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March 4, 2010

Defense, QBs on Georgia's mind this spring

Georgia is coming off an eight-victory season, which was a disappointing effort for a program that thought it could win 10 games.

The defense again had problems slowing down good offenses, so coach Mark Richt fired three of his four defensive assistants and brought in Dallas Cowboys assistant Todd Grantham to overhaul that unit.

The Bulldogs don't have near as many issues on offense, but they are looking for a new quarterback. Whoever wins the job will be the Dawgs' third starter in as many seasons.

Here's a look at the Bulldogs as they prepare to open spring drills.

GEORGIA AT-A-GLANCE
Richard Samuel is moving from running back to linebacker this spring for the Bulldogs.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mark Richt
Last season: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in the SEC East. Beat Texas A&M 44-20 in the Independence Bowl.
Spring dates: March 4-April 10.
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (11): T Justin Anderson, T Clint Boling, FB Shaun Chapas, G Chris Davis, T Josh Davis, G Cordy Glenn, WR A.J. Green, C Ben Jones, WR Tavarres King, RB Richard Samuel (moving to linebacker), TE Aron White.
Defense (4): CB Brandon Boykin, E Demarcus Dobbs, LB Darryl Gamble, E Justin Houston.
Special teams (2): P Drew Butler, K Blair Walsh.
Positions of strength

The offensive line returns six players who started at least six games. In addition, touted T Trinton Sturdivant -- who has missed the past two seasons with torn anterior cruciate ligaments -- is expected to be ready for fall camp (though he will miss spring drills). Look for the coaching staff to be able to mix-and-match linemen all spring, trying to find the best spot for each guy. WR A.J. Green should be one of the best in the nation at his position. This spring will be about finding consistent complementary guys to play opposite Green. RBs Washaun Ealey and Caleb King are expected to provide a nice 1-2 punch, and they will run behind what should be a punishing line. Given that Georgia is breaking in a new quarterback, the rushing attack should take on added significance this spring. Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith should be a solid cornerback duo.

Help is needed

Who's the quarterback? Georgia again is looking for a new starter after Joe Cox graduated. While the quarterback battle will get most of the national headlines this spring, what is happening on defense will be more important. New coordinator Todd Grantham, who had been the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach, is installing a 3-4 set after the Bulldogs had been using the 4-3 as their base scheme. While he and his assistants are teaching the new defense, they also will be looking for seven new starters. Actually, it could be as many as nine new starters because the returning starters at end could move to linebacker. Richard Samuel started last season as the starting tailback, but by the end of the season he was the third-stringer. Samuel will play linebacker this spring and is expected to be in the mix for a starting job. Both starting safety spots are open, and that's a potential trouble spot.

Guys to watch

S Jakar Hamilton: Georgia has two open safety spots, and Hamilton -- a junior college transfer -- is being counted on to fill one of them (most likely at free safety). Hamilton was a finalist for National Junior College Athletic Association defensive player of the year this past season, and he finished his two-year JC career with 88 tackles and six interceptions. Hamilton has good size and is known as a big hitter. If he doesn't pan out, the Bulldogs could be in big trouble at safety. You don't bring in a JC transfer of Hamilton's caliber and expect him to become a backup; he's expected to be a starter.

QBs Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray: Georgia is looking for a new starting quarterback again, and these redshirt freshmen would seem to be the leading candidates. Mettenberger is the prototypical drop-back passer; Murray also has a strong arm but is much more mobile (he ran a spread-type attack in high school). In a perfect world, Georgia would identify its starter in spring practice and not have to worry about a potential quarterback controversy in fall drills. We'll see if that comes to fruition.

DT DeAngelo Tyson: Georgia lost three NFL-caliber tackles off last season's team, and coaches will be looking to identify a starting nose tackle for the three-man line this spring. Tyson, a squatty 300-pound junior, looks to be the leading candidate. He played in all 13 games as a backup last season, finishing with 12 tackles and a blocked point-after attempt against South Carolina. Tyson doesn't necessarily fit the mold of a run-stuffing behemoth in the middle of the line. But reports are that he has the quickness to be the penetrator that Grantham wants.

The pressure is on

LB Akeem Dent: Maybe the move to the 3-4 will spur big-time production from Dent, a senior who hasn't come close to living up to his high billing. He had 32 tackles last season, when he was bothered by injuries. Dent has 114 tackles in 38 career games, with six tackles for loss and three pass breakups. He's expected to be an inside linebacker in the new scheme, and he must show this spring he can be a guy who can make impact plays.

The buzz

This is an important spring for Richt and his rebuilt staff. There are numerous question marks on defense, and putting the right guys in the right spots in the new scheme obviously is going to be vital. Can Tyson handle the nose tackle spot? Will the outside linebackers be able to drop into coverage? Will there be a consistent pass rush? Can the new safeties handle their responsibilities? As for the offense, the pieces are in place for a highly productive unit -- assuming the new quarterback comes through.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.


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