The unresolved questions emerging out of spring

semerson@macon.comApril 7, 2013 

ATHENS - As stated in in my summation from Saturday's G-day, it's hazardous to put too much stock in a spring game, but this one at Georgia followed a few trends from all spring: The defense holding its own. Spring practice still isn't over, with two more practices in the upcoming week. But there's no more tackling, and no more scrimmaging, so it's fair to take a look at this team and wonder the following:

1. Is the defense for real?

It was a very encouraging spring for the young unit: One freshman emerged as the story of spring (safety Tray Matthews) and two more becoming factors (inside linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Reggie Wilkerson). The position status of Josh Harvey-Clemons was not only resolved (some safety, but mainly a nickel-back), but he was the defensive MVP of spring. And the overhauled defensive line had a pretty good G-Day. That said, it's not time to say the defense will be just fine. Beyond the "it's just spring" caveat, it remains to be seen if Matthews, Harvey-Clemons and the rest of the secondary are good in coverage, and whether someone besides Jordan Jenkins can provide a consistent pass rush.

Best answer: Encouraging is the best word for Georgia's spring. But it's still not good enough to carry the team against Clemson. Things are just moving in the right direction.

2. Should the offense be worried?

Mike Bobo was pretty blunt afterwards, but Aaron Murray pretty much shrugged it off. Spoken like a coach who wants his offense to stay hungry and a quarterback who almost always has a cheery attitude. The truth is likely somewhere in between: There are still serious worries on the line (which we'll get to shortly) and the unit overall needs to guard against the complacency that felled the 2012 defense. But it also bears noting that Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall hardly carried the ball in scrimmages, Malcolm Mitchell missed G-Day, and Michael Bennett was out the entire spring. Even the offensive line wasn't at full strength.

Best answer: Other than complacency, nothing really to be worried about here. Even while having a lackluster G-Day the first-team offense showed several times that it still has the quick-strike ability. The offense should be fine.

3. OK, so what about the O-line

The main question here is whether all the uncertainty for starting positions, particularly at the tackle spots, is because of increased depth or lackluster performances by the first-teamers. Xzavier Ward came on very strong this spring, and Bobo called him the team's best tackle right now. John Theus' move to left tackle was intriguing but he doesn't have it locked down. Kenarious Gates looks like he could end up at any of five positions. Mark Beard is still in the mix at tackle. The only spots you can really pencil in are David Andrews at center and Chris Burnette at right guard. The rest is a jumble, and it had to be discouraging that the first-teamers struggled on Saturday. It's kind of the same ol' same ol' for a unit that has struggled for several years to play well out of the gate.

Best answer: If the offense is going to have any issues this year it likely will be because of blocking. But the situation isn't dire, and Murray, Bobo and company are so used to it by now, and the skill position players on this offense so good, that it can be overcome. It was last year.

4. Has the backup quarterback situation become a major concern?

Hutson Mason had a rough start, but he wasn't dealing with much on the second team offense. He also showed surprising running ability. He should be fine. But Christian LeMay had a "depressing" day - his word, via a late-night tweet - going 0-for-6 with an interception. Parker Welch, the walk-on, had the much better day and clearly remains the No. 3 guy entering the preseason. Freshman Brice Ramsey didn't play much on G-Day, and redshirt freshman Faton Bauta didn't play at all because of tendinitis.

Best answer: If Murray gets hurt, the team should still be fine with Mason. But if he gets hurt too this season, it could be a pretty bleak situation.

5. Who's still waiting in the wings?

Mark Richt mentioned that the safeties didn't have any job locked down yet, even Matthews, because of the signees yet to arrive. That includes Shaq Fluker and Paris Bostick. It's hard to see Matthews being supplanted, but Fluker, a junior college transfer, could give the strong safeties a run or at least compete to be Matthews' top backup. The rest of the defense should also be bolstered by cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins, nose tackle Toby Johnson (assuming he's healthy), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, inside linebacker Tim Kimbrough and defensive end Davin Bellamy. On offense, tailback A.J. Turman is likely to play, although early enrollee J.J. Green had a pretty good spring in what may or may not have been a cameo role at tailback.

Best answer: Fluker, Langley, Wiggins and Johnson could make a real push for the first-team in the preseason. But it's hard to see them supplanting any of the current group, which got a head start this spring and took advantage of it.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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