2013 Georgia Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Georgia Bulldog Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: If everything goes according to plan, the offense should be close to unstoppable, even in the rough and tumble, defense-oriented SEC. It starts with the quarterback - if it feels to you like veteran Aaron Murray has been in the conference as long as Steve Spurrier, you're hardly alone. Once again, the biggest concern is giving Murray time to avoid making mistakes. Star sophomore tailback Todd Gurley and his running mate, Keith Marshall, should be even better at providing this time, as they make this potent offense multi-faceted. Add to that a mature offensive line, now with more than 100 career starts - vs. just 31 this time last year - along with a first unit receiving corps that's SEC grade, and Murray should have ample time to make the right decisions. As if that were not already enough, there is experience to boot – ten of last year's 11 starters return.
Star of the offense:
Senior QB Aaron Murray
Passing: Aaron Murray
249-386, 3893 yds, 36 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Todd Gurley
222 carries, 1385 yds, 17 TD
Receiving: Malcolm Mitchell
40 catches, 572 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore OT John Theus
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Jonathon Rumph
Best pro prospect: Sophomore RB Todd Gurley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Murray, 2) OG/C Chris Burnette, 3) Gurley
Strength of the offense: Murray, Running Backs
Weakness of the offense: Pass Blocking, Backup QB
Four years after getting the nod to start as a freshman, senior Aaron Murray is back to win an SEC championship. If recent history is any indication, that title comes with a shot at a national championship. Murray has improved each year in Athens, from 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first campaign, to 3,149 yards and 35 scores as a sophomore, to last season's 3,893 yards and 36 scores. He's done this largely without the benefit of stable line play. While Murray was unable to improve on his interceptions last season, which stayed flat at 10, he did close out the year with two of his best games against Alabama and Nebraska. With all the experience and talent around him, Murray finds himself at perhaps the best point in his career at Georgia, and does so when he himself is at his apex. There is no questioning Murray's arm strength or physical toughness – it's his concentration in key games that has been suspect. If Murray can pick up from where he finished 2012, leveraging the players around him and his familiarity with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, 2013 will be a special season for the Bulldogs.
6-3, 205-pound redshirt junior Hutson Mason was a star in his own right coming out of Lassiter High in Marietta, but has been in the long shadow of Murray ever since arriving in Athens. For this reason, Mason redshirted in 2012 to put some space between himself and the four year starter; he returns this season as the clear No. 2. Mason possesses a gun of an arm and is more than capable of playing in the event of an injury to Murray. However, he has only completed 27 passes in his collegiate career. Georgia's 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year looks to get one more year of tutelage under his belt before running the Dawg offense in 2014.
6-2, 200-pound redshirt sophomore Christian LeMay is a superstar recruit who got to see limited playing time last season with Mason taking the year to redshirt. The 2009 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year is big, swift, and possesses both a strong arm and nice passing touch. 6-3, 203-pound junior Parker Welch got about the same number of limited snaps last year. All eyes are on the über-talented true freshman Brice Ramsey who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, and redshirt freshman Faton Bauta.
Watch Out For …whether or not Murray picks up where he left off at the end of 2012. The Bulldog schedule starts off with a bang, with Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in September. Will Murray play like the quarterback who faced Bama and Nebraska, or the one who threw blanks in Columbia and stumbled along for most of the Florida win> In his favor, both September conference games are inside the Peach State.
Strength: Talent. Murray, Mason, LeMay and Ramsey, respectively a senior, junior, sophomore and freshman, could all play one day in the NFL.
Weakness: Experience past Murray. Head coach Mark Richt has done a great job of spacing his quarterbacks out. However he has not given them any meaningful playing experience. This is understandable, given the talent he has in four year starter Murray. However, if anything happens to Murray...
Outlook: Given Murray's raw and improving talent, the offense he has been handed, his familiarity with it, and what is a relatively favorable schedule, everything is in place for a record breaking season. The only thing keeping this unit from a 10 ranking is broader experience.
Unit Rating 9.5
The Bulldogs can wave aside the departure of Ken Malcolme thanks to the emergence of star tailback Todd Gurley. The true sophomore from Tarboro, NC was barely on the depth chart when he arrived on campus last season; today he has emerged as a top pro prospect with a limitless upside. Gurley had nine games of 100 or more yards his freshman season, for a total of 1,385 – sixth best ever in the history of Georgia football. He's only the second true freshman to run for more than 1,000 yards, behind some cat named Walker. And perhaps most importantly, given the recent offseason behavior of Georgia running backs, the only things attributed to Gurley throughout the spring/summer were positive. At 6-1 and 232-pounds, he returns to Athens with more size, knowledge and confidence. With an even more experienced offensive line to march behind, 1,617 yards is not out of the question. That total would rank him with the third best single-season record in UGA history, and displace at least one of Herschel's names from the top three spots.
5-11, 219-pound sophomore Keith Marshall arrived last year with far more fanfare than Gurley, and yet he was quickly saddled as option 1b. Ranked as the No. 1 prep running back in the nation in 2011, the North Carolina native has displayed nothing but class in handling Gurley's success. Together, they form the 1-2 punch known fondly to Georgia fans as "Gurshal", which has done more to rescue the fortune of this beleaguered offensive line than any coach or quarterback. Marshall's reps declined as the season progressed and it became clear to all that Gurley was a unique talent; he had single digit carries in seven of the last eight games. However, with Malcome and Richard Samuel gone, Marshall will get their workload spelling Gurley.
A teammate of Brice Ramsey at Camden County, 5-8, 183-pound freshman J.J. Green graduated early and enrolled in Georgia this spring, and was originally slated to play cornerback. However, given how thin this unit is and how well Green played during spring practice, he will take over the third running back spot on the roster, displacing 5-6, 180-pound senior Brandon Harton. While lacking Gurshal's size and national prep accolades, Green remains not only an accomplished runner but also should provide balance to Marshall and Gurley's style.
Harton is available to share both reps and his experience with Green. Also in the rotation providing depth are 5-9, 180-pound junior Kyle Karempelis, 6-0, 236-pound redshirt freshman Dominic Bryan, 5-10, 188-pound senior Alex Parsons, and redshirt sophomore fullback Merritt Hall at 5-11, 226-pounds.
Watch Out For …Marshall. Given his talent and hype entering 2012, the true sophomore is likely to feel he has a point to make. If he can take the additional reps he'll get with Samuel gone, and push Gurley even harder, an already excellent backfield could get downright frightening.
Strength: Top-line talent. Gurley is one of the sport's best running backs, and Marshall is not that far behind. Both young men display good poise and maturity beyond their years. They are good leaders, and still learning.
Weakness: Depth. It's unlikely that both Gurley and Marshall go down, but look at Alabama and LSU last year; both lost multiple running backs during the season. To this add that neither running back will sneak up on anyone this season – both will have a bull's-eye squarely on them.
Outlook: Even with a lack of top shelf depth, this unit jumps to the front solely on the shoulders of Gurley and Marshall. Georgia's 2,556 rushing yards in 2012 were already better than its previous best year – 2007 (2,305). Don't be surprised if Georgia rushed for 3,000 yards in 2013, even with one of the nation's more prolific passing quarterbacks under center for his senior year.
Unit Rating 9
Tavarres King did another fine job in 2012, leading the Bulldogs in both receptions and receiving yards for a second consecutive year. King averaged a stunning 23 yards per catch, and is now being paid to do that for the Denver Broncos. That leaves the door open for 6-1, 190-pound junior Malcolm Mitchell to be UGA's No. 1 receiver. After a circus of a 2012 offseason, Mitchell returned to the offense and finished as Georgia's second leading receiver again, with 40 catches for 542 yards – very similar to his production as a freshman. All of this juggling has made it difficult for Mitchell to acclimate to his position; perhaps some stability this offseason and the No. 1 spot will result in a breakthrough year for Mitchell. He spent the entire spring focused on the position, playing the slot and flanker positions. Mitchell also had arthroscopic knee surgery late in the spring, but all reports are that he's back to form.
Starting at split end will be junior Michael Bennett. After a nice freshman campaign, Bennett was lost midway through the 2012 season after tearing a knee ligament in practice. At 6-3, 208-pounds, he's a little slimmer than last year; however, he possesses the size to be a difficult matchup in three-wide sets. His speed has returned, although we'll look forward to seeing that in a game setting.
With King and Marlon Brown graduating, depth at receiver was one of Richt's biggest concerns this offseason. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the roster is junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph. The 6-5, 210-pound junior chose the Dawgs over Mississippi State, among others. Rumph still has a lot to absorb, but he has the potential to be Georgia's best receiver in his first season between the hedges. Rumph was considered by many recruiting services as one of the top JUCO receivers in the nation, and caught four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia's spring G-Day game.
However, the offensive spring MVP was 6-3, 206-pound junior Chris Conley, who will back up Mitchell. Conley averaged 18 yards per catch as a freshman, 17 as a sophomore, and with six touchdowns last year trailed only King (9) for top honors. Conley is emerging into a quality flanker, and has also been an honor roll student. He could be the three-wide starter over Rumph when the season starts, though Rumph has more upside.
Senior, and former walk on, Rhett McGowan had a fantastic spring. As a result, he has supplanted promising redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley on the depth chart. Scott is lightning fast with elite sprinter speed, and at 5-11, 206-pounds he has slimmed down a little from his playing weight last season. There is more upside with Scott-Wesley, but he'll have to take the job from McGowan, who has earned it. Also in the mix will be 5-10, 176-pound (and oft-injured) Rantavious Wooten. The senior may be diminutive, but he has tremendous speed and is a danger to break one long every time he touches the ball.
After Orson Charles took his considerable skills to the NFL, all signs pointed towards 6-6, 254-pound, then redshirt freshman Jay Rome eventually taking over the job. However, a funning thing happened along the way to crowning Rome – senior Arthur Lynch slimmed down and kept the job for himself. At nearly a mirror 6-5, 254-pounds, Lynch finished with 431 yards on 24 receptions, for an impressive 18 yard average, and three touchdowns. At the reduced weight, Lynch still maintained his blocking skills, further helping out the offensive line. There is great talent and good depth at tight end.
Watch Out For …Rumph. If the transfer can perform at or near where he was by the end of spring practice, a new star is born. We believe this is likely, given how he progressed this spring semester and, even more so, the attention opposing defenses will have to place on Georgia's running game.
Strength: Range. There are a number of prototypical wide, tall bodies, like Bennett, Rumph and Conley. There's track-like speed in Scott-Wesley and Wooten. Size and hands with Lynch and Rome. Heart and disciplined route running with McGowan. Murray and Bobo have all the clubs in the bag.
Weakness: Depth. It's better than in past years, and it's true there is a lot of talent in the most recent recruiting class. But depth at receiver still remains a concern. Moreover, Mitchell and Rumph are the only true top flight receivers likely to see material playing time, and Mitchell has been injury prone while Rumph has no FBS experience.
Outlook: Thank goodness for the running backs. Georgia has enough to fill a three-wide set, and Conley and Scott-Wesley provide additional security such that there's no panic in Athens. However, any significant attrition here will be difficult to absorb.
Unit Rating 7.5
Where to begin. The line nearly got quarterback Joe Cox killed, and forced Richt to abandon the forward pass halfway through an ugly 2009 season. It has been a leading factor in Georgia's overall malaise since 2008, and during that time it was likely the most underperforming unit vs. expectations in the entire SEC.
This year all the pieces are in place for Georgia's line to pave the way to its best performance in a decade.
First, Georgia enters 2013 with one of the most senior lines in the conference, if not the country. The Dawgs kickoff with 101 career starts along the line, compared with just 31 this time last year. In addition, basically all five starters return, and all are upperclassman with the exception of sophomore John Theus, who might turn out to be the best of the lot by bowl season.
Theus, the right tackle from Jacksonville, FL, started all 14 games last season as a true freshman...becoming only the third lineman in Georgia history to start a season opener as a true freshman, and earning Freshman All-American honors in the process. At 6-6, 300 pounds, he just might have a future in this sport.
Once again the line struggled a bit in pass protection, finishing the year ranked 65 in the nation, although this was an improvement over 2011's 85 ranking. In large part this improvement can be attributed to Theus and senior Kenarious Gates, the other bookend tackle. The 6-5, 327-pound veteran is talented and exceptionally versatile, having been a starter at both guard and tackle. Absent injury, Gates will play on Sundays next season.
6-7, 278 pound Xzavier Ward will likely back up Theus, regardless how Georgia's post-spring depth chart reads today, and he could take Gates' place next fall. The redshirt sophomore needs to add some more bulk, but he makes up for this with good hands, feet and speed. Junior Mark Beard was moved to tackle after arriving as an NJCAA All-America guard from Coffeyville CC last year. The 6-5, 300-pounder from Adamsville, AL appeared in all 14 games in 2012, making two starts.
The middle of Georgia's line is equally as impressive as its starting tackles. David Andrews stepped up at center and started all 14 games in 2012; now the 6-2, 295-pound junior is maturing into a leadership role. On his right, 6-2, 314-pound guard Chris Burnette might be the most NFL-ready player on this entire Georgia roster. The senior can move to center in a pinch, and was a Second Team, All-SEC performer last year. Senior Dallas Lee returns to anchor the left side of Andrews. The 6-4, 298-pound Lee returned from a broken leg in 2011 to start all 14 games last season.
There's depth and experience here as well. 6-7, 307-pound Watts Danzler has experience playing across the line, and will backup Lee at left guard. The junior from Dalton, GA has so far appeared in nine games during his Bulldog career. 6-5, 287-pound senior Austin Long appeared in 13 games last season and will back up Burnette. While his redshirt sophomore brother, Hunter Long, will back up Andrews. The 6-4, 312-pound center from Memphis, TN played in three games as a true freshman before redshirting last year due to a preseason foot injury.
Watch Out For …Beard. If there is an injury at the tackle position, it could be up to Beard to fill it. He has all the credentials, but will he step up and provide depth for the coaching staff and the occasional breather for Gates?
Strength: Experience. Last year there weren't many upperclassmen in the three deep depth chart. This year there are eight. That leadership will play out in 2013.
Weakness: Consistency. Now in its second year of a new strength and conditioning program, the results are a slowly improving pass protection and rushing game.
Outlook: Offensive line is one of the most difficult positions to acclimate to in college football, making experience an outstanding barometer for eventual performance – more so than any position outside of receiver and in some cases quarterback. This unit improved nicely year over year, and they're all back for another go. Additionally, their second line is also game experienced and mature. The backfield they support is exceptional and will likely only be better this season, taking additional pressure off the line.
Unit Rating 8
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