Georgia has hope, questions entering offseason

semerson@macon.comJanuary 4, 2012 

TAMPA, Fla. -- Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was asked Monday night whether, considering everyone his team is expected to have back, if there was any desire to start the 2012 season as soon as possible.

“No. The season will start next month, with the offseason,” Bobo said. “There’s a lot of areas we need to correct.”

Indeed, there is work to be done for the Bulldogs, and one of those key areas was on display in Monday’s triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.

Georgia is expected to begin next season with relatively high expectations. It had 17 non-seniors starting in Monday’s game, and the key players on offense (quarterback Aaron Murray) and defense (linebacker Jarvis Jones) are set to return.

But the Bulldogs still have some issues to deal with -- starting with the running game.

That was the main concern last offseason, and Georgia thought it had dealt with it thanks to the addition of Isaiah Crowell. The Columbus native began the season by living up to the hype, but he finished hindered by injuries and off-field issues.

Redshirt freshman Ken Malcome started the final two games but wasn’t the answer either.

Georgia does have a commitment from the nation’s top-rated tailback, Keith Marshall, and is still pursuing recruits Todd Gurley and Mike Davis. Considering the issues at the position the past few years, the Bulldogs are likely to sign at least two tailbacks and perhaps more.

“We’ve gotta become more consistent in the run game,” Bobo said. “We’re not able to run the ball real consistently. But there are gonna be times when you have lost-yardage plays or get stopped, get 2, get 3. And you’ve just gotta keep firing away at it. We probably didn’t do that enough (Monday). We’ve gotta get some consistency at that position.”

Then there’s the matter of who will block for those tailbacks, as well as for Murray, who was pressured a lot in each of the team’s four losses. The offensive line loses three seniors, including both tackles and longtime center Ben Jones.

That’s where recruiting comes in again. John Theus, one of the nation’s highest-rated recruits, has committed to Georgia and will be a candidate to start right away at left tackle. The Bulldogs are also in the mix for Avery Young, a prospect out of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The other big area of concern is special teams: The starting place-kicker, punter and kick returner Brandon Boykin, who had a 92-yard punt return touchdown on Monday, are all seniors.

There’s enough talent on hand to find able return men. Marshall Morgan, a recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will be the top candidate to replace Blair Walsh as the kicker. The punting duties will come down to recruit Collin Barber from Cartersville or one of the walk-ons currently on the roster.

Otherwise, the more immediate concern for Georgia is what happens with several players considering the NFL draft.

Tight end Orson Charles and safety Bacarri Rambo are both candidates to enter the draft early. Outside linebacker Cornelius Washington appears to be seriously considering it, too, and cornerback Branden Smith hasn’t ruled it out.

But Rambo and Charles would be the big departures. Rambo led the SEC in interceptions and was a first-team All-American. Charles was Georgia’s receptions leader in the regular season.

So while Georgia as of now is set to return the vast majority of this year’s team, plenty of attrition could still happen.

Still, optimism reigned after the 2011 season was officially put to bed Monday.

“I’m very excited about the future of this team and what we could become in 2012,” head coach Mark Richt said.

“I feel like our guys have tasted what success feels like and understand it feels a lot better to win games than it does to lose games,” Murray said. “I think guys want to get back to the (Georgia) Dome next year and play for an SEC championship.”

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