Mailbag: Springing ahead with Georgia sports questions

semerson@macon.comMarch 7, 2013 

I'll start off the mailbag this week by answering a couple questions from previous mailbags that I wasn't able to answer at the time. And these were vitally important questions related to Georgia athletics:

1. I have now seen the first episode of "The Americans," and the rest are set on the ol' DVR. Yes, I am already hooked, and can't wait to see what direction this goes. Plus, as someone who was born in 1976, I'm always a bit nostalgic for that era. Rotary phones! People communicating by talking to each other! Oh, what a quaint, stupid time.

2. Someone also asked me awhile back about the group The Lumineers, and because I'm rapidly becoming an old and out-of-touch man, I had no idea who they are. Well don't worry, I'm now well aware of the folk-rock-pop-whatever group out of Denver, and "Ho Hey" is a song I enjoy running to. I like that everyone is trying to sound like Mumford and Sons now, stringing up a banjo and packaging folk and country like pop music. I'm pretty sure Mary Chapin Carpenter and others were doing this in the early 1990s, but that was country music and people didn't really notice. But whatever.

Anyway, a few of you probably want some actual sports-related questions answered, so let's get on with it:

Why doesn't Kenny Gaines play more? It seems like every time I watch, he's making a shot. He had 9 points in 8 minutes against Tennessee Saturday and may well have been why we won the game. For the season, he is averaging about 3.6 points in less than 10 minutes per game and almost hitting 40% from behind the 3-point line. It seems on a team that has trouble scoring, he's part of the solution. It sort of reminds me of early 2007 when Knowshon Moreno wasn't getting the ball because Richt said he wasn't good at pass protection. Is Kenny Gaines not picking up the blitz very well or something?
- Bryan Grantham

Frankly, I have no counter-argument. I’ve been on record since the exhibition game – when I first saw Gaines play, and was first impressed with his abilities – that he had a chance to be the team’s second-best player. Now I may have jumped the gun a bit, but there have been games this year where Gaines was the team’s second-leading scorer. (He was great in the second half at South Carolina.) And there have been games he hasn’t played much.

The reason, according to Mark Fox, is Gaines’ defense. You could argue that on a team that badly needed scoring Fox should have sacrificed a bit of defense to get someone who can put the ball in the hoop. Now, with the team’s offense having improved, and Gaines’ defense with it, it will still be a matter of whether Gaines plays defense well enough to stay on the court. That’s just Fox’s philosophy – and he’s not the only coach to do it that way.

But also keep in mind that Gaines has missed a couple games: He was suspended (along with Donte' Williams) from one road trip, and missed the Arkansas road trip with a heel injury. That's also why he didn't play as much against Tennessee last Saturday. Gaines was still noticeably limping when he came into the media room after the game to talk about those two big 3s that iced the game for Georgia.

Happy March to you! We here in the Savannah area are gearing up for St. Patrick's Day and spring practice. I was wondering who was the inside track to start as nose tackle? I have heard good things about Johnathan Taylor. Also, do you ever see a scenario where Arthur Lynch is lined up as an H-back and Jay Rome as a traditional tightend to create some mismatches? Also how is Quayvon Hicks developing? Thanks,
- Patrick Lowe, Tybee island

Quick and direct questions, one after another. I like it, Patrick.

The nose-tackle battle seems wide-open at the moment, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Taylor, Chris Mayes, John Atkins or even Mike Thornton get the start against Clemson. If I had to pick someone right now, based on the current info, I’d go with Taylor. But ultimately I don’t expect there to be a clear No. 1, No. 2 and so on until after a few games. I really sense they’re committed now to playing a lot of guys on the line, a wise decision borne partly out of necessity.

I haven’t seen them use either tight end at H-back in practice, although Mike Bobo talked about doing that with Rome two years ago, before Rome redshirted. Last year Bobo tried some new things, like the pistol and the five-wides, so I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Quayvon Hicks seems to be developing on schedule, and I think he’s going to benefit this year from only having Merritt Hall to compete with at fullback. Both guys will get chances to contribute. Hall remains the first-teamer early in spring practice.

1. How much do you see Bobo running out of the pistol? I really like the idea of both Gurley and Marshall getting a few extra yards to pick up speed before hitting a hole. Marshall may break a few 60+ yard runs out of it.

2. Do you see Malcolm Mitchell taking that next step to becoming an elite receiver? He has been good for two years now, but it's time he takes it to the next level. Thanks for your work,
- JCody Neal

1. Well I wouldn’t expect Georgia to become a pistol-oriented offense or anything. But given the Bulldogs used it some last year, and basically the same personnel has returned on offense, I’d guess they use it a similar amount as last year.

2. I’d argue that Mitchell is already close to an elite receiver. So all he has to do is stay on the field. As a freshman he missed a few games with a hamstring, and last year there was the ill-fated cornerback experiment. He’s full-time on offense now, and if he stays healthy, I think he’s an all-SEC candidate.

What's your view on recruiting for the basketball team? And can we secure a formidable big man sometime soon? It seems like we've been pretty weak on the 5-spot for a long time.
- Rob Wright

You hit on the big question. The current freshman class wasn’t very ballyhooed, but it looks like Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris all have a chance to be pretty good players. I don’t know that any of them are all-SEC players next year, but believe it or not in this day and age players do still develop over the course of time. Fox is known in the coaching industry as someone who does a good job of that.

But the lack of a true low-post threat still stands out. Houston Kessler, who is redshirting this year, isn’t the answer quite yet. Kessler apparently is a power-forward type, a big man who can step out and shoot, perhaps comparable to Nemanja Djurisic.

They haven’t signed a big man for the incoming class. They always could, but anybody available right now is unlikely to be an immediate-impact type of guy. I’m sure they’re working hard on that for the following classes. Those guys aren’t widely available, so it’s not like a mid-tier program like Georgia can easily grab a quality big man who can be a difference maker. But if they could even get someone like Jeremy Price, who was a very serviceable center in the SEC, then it would go a long way towards complimenting the rest of the talent they’re developing on the roster.

1. Do you think our 2013 defense is going to put up numbers like the 2011 or 2012 defense? I think there are some potential stars who are just waiting for a chance to prove their worth.

2. If our young defense has trouble at the beginning of the season, will our offense be strong enough to bail us out of the USC/Clemson games?

3. Our offensive line always seems to have problems with staying healthy/ finding rhythm as a unit. Will our O-line be a force to reckon with this year? We're returning everyone, and they have lots of game time experience. I'm ready for a dominate line to protect Murray and open holes for the Gurshall tandem.

4. Do you know the big targets for the 2014 recruiting class, and who has already committed?
- Hunter Ciuba

1. Oh, it would be hard to see this inexperienced defense being one of the five best in the nation, like it was in 2011. It’s much more likely to compare statistically to the 2010 or 2012 defense, that being middle of the SEC. But as I’ve said often, as long as the offense performs up to its high expectations, Georgia’s defense can be middle-tier and the team should still be in good shape.

2. Yes. Take the over on the Clemson-Georgia game; it’s going to be high-scoring. The trick for the Bulldogs is going to be forcing some turnovers, and some drive-changing sacks from Jordan Jenkins. South Carolina is a much different opponent, especially with Marcus Lattimore no longer around to run all over Todd Grantham’s defense. If Georgia can keep quarterback Connor Shaw in check, specifically keeping Shaw from gaining a lot of yards running, then I think the Bulldogs have a very good chance to win that game.

3. As you said, everybody on the O-line is coming back, and they’ve also recruited to add depth. (They were hoping to have Laremy Tunsil there at left tackle, but oh well.) The question won’t be depth this year, it will be whether enough of the starters are high-quality, and from the start. It won’t be enough for the line to get better as the season goes on, as it did the past two seasons. The schedule won’t allow that this year. Can guys like John Theus, Chris Burnette, David Andrews and Kenarious Gates be high-quality blockers right off the bat this year? That’s the big question.

4. Three players are committed for next year: Tailback Stanley Williams (Monroe), safety Nick Glass (Suwanee) and receiver Krenwick Sanders (Jesup). There are too many “big names” to list at this point. It’ll take awhile before the list whittles down. But a couple names to remember are Lorenzo Carter (a receiver from Norcross) and Sony Michel (a tailback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

I am curious as to how the two deep is going to shape up on Defense. How bout giving us your best guess on the two deep come Fall. Thanks for keeping me sane at work.
- David Werner

Thanks David. I’ll aim to provide a depth chart after spring practice. I could give you a decent guess on the starters, but the backups are very much up in the air, so I’d prefer to wait till there is some clarity.

This time of year reminds me how much I don't want college football to follow the same path as basketball. What is your opinion on the tournament diluting the regular season's importance? (please don't give me the body of work answer). Also, any early opinions of the new defensive line coach? Thanks!
- Scott Shepard, Chattanooga, TN

Oh, I’ll have to disagree with you on the football/basketball postseason subject. There are a lot of problems with college basketball right now, which I’ve written about extensively. But the NCAA tournament is not one of them. It’s the one thing they’ve had right for awhile. This is one of the best times of the year for that; not just the first couple weekends of the NCAAs, but the lead-up to it: The small conference tournaments are wonderful. I’ve covered a few of those, and the drama there is as thick as any event I’ve been at: The winner goes to the big dance and is being mentioned in the event the whole nation is talking about for a week; the loser is done.

Basketball and football are two different sports. In all due respect, Scott, I’m not sure what you’d want them to do different in basketball: Select the Final Four teams after the conference tournaments? No, where’s the fun in that? Play less regular-season games? They only play 31, plus the conference tournaments, already. The NBA has 82 regular-season games.

As for the value of the regular season, I’m always amused by the argument that it doesn’t matter. Tell that to the fans storming the court after their team beats Duke or some highly-ranked team. Tell that to the Georgia players who were pretty depressed when I interviewed in December after home losses to Iona and Southern Miss. And every game DOES matter in the regular season. Where you’re seeded in the NCAAs matters. Whether you’re in the NCAA matters.

One thing to remember about college basketball: only one-fifth of the teams in Division I make the NCAA tournament. Throw in the NIT and other postseason tournaments, and still under 50 percent of the teams out there get to play in the postseason. Compare that to football, where more than 50 percent of teams get to play in bowls.

I’m not an advocate of some massive college football playoff. My preference would be an eight-team playoff. But even if it grew to 16 (which I doubt it will in my lifetime) it would still only include 13 percent of teams in the country.

Since I spent five paragraphs politely (I hope) disagreeing with your premise, let me finish on a better note: My impression of Wilson as a teacher is that he’s less brusque than Rodney Garner, and more likely to make his criticisms in a quiet, private manner. Garner wasn’t afraid to make his feelings known. That doesn’t mean Wilson’s approach is automatically better, but I suspect it may be better suited to the younger defensive line unit that he inherits.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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