Georgia’s ‘identity’ for 2013 depends on two major decisions

semerson@macon.comJanuary 2, 2013 

ORLANDO -- A few minutes after Georgia’s season ended, this time with a victory, the analysis sprung from coaches and players about what next season holds.

As Alec Ogletree sat in a chair telling reporters he was turning pro, receiver Chris Conley sat a couple of feet away, saying he hoped quarterback Aaron Murray would return.

About 15 feet away, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo admitted he didn’t know what the identity of the offense would be next year. And a few feet from him, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had a jovial outlook despite the loss of Ogletree and many other starters. Next year will actually be fun, Grantham claimed.

“I get to yell a lot,” he said, with a smile.

Georgia began the just-completed season with a veteran defense and a concern-riddled offense. It figures to be the reverse entering 2013, although a couple of major decisions during the next two weeks will impact that.

Murray’s call on whether to go pro will dictate the course of Georgia’s offense. If he leaves, the team has confidence in Hutson Mason, who redshirted this past season. But Mason is unproven, while Murray has been rewriting the offensive record books.

“They’re a little bit different,” Bobo said of Murray and Mason. “And that’s what I’m saying, I don’t know what our identity will be. (Mason) does some things that maybe are a little bit better than Aaron, and Aaron does some things a little bit better than him. But I have confidence in both those guys. And that’s just something we’ll talk about with Aaron later on this week.”

The rest of the offense will feature familiar faces. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are coming off sterling freshman seasons, so there will still be star power on offense even if Murray departs.

Bobo said he had a message for Gurley after Tuesday’s game.

“The thing I said to him after the game, ‘You had a great year, but you have a chance to be great. And let’s go to work.’ I have no doubt that those two games will respond in the offseason. I think they will only improve,” Bobo said.

The offensive line doesn’t lose anybody, but it will still have to improve after an uneven season. The receiving corps loses starters Tavarres King and Marlon Brown (who missed the latter half of the season after knee surgery). But the return of Michael Bennett from knee surgery, the presence of Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley and the performance of Justin Scott-Wesley in the bowl are encouraging.

“You gotta feel good about the guys coming back. You gotta feel good about guys like Justin Scott-Wesley, making great plays,” Bobo said. “Any time young guys can play well and have success, that’s only going to lead to more confidence for them heading into next year.”

Conley also said the team would have faith in Mason.

“Absolutely. Hutson’s a baller. And I know he’ll be ready,” Conley said.

As for the defense, the big unknown is at nose tackle. Junior Kwame Geathers is mulling the draft, and indications are it could go either way. If Geathers returns, then the team has an inexperienced, 355-pound nose tackle to anchor a young defense. If not, it just adds to the question marks.

“We’re gonna be young,” said cornerback Damian Swann, one of the few starters who will return. “But we’re gonna have some guys that have to step up. We recruit guys that can play. It just so happened that their time is gonna come next year.”

Grantham, entering his fourth season leading Georgia’s defense, harkened back to when he first arrived. He pointed out that he inherited most of the players who are now departing, but at the time they didn’t know the 3-4 system.

Most of the players who will take the field next year will be inexperienced. But they at least know the system.

“The biggest thing to me is you watch the transition from year one to year three,” Grantham said. “That game wasn’t going great right there (against Nebraska), but we found a way to win it, and we showed more mental and physical toughness in the second half to win the game. And that’s why you win 12 games in a year. That’s what we’ve got to work with the guys coming up is to develop that mental and physical toughness to win ballgames.”

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