SEC Football Preview: Georgia

Mark Richt

Georgia enters the 2011 season with a pair of highly-anticipated matchups, which will likely determine the outcome of the season. The Bulldogs take a short trip to Atlanta to face Boise State in the Georgia Dome and then host South Carolina in what could be the most important game of the season.

NOTE: Georgia is picked to finish No. 2 in the SEC East by Scout.com publishers/writers.

Mark Richt has come under fire for Georgia's 8-5 and 6-7 seasons the last two years – this is considered an important season for his future at Georgia.

Good thing for Richt that Aaron Murray returns under center in the fall. Most observers consider Murray the top quarterback in the SEC. Murray will have to figure out how to replace the production of superstar receiver A.J. Green, and that won't be easy. Georgia limped to a 1-3 start last year without Green – now they will play the entire season without him.

Richt also dismissed leading rusher Washuan Ealey from the team in early May. Ealey was expected to be the third-string running back heading into the fall, but his departure means more pressure on senior Caleb King and wonder kid Isaiah Crowell, who will make his debut in silver britches at the Georgia Dome. Crowell was the key piece to Georgia's "Dream Team" 2011 recruiting class. If Crowell is as good as many think he is Georgia may be the team to beat in the SEC East.

The Bulldogs will have to figure out their offensive line rotations, but three starters return from last season. Center Ben Jones is a four-year starter and a potential All-SEC performer. Cordy Glenn is considered the best NFL prospect of the offensive linemen. He turned down the chance to enter the NFL Draft in order to finish up his career at Georgia. Kenarious Gates started last season as a true freshman and could line up at guard or tackle for the Dawgs in the fall.

Replacing the production of A.J. Green could come more from the tight end spot than at receiver. Orson Charles, a teammate of Murray's in high school, is a top-flight SEC tight end and could be very productive this fall. He is expected to start this fall over Aron White, but White is a solid contributor who would start at most any other school in the SEC.

Tavarres King will probably be Georgia's top target at receiver. King is the team's returning leader in receiving yards, but Marlon Brown could make a jump in production this year. The Memphis native will get more looks now that Green is gone.

The biggest hole in Georgia's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 last season was at nose. The Bulldogs simply did not have the space-eating bodies ready to play at that critical spot in the 3-4. That no longer appears to be an issue.

JUCO transfer John Jenkins and sophomore Kwame Geathers both seem capable of being what the Bulldogs need. The Bulldogs won a big recruiting fight for Jenkins just after Signing Day. Geathers developed into the most-talked-about player coming out of spring football.

With nose settled, DeAngelo Tyson will be able to move back to his natural defensive end position opposite Abry Jones. The duo was solid last season, but asking Tyson to play nose his first year as a starter seemed a bit much at times. The expectation is that Tyson will perform near an All-SEC level back at a more natural spot.

Georgia decided to move playmaking safety Alec Ogletree to middle linebacker before spring practice, and the move appears to have paid off. Ogletree will line up beside veteran Christian Robinson this fall.

Meanwhile the emergence of USC transfer Jarvis Jones over the last year provides for a playmaking outside linebacker to replace Justin Houston. Jones turned heads for most of the last year on the practice squad. Some argue that he was the Bulldogs' best defensive player last season, but he was unable to play due to NCAA transfer rules. Jones will take the field opposite Cornelius Washington – a physically gifted player who still seems to be learning the nuances of playing outside linebacker.

In the secondary Georgia has three spots figured out, but is waiting to see what happens at the final one. Brandon Boykin returns for his senior season as the most solid member of the secondary. The best kickoff return man in the SEC, Boykin will be a three-year starter this fall. He is the leader of the secondary.

Sanders Commings could play either corner or safety in the fall, but Georgia's coaches will likely stick him at safety. Commings is Georgia's most diverse member of the secondary.

Georgia's kicking game is one of the best in the nation. Ty Frix returns to snap to one of the best punting/kicking duos in Georgia history – Drew Butler and Blair Walsh. Walsh has always been steady in the place kicking game, but has improved on kickoffs, too. Butler won the Ray Guy Award (top punter in America) in 2009 and was a finalist in 2010.

If the Bulldogs top Boise State and South Carolina to build momentum coming out of the gates they could be a difficult team to beat. They showed resiliency in 2010 after a difficult start, but doing so two years in a row seems like asking a lot from the Dawgs. Expectations are always high in Athens – a bad start will give doubters ammunition.

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