many of his teammates feel the same way. Channeling that emotion into the upcoming season instead of dwelling on the loss will be important – there’s no time to come out with anything but the most focused, confident, and level-headed effort.

Tailback. Setting aside Gurley, I still don’t think we know what we have at the tailback spot. Marshall was brilliant in bursts, but after starting the year with at least ten carries in each of the first six games, Marshall had only one other game with over eight carries and only two other games with over 40 yards. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he’s developed in the offseason and whether the coaches will be more aggressive about giving him carries (or, going by his nice work on the touchdown reception in the bowl, opportunities in the passing game out of the backfield). It comes down to this – if, heaven forbid, Gurley is sidelined for any period of time, can Marshall manage the workload?

Special teams. Georgia’s 2013 outlook is usually discussed in terms of a loaded offense and an inexperienced defense. The third element of the game hasn’t come up much. Collin Barber at punter is fairly solid. Morgan seemed to exorcise his extra point problems towards the end of the year, but he was only 2-of-6 on field goals after October. His possible absence for the opener adds more uncertainty.

Then there’s returners. Malcolm Mitchell was hit-or-miss last year on kickoffs, and last season’s new rules make long returns less likely. Fair or not, Mitchell’s injury track record also makes it a scary proposition to put a player expected to be a top receiver at risk on returns. Punt returns weren’t an especially productive area. But do they have to be? With a potent offense, there’s less pressure to affect field position through aggressive special teams. So long as he’s reliable with possession, McGowan’s 8 yards per punt return could be all the team asks for.

Game management. Pace has been a hot topic over the past few weeks as coaches debate whether there are legitimate concerns about player safety. Pace will also be a factor for Georgia’s coaches to consider. Of course winning the game comes first, but Georgia’s young defense is less of a potential liability the less it’s on the field. Now “pace” isn’t necessarily the same as scoring quickly. Teams can have aggressive tempo but eat up the field using many short-yardage plays in long scoring drives. Teams can also be slow to snap the ball but better than most in generating big plays that result in quick scores. Does the need to rest and manage the defense drive in part how Georgia’s offensive coaches approach their ideal pace? There’s another way to look at it – if you’re fairly confident in the offense, is there less of a reason to be cautious with the defense?

Is the offense as good as we think it is? I guess this is what we’re all waiting to see. You only have to go back a year to the expectations of the defense. Of course the defense wasn’t awful (and even better than 2011 in some instances.) But the suspensions put the unit on its heels from the outset, and it took a remarkable crisis in the middle of the season for the unit to start performing as we had hoped. Even then, there were big flaws that showed up in the postseason that were shocking for a unit loaded with such talent.

The 2013 offense (knock wood) will at least start the season much more intact than the 2012 defense did. There’s always the dreaded sophomore slump, but Gurley was consistent enough in 2012 to have faith in him going forward. Murray’s ability isn’t in doubt, though he’ll be fighting against history to maintain the level of play from his junior season. Mitchell, when healthy, is as good of a target as there is. Bennett’s return seems to be on track. Lynch emerged last year to become arguably the best tight end in the conference.

The line, especially after the return of Kolton Houston, finally has depth and experience. Some line spots aren’t 100% settled yet, but there won’t be a lack of options, and a freshman won’t have to be pressed into service on the starting line. So there’s plenty of good reason to be optimistic about the offense, but the prospects for the season depend on it living up to its billing.

There. That feels better. Maybe some legitimate concerns, maybe some overthinking blather. It’s good to get it out, and I look forward to the unofficial start of the season tonight at the UGA Day event in Gwinnett.

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