Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs are favored by many to win the SEC East this season.
Let's get back on track with this. After a successful exchange with BYU, discovering that there's nary a Southern Illinois blog on the entirety of the intrawebs, and a halfway exchange with Vandy during which Juco forgot that these things are actually exchanges where we're supposed to answer questions that they ask in return for their answers to questions we ask, we find ourselves pestering T Kyle King of SBNation's legendary Dawg Sports.
He, like I, will be on vacation over the next week or so, meaning that my answers to his questions won't be available until probably early July, but that doesn't mean that I can't post our email exchange from yesterday, right?
Below are my questions for Mayor King and his typically well thought-out and articulated responses. Whenever he and I each decide to stop treating ourselves to time off, I'll answer whatever Ole Miss related offseason questions he's got over at Dawg Sports.
RED CUP REBELLION: AJ Green and Washaun Ealey are the most obvious losses Georgia suffered this offseason, so let's set them aside. Which other impact players did the Bulldogs lose over the past few months, and who is likely to take their place?
GOOOOOOOOO DAWGS! SIC 'EM! ARP ARP ARP ARP ARP: At the top of that list is Justin Houston, who excelled as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme. With the center of the Georgia front seven looking much more solid than it did a year ago, Houston would have made this a fearsome bunch indeed had he elected to return to Athens for another fall. Cornelius Washington will slide over from "Sam" to "Will" to take Houston's place, but don't be surprised if Ray Drew (more about whom anon) is in the mix for that position, as well.
Not far behind Houston on the list of noteworthy losses are Kris Durham, who graduated, and Trinton Sturdivant, who once again suffered a season-ending injury. The former departure deprives an unproven receiving corps of a sure-handed safety valve. The latter loss robs the Red and Black offensive line of depth. Incoming freshman Michael Bennett has been touted as the next Durham, while experienced depth behind the starting five on the offensive line is nonexistent.
RCR: Georgia's recruiting was very strong this offseason, finishing with the #5 overall class ranking per Rivals. Which incoming freshmen do you think could see immediate playing time?
DS: Several of them could make it onto the field this fall, particularly on special teams, but the three who are almost certain to see significant playing time are Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew, and John Jenkins. Unless Crowell falls well short of expectations, he will play against Boise State and ought to be the starter by the time the Bulldogs visit Oxford.
Drew, a minister who worked as hard as any Georgia coach to recruit his fellow members of the "Dream Team," has proven himself already as a leader, and, as noted above, he could fill the vital role vacated by Justin Houston. Finally, Jenkins gives Georgia the critical component of the 3-4 defense that was lacking last year: a mammoth nose tackle. While the rise of Kwame Geathers makes a starting spot for Jenkins less certain than it seemed in February, the juco transfer still should spend a substantial amount of time on the field.
RCR: What did you learn from your spring practices? Give, if you can, one offensive and defensive player who showed significant promise during offseason workouts and practices.
DS: I have learned not to think I have learned anything from spring practices. Every year, we hear about team chemistry and senior leadership and a new attitude and how the guys are really getting after it in the weight room, and that song and dance is the same in the years that end in SEC championships as it is in the years that end in Liberty Bowl losses, so I take everything that comes out of spring practice with a grain of salt the size of Stone Mountain. [ED: Well said.]
Perhaps because Geathers stepped up his game at nose tackle in the spring, though, the defensive standout at the G-Day spring scrimmage was one of the guys playing behind him: Alec Ogletree, whose move to inside linebacker is working out well so far. On offense, the most encouraging signs came from Christian LeMay, who is likely to redshirt, but who provides Bulldog fans with hope for the future at the quarterback position when Aaron Murray is ready to relinquish the job.
RCR: How warm is Mark Richt's seat? Is there any division amongst the Bulldog faithful over the future of the coaching staff?
DS: Mark Richt's seat is warmer than it was a year ago, but not as warm as it was on New Year's Day. The shakeup of the strength and conditioning program, the success of national signing day, and the marked lack of offseason incidents has turned down the heat just a bit, but this is still a make or break season for the current regime, and the fan base probably is as divided as it has been at any point since the end of the Ray Goff era.
A significant number of Georgia fans, recalling the downcycles of the Wally Butts and Vince Dooley eras, believe Mark Richt can pull the program out of its current tailspin. Another large and vocal contingent of Bulldog boosters is convinced he's lost control of the program, and that group is debating whether TCU head coach Gary Patterson or Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart ought to be introduced in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall this December.
This season will tell the tale, but, whichever way the pendulum swings, good-sized percentages of the Georgia fan base will be pleased and displeased with the ultimate decision . . . and that's without even considering the grousing about Mike Bobo's play-calling performance as his alma mater's offensive coordinator.
RCR: Ole Miss in Oxford or Mississippi State in Athens: which game do you think your fans are looking forward to more? (It's okay if you say Mississippi State... sorta.)
DS: Not to get all Bill Clinton on you, but it depends on what you mean by "looking forward to more." If you're asking which weekend is more eagerly anticipated as an event, clearly, the chance to check out the pretty co-eds, tailgate in the Grove, check out the pretty co-eds, visit Rowan Oak, and check out the pretty co-eds ranks right up there at the top of the list of 2011 road trips.
If you're asking about the Georgia faithful's focus on a particular game, though, getting revenge on the Western Division Bulldogs is a much more important objective this autumn. By season's end, Georgia's loss to Mississippi State didn't seem anywhere near as embarrassing as the setbacks the Red and Black suffered at the hands of Central Florida, Colorado, or even Florida, but, at the time, the weak effort and double-digit defeat in Starkville felt like the low point of the Mark Richt era, and not just because it snapped a series winning streak dating back to the ‘70s. Arguably, this one is circled on the calendar like no game between the real Bulldogs and the fake Bulldogs [ED: lulz] of my lifetime.