ATHENS -- Brent Benedict wasn’t going to be a starter. Nor, in all probability, was Caleb King. Ditto for A.J. Harmon.
Logan Gray transferred in large part because he knew the playing time wasn’t going to be there at Georgia. Washaun Ealey, Marcus Dowtin and Nick Williams all either left with a push, or hardly a hint of protest, from the Bulldogs coaches.
The above seven players have all left the Georgia program since the end of last year. Taken one by one, none of their departures is a back-breaker.
But take a step back, and all this offseason attrition could end up pretty important. In fact, it could be very bad for a program that badly needs a bounce-back year.
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The SEC currently doesn’t have plans to switch to flag football, so it’s safe to assume injuries will be a factor for Georgia this season. And there are few areas that the Bulldogs can afford to lose anybody.
We already knew the Bulldogs would probably be sunk if anything happened to quarterback Aaron Murray. Sophomore Hutson Mason is at least a bit more ready than he would’ve been last year, and Christian LeMay has good raw potential. But at the game’s most important position, it’s Murray or bust for the Bulldogs.
Now the same can basically be said for tailback.
There was never much doubt that Isaiah Crowell was going to be the man despite his standing as a true freshman. But it would help to have a veteran for competition, or as part of a tandem.
Once Crowell signed, it was predictable that either Ealey or King would depart, given their off-field issues. When Ealey transferred, it seemed the coaches were making their decision: For all his warts, they wanted King around for his final year.
That’s why King’s inability to stay academically eligible had to be a kick in the gut. King is now set to the enter the NFL’s supplemental draft and hope someone takes a flyer on him; Georgia is left hoping that redshirt freshman Ken Malcome can be the “veteran presence” to assist Crowell.
The questions don’t stop there on offense.
The line has pretty much no depth. Ben Jones is the only player returning to start at the same position, while Cordy Glenn is shifting to left tackle. After that, it’s kind of patchwork -- and those are the other three starters. At this point, multiple freshmen may have to play. And if Jones or Glenn go down, Murray might be tempted to fake a season-long illness.
At receiver, Tavarres King can’t be the next A.J. Green, he just has to be dependable. After that, the team is hoping that Marlon Brown can finally put it together, or freshman Malcolm Mitchell is an instant star.
Tight end should be a strength with Orson Charles and Aron White. Should be. But the team has had difficulty making use of Charles’ talents.
At least the Georgia defense would seem to be in better shape. The secondary, in particular, returns almost everybody and has a loaded freshman class. The line not only adds John Jenkins at nose tackle, but it has a rejuvenated Kwame Geathers and DeAngelo Tyson playing his natural position, end.
The linebackers would seem the main point of concern, especially if Jarvis Jones has to miss anytime due to the NCAA investigation into his former AAU basketball team. Alec Ogletree has to prove he can be a factor at inside linebacker. Dowtin and Williams probably could have helped with depth.
But it still comes back to the offense, especially after the news of King’s departure.
People forget that the Georgia program’s slide prior to 2010 was tied to the defense. New coordinator Todd Grantham managed to steady things out last year -- the defense wasn’t better, but it wasn’t worse, and an improvement on that side of the ball is easy to project.
But it was the offense that slid back last year, particularly the running game. That’s why the news of the past few months can’t be shrugged off.
Georgia now has to hope Crowell -- or perhaps Malcome -- is really that good and the offensive line doesn’t suffer any more key losses. Otherwise, it’s going to be very hard to get the program back to pre-2009 levels.