ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia begins a month of preseason camp on Thursday, as it prepares for a season with high expectations. There are many questions that will linger into the season. But here are the top 10 concerns that have to be addressed before the season-opener on Sept. 1:
1. The Malcolm Mitchell two-way experiment
Mitchell will start the season at cornerback with some time on offense. But the percentage breakdown has to be determined. That will be dictated by the practice and scrimmage performance of Mitchell, the other (non-suspended) cornerbacks and the remaining receivers. If the offense really seems lacking without Mitchell, and sophomore cornerback Damian Swann engenders a lot of confidence, Mitchell could play a lot more offense than expected.
2. The tailback spot
Once again, Georgia enters the season with its top two rushers from previous season (Isaiah Crowell (Carver High), Carlton Thomas) having left the program unceremoniously. Once again, a highly-touted freshman (this time Keith Marshall) is in position to step into the role. Todd Gurley, another highly-recruited tailback, is also ready to play. But fifth-year senior Richard Samuel and sophomore Ken Malcome are still around. Depth isn't a problem. The issue is finding the right combination to make the running game an advantage.
3. Is John Theus ready?
The offensive line might be Georgia's top concern entering the season. Enter Theus, one of the nation's top line recruits, whom Mark Richt has compared to Matt Stafford and A.J. Green in terms of being able to make an immediate impact. Theus doesn't need to immediately be the team's top lineman. But it would certainly help if he's at least able to start at one of the tackle spots. That would help a line that was very unsettled and at times overmatched during the spring. It would also help if sophomore Kolton Houston, who left the spring as the first-team right tackle, is NCAA eligible. That hasn't been settled yet.
4. Is David Andrews ready?
And then there's the center spot. Andrews, a sophomore, was groomed last year to replace four-year starter Ben Jones. But at times it was a rough spring for Andrews, who isn't as big as Jones. If he struggles again this month, the team could adjust its plans and move junior Chris Burnette from guard to center. But if Andrews looks good, then Burnette can stay at guard, and the line has a bit more stability.
5. Special teams
Barring a major surprise, the kicking specialists will be freshmen: Kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber. But the special teams as a whole were such a problem last year, and Richt reacted by saying more veterans and starters would play. As usual, Richt has scheduled several practices that are purely special teams. But unlike most previous years, those practices will have to be attended by nearly everybody.
6. Secondary issues
So far Richt is playing coy on who besides cornerback Sanders Commings (out two games) is suspended. If the coyness is due to gamesmanship, and not wanting Buffalo or Missouri to know, then much of the planning will be done in secret. But it's obvious that a number of younger players will be prepared to play a lot more: Particularly two sophomores, safety Corey Moore and cornerback Damian Swann, in addition to Mitchell.
7. Christian LeMay vs. the ghost of Hutson Mason
LeMay, a redshirt freshman, is set to be the main backup to starter Aaron Murray, because Mason wants to redshirt. But LeMay has yet to answer the coaches' concerns about being ready to replace Murray in a pinch. Walk-on Parker Welch got almost as many practice and scrimmage reps in the spring. But LeMay has four weeks of practice to continue to get ready, and show the staff that if something does happen to Murray, the redshirt doesn't necessarily have to come off Mason.
8. The fullback spot
The graduated Bruce Figgins (Shaw High) played the majority of snaps here last year. In the spring, Samuel got a close look here, but Crowell's dismissal has forced Samuel back to tailback. It's possible Samuel could still play a lot of fullback, especially if the younger tailbacks step up. But until then, junior Zander Ogletree and freshman Quayvon Hicks are the favorites for playing time. Keep an eye on Hicks, who drew raves from veteran players for his workout habits this summer.
9. The other outside linebacker
The team knows it has one of the top players in college football in Jarvis Jones (Carver High). But when Cornelius Washington was moved to defensive end, that opened up a spot opposite Jones. Of course, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham moves players around so much that Washington will still play a lot off the line. Still, there will be an interesting battle this preseason between a couple veterans -- Chase Vasser and T.J. Stripling -- and several freshmen - Josh Harvey-Clemons, Jordan Jenkins and Josh Dawson.
10. Tight end
There won't be too much suspense here. Junior Arthur Lynch is the likely starter over redshirt freshman Jay Rome, with freshman Ty Flournoy-Smith a candidate for some snaps. The question is how long Lynch can hold off Rome, who is regarded as the one with more upside, and more capable of being the receiving threat the team lost when Orson Charles left early for the NFL.