Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
Georgia was a trendy preseason pick to win the national title last season, but the Bulldogs didn't even win their own division in the SEC. Injuries, especially along the lines, played a role in the less-than-expected season. The line should be strong this season, but there are questions in the offensive backfield and in the secondary.
Here's a look at the Bulldogs as they prepare to open spring practice.
A.J. Green returns with a lot of talent for the Bulldogs.
Coach: Mark Richt Last season: 10-3, 6-2 SEC. Beat Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
Spring dates: March 16-April 11
Injuries and youth forced Georgia to shuffle plenty of underclassmen at multiple positions along the offensive line last season. That trying experience should give Georgia one of the deepest and most versatile lines in the nation this fall. The Bulldogs welcome back five linemen who started at least seven games last season and get a boost from the return of Trinton Sturdivant, who was the starting left tackle as a true freshman in '07 before a knee injury prevented him from playing in '08. Vince Vance, who initially replaced Sturdivant, also comes back from a knee injury that knocked him out for the majority of the season. The Bulldogs also should be strong on the other side of the line. Jeff Owens' return from a knee injury will allow him to team up with Geno Atkins and Kade Weston to give Georgia a formidable collection of tackles.
Help is needed
Georgia's offense looks loaded with talent and experience – until you take a look at the backfield, where the Bulldogs must replace probable first-round draft picks Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. Senior quarterback Joe Cox should give the Bulldogs a capable replacement for Stafford, but the Bulldogs have less certainty at running back. The Bulldogs can only hope the guys who replace Stafford and Moreno fare better than the defensive ends who took over last year for Marcus Howard, who recorded 10.5 sacks as a senior in 2007. Georgia defensive ends combined for only 11 sacks last season, and that position remains a major concern this spring.
Keep an eye on
RB Caleb King: This former Rivals 100 selection is the best-known player in the group of candidates to replace Moreno, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will get the job. King, a sophomore, must hold off challenges from a group of talented young contenders such as Richard Samuel, Carlton Thomas and Dontavius Jackson. King ran for 247 yards on 61 carries while backing up Moreno as a redshirt freshman last year. Samuel will miss spring ball with an injury.
FS John Knox: Reshad Jones is moving to strong safety this fall, which creates an opportunity for Knox to crack the starting lineup at Jones' old position of free safety. Knox, a sophomore, made two starts as a redshirt freshman last season.
WR Mike Moore: Now that he has delivered a breakthrough performance by catching six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown in the Capital One Bowl, perhaps Moore finally is ready to step into the starting lineup. Moore, a senior, caught a total of 63 passes for 966 yards over the past two seasons, which makes him the most logical candidate to step in for the departed Mohamed Massaquoi.
His time is now
Wide receiver Tony Wilson, a former four-star prospect, can only hope spring practice turns out better this year than last year. Wilson hurt his ankle in spring practice and wasn't at full strength all season. He caught just one pass in five games before undergoing season-ending surgery. The departures of Massaquoi, Demiko Goodman and Kenneth Harris give Wilson a chance for more playing time this season, but he must stay healthy and perform or face the risk of having younger players pass him on the depth chart.
Don't be fooled by the lack of star power in Athens now that Stafford and Moreno have left for the NFL. Georgia still has plenty of talent, even though much of it is in the trenches instead of at the skill positions. Florida is the prohibitive favorite to win the SEC East, but Georgia clearly is the Gators' biggest challenger. Cox gives the Bulldogs an experienced successor to Stafford, and he will be throwing to arguably the conference's best receiver in A.J. Green. The biggest questions surround a defense that underachieved for much of last season. Will the Bulldogs find a shutdown corner to replace Asher Allen? And who can emerge as the pass-rushing threat this team lacked a year ago?