ATHENS -- In truth, the Georgia football team has been in offseason mode ever since the SEC championship game. The main goal being off the table, players and coaches have been speaking openly about next season, even when there was one more game to play.
But now its official: Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones made their expected decision to go pro after the Capital One Bowl. Aaron Murray announced on Twitter on Sunday that he is returning, while Kwame Geathers is still mulling it over.
Meanwhile, the coaches are hitting the recruiting trail, aiming to spend the next month locking down the 30 or so current commitments (many of whom are enrolling early) and reel in a few more prospects. A lot can and probably will change before the 2013 season. But theres enough information now to take an early look at the depth chart for next season. So lets give it the old college try.
Top backup: Hutson Mason.
Comment: Mason would have been the starter if Murray left, but Mason will settle in as the backup now that Murray will return. Welch, a former walk-on, finished this season as the top backup, while Christian LeMay, a former top recruit, continued to struggle in practice. Brice Ramsey, this years big quarterback recruit, will enroll early.
Starter: Todd Gurley.
Top backup: Keith Marshall.
Comment: Not much mystery here. While Marshall started the bowl game, Gurley still got the majority of the carries. Bottom line, theyll still be a tandem. The intrigue is what happens behind them. Ken Malcome already has left the team once before changing his mind. Recruit A.J. Turman will be a factor, especially since depth at tailback will be a question. And the Bulldogs are still chasing after tailback recruit Alvin Kamara.
Starter: Merritt Hall or Zander Ogletree.
Top backup: Quayvon Hicks.
Comment: This spot will look a lot like it did this season, assuming no offseason attrition. But Hicks, who played sparingly as a true freshman, has a chance to see a lot more time.
Starter: Malcolm Mitchell.
Top backups: Chris Conley, Rantavious Wooten.
Comment: The flanker spot is the teams featured receiver role, held the past few years by Tavarres King and A.J. Green. Now its Mitchells turn.
Starter: Michael Bennett.
Top backup: Justin Scott-Wesley, Blake Tibbs, Jonathan Rumph.
Comment: Bennett has said hell be back to full speed by summer workouts. Scott-Wesley made a great impression in the bowl game and should get a bigger role next year. Tibbs redshirted. The depth at receiver takes a hit with the knee injury to top recruit Tramel Terry, but theres still plenty of talent here.
Starter: Arthur Lynch.
Top backups: Jay Rome, Ty Flournoy-Smith.
Comment: Not much change here. Lynch developed into more of a pass-catching threat than expected, while Romes blocking got better. Flournoy-Smith got in on some more packages as the season went on. The Bulldogs seem in good shape here.
Starter: Kenarious Gates or Mark Beard.
Top backups: Beard or Laremy Tunsil.
Comment: This spot bears a lot of watching. Gates and Beard were basically alternating as the season ended, and while Gates seems ensured a starting spot somewhere, it might not be left tackle. Beard will get a long look here, but so will Tunsil if he signs with Georgia. Tunsil, a recruit out of Florida, is good enough to start right away, though he doesnt enroll early, so Gates and Beard would have a leg up. And theres always a chance Watts Dantzler could move over from the right side of the line and be a factor.
Starter: Gates or Dallas Lee.
Top backups: Lee, Austin Long, Greg Pyke.
Comment: Gates moves over if someone else grabs the left tackle spot. Lee, the starter most of the past two seasons at guard, will have a competition on his hands in any case. But Austin Long, if he can stay healthy, will get a shot here, too. Pyke drew praise from coaches for his work in bowl practice.
Starter: David Andrews.
Top backups: Lee, Chris Burnette, Brandon Kublanow.
Comment: Andrews is in as firm a position as anyone. The question is whether the Bulldogs start working someone else to be his main backup. Lee and Burnette were the backups this year but also started at guard. Kublanow, a four-star recruit, will get a chance here, it will just be a question of whether the team uses him in games or decides to redshirt him. Hunter Long could get a look, too.
Top backup: Pyke, Dantzler.
Comment: Burnette is also fairly entrenched here. Pyke and Dantzler are most likely to be next in line.
Starter: John Theus.
Top backups: Dantzler.
Comment: Theus isnt quite as entrenched as Andrews and Burnette, but hes still very likely to start. It didnt get much notice, but Theus came out for a series in the bowl, replaced by Gates. The highly-touted Theus had some rough moments this year, but he still has a lot of talent, so he just needs to get more consistent.
Starter: Garrison Smith.
Top backup: Chris Mayes, John Atkins.
Comment: The other two spots on the line are up in the air, but you can pencil in Smith, who will be a senior. He will be one of the respected leaders of the defense, and even got some time at nose tackle.
Starter: Ray Drew.
Top backups: Sterling Bailey, Mayes, Atkins.
Comment: Drew and Bailey have a leg up, but the coaches will give a chance to many of the recruits coming in. And dont rule out Josh Dawson, who played outside linebacker as a freshman this season, if Dawson can put on some weight.
Starter: Geathers, Mike Thornton or John Taylor.
Top backups: Thornton, Taylor or Chris Mayes.
Comment: Geathers decision is the most important of Georgias offseason, at least on defense. We saw how important the presence of a big, physical nose guard is to the 3-4 defense. If Geathers leaves, the defense has a different look with the smaller, more athletic Thornton, or the big but inexperienced Taylor. Georgia is also trying hard to get recruit Montravius Adams, who instantly becomes a factor if he signs. Mayes, listed at 330 pounds, will also get some playing time.
Starter: Jordan Jenkins.
Top backups: Dawson, Leonard Floyd.
Comment: The emergence of Jenkins serves as a slight cushion to the loss of Jarvis Jones. Well, teams dont easily replace a two-time All-American. But Jenkins showed he has a chance to be an All-SEC type, so that helps.
Starter: Chase Vasser.
Top backups: James DeLoach, Ramik Wilson.
Comment: The other edge rush spot opposite Jenkins will be a mystery for a while. Vasser has the experience. Dawson and DeLoach saw time on special teams this year, but each could end up at a different position (Dawson at end, DeLoach at inside linebacker). Wilson has played inside and outside. And theres also Josh Harvey-Clemons, who could move back to outside linebacker if he puts on weight.
Starter: Amarlo Herrera.
Top backup: Brandon Burrows.
Comment: Herrera is the only returning inside linebacker who saw extensive playing time. He will be a sure starter, probably at the Mike position, (which calls plays for the front seven) and will be an unofficial captain of the defense.
Starter: Ramik Wilson.
Top backup: Ryne Rankin.
Comment: The other starter is anybodys guess at this point. I go with Wilson for now, but its not even certain hell be inside. Rankin, an early enrollee who already started practicing, will get playing time. Burrows has been around the program awhile and knows the system. Recruit Tim Kimbrough could also be a factor. And we should also mention Harvey-Clemons, in case Todd Grantham decides to move him here, the same way he moved Alec Ogletree after his freshman year.
Starter: Damian Swann
Top backup: Devin Bowman.
Comment: Swann clearly will be the top cornerback. Bowman is most likely to be the nickel cornerback. What happens after that is anyones guess.
Starter: Sheldon Dawson.
Top backup: Reggie Wilkerson.
Comment: Dawson emerged late in his freshman season and will have a slight leg up on Bowman for the other starting cornerback spot. Either way, those two and Swann form the top three. Wilkerson, recruited as an athlete, seems likely to play somewhere. Shaq Wiggins should also play, although the longtime Georgia commitment has continued to visit other schools. There will also be plenty of recruits who come in as safeties who will be candidates to move to corner.
Top backups: Shaquille Fluker, Marc Deas,
Comment: Well, lets pencil in Harvey-Clemons for safety because thats where hes listed now -- even though he hardly even practiced there, instead concentrating on the hybrid safety-OLB spot. But the first-teamer is just as likely to be Connor Norman, who started the first two games of the 2012 season, top recruit Fluker, or Deas, who will be a junior.
Starter: Corey Moore.
Top backup: Norman, Tray Matthews.
Comment: It was actually somewhat surprising that Moore didnt start this season when Rambo was out. Behind him, the team has a host of safety recruits, headlined by Fluker and Matthews. Theyre the two most likely to play right away. But really, when it comes to the secondary as Ive said here now three times, its anyones guess. Thats the magic of the offseason.