ATHENS — In separate interviews, Georgia tailbacks Caleb King and Washaun Ealey have said all the right things about their competition for playing time.
They just want what’s best for the team. They’re OK with a tandem, etc.
When told that, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo grinned.
“They say that,” he said. “But I know those two guys; they want to start.”
Bobo spoke a truth: Starting still matters. As Georgia moves on in preseason practice, it has a number of spots still open. The vast majority are on defense, where only five starters return and a new system is being implemented. The offense is largely settled, as are the key special teams spots.
The rundown of the rest:
Tailback: Ealey probably has the edge based on last year. But no starter has been named, and since the two have near-identical styles, the competition will be intense.
“They’re still competing,” running backs coach Bryan McClendon said.
Split end: This spot was a bit uncertain before sophomore Tavares King, first on the depth chart after the spring, was suspended the first game after an alcohol-related arrest. Then it got worse with sophomore Rantavious Wooten’s left knee injury, which has him uncertain for the opener. And Kris Durham, a 6-foot-5 senior, has missed the past two days after dinging his shoulder, the same one he had surgically repaired last year.
Who does that leave? Logan Gray, the converted quarterback, has drawn praise for his work so far. Sophomore Marlon Brown, who is 6-5, has also been a hit with the coaches for his pass-catching.
“We’ve gotta get more than two (or) three guys ready to go,” Bobo said. “Especially early in the year. It’s gonna be hot. We’ve gotta get all those guys ready to play.”
Tight end: Aron White started 12 games last year, but the Bulldogs are so loaded at the position that he is being pushed, and the team could even use some double-tight end sets.
“With all the talent we have in the room I would hope so,” sophomore Orson Charles said. “But as of right now we’re just working on the plays, just getting better from last year.”
Defensive end: Demarcus Dobbs will start at one end. Senior Brandon Wood and sophomore Abry Jones still appear to be even for the other spot.
Inside linebacker: Much of this depends on whether Akeem Dent (toe surgery) is ready. If not, Marcus Dowtin and Christian Robinson are in good position to both start. Once Dent can play, Dowtin and Robinson are in a head-to-head matchup or an outside player could be moved over to compete there too.
But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham didn’t appear too eager to do so, even with Dowtin (minor scooter accident), Richard Samuel (leg injury) and Mike Gilliard (unknown injury) all sitting out of Wednesday’s practice.
“Not really, because they’re injuries that are a nuisance right now,” Grantham said. “But when you look at game-time status, for the first game, are probable, they’ll be fine.”
Cornerback: Brandon Boykin, a junior, is the only returning starter. The academic issues keeping Branden Smith off the practice field could just be temporary. If the sophomore returns, he probably slides back into the second or third corner spot.
Senior Vance Cuff is either a starter or a nickel back. But Smith’s status could open the door for Jordan Love and Sanders Cummings, who each drew praise from Grantham. True freshman Derek Owens has been singled out a few times by head coach Mark Richt.
Grantham wants depth at the position anyway, so he was encouraged to see Love and Cummings being aggressive.
“When you hear a bang, and it’s a corner out there, that’s nice to see sometimes,” Grantham said. “I heard them thudding out there. Those guys keep buying into what we want to do, and we’ll be fine.”
Safety: Bacarri Rambo will almost certainly start, but where is the question. If junior college transfer Jakar Hamilton, a free safety, is more impressive, Rambo would be at the strong spot. If Nick Williams, a strong safety, wins out, then Rambo shifts to free. But all three will play, and true freshman Shawn Williams has been getting a look, too.
“I think there’s some potential there with Jakar. We’ve just gotta continue to work with him,” Grantham said. “Nick Williams is a guy that’s very physical, and I think he can help us.”