Mailbag: Previewing the preseason

semerson@macon.comJuly 26, 2013 

Some interesting reader questions this week, so let's get to it:

With practice starting next week, what position group do you think needs to have the best month from a development standpoint?
- Sean Davidson

Good question, but my answer isn't going to be fairly imaginative: That offensive line, the one we’ve all spent so much Internet bandwidth talking about. For all the legitimate concerns about the defense, the problem there is which unit do you pick? They’re all equally inexperienced and thus in need of continued development. So I’ll go with the offensive line, which could be downright fascinating this month. (At least to Georgia fans who follow the team closely.)

The left tackle job seems wide open. John Theus, perhaps the player with the highest ceiling, isn’t even guaranteed a starting spot. Xzavier Ward will be given every shot to start. And now you throw in an eligible Kolton Houston, who is probably a long way off from being game-ready, but his development will bear close watching.

Go back to this spring: The defense did seem to move forward. The offensive line, on the other hand? Will Friend blew up the depth chart for the final week of practice, so upset about the performance on G-Day. Yes, there were some motivational tactics going on there. But that unit clearly didn’t have a great spring. It needs to move forward a bit next month.

Outside of the big names, what players are garnering attention by the coaching staff and other players?
- Josh U

The coaches aren’t allowed to watch summer workouts, so we’ll have to wait until practice starts to see if any further names are jumping to the fore.

As for those summer workouts, Arthur Lynch talked about several defensive players last week, starting with defensive lineman John Taylor.

"Fans haven't really seen him on the field yet, but we have,” Lynch said. “He's a guy that's gonna make strides for us."

Lynch also listed nose tackle Chris Mayes, safety Tray Matthews and inside linebacker Reggie Carter.

"Very strong, and mentally mature guys," Lynch said. "They can handle anything thrown at them."

So there you go. And I'm sure when practice starts, we'll hear some more names.

1- Last year (especially during the Alabama game), I saw our linebackers getting mauled by big 300-plus pound linemen and tight dnds (although Bama did the same thing to Notre Dame). My perception was the weak side (with Garrison and Alec) did better than the middle (cut-back runs) or getting totally overpowered on the strong side. With some pretty darn good players, I wonder if the problem was scheme? Are schemes going to be different this year?

2- In recruiting, why are so many Georgia high school kids enamored by Ole Miss? Bama or FSU (in south Georgia) I understand -- but Ole Miss? This week I watched a replay of the exciting LSU/Ole Miss game on ESPN. After Ole Miss touchdowns, I was taken back with the Band playing Dixie and people waving Confederate flags. What's the recruiting draw to Ole Miss for black athletes?
- Steve

1-Todd Grantham isn’t going to tip his hand much on any potential scheme changes, but I suspect his answer to you would be that every game is different, and schemes change depending on the opponent. He’d also point out those schemes worked just fine in 2011, and he would be right. There were plenty of defensive issues last year, but I’m not sure the Alabama game is the worst example. Keep in mind how great that Crimson Tide offensive line was, at times even making Jarvis Jones look ordinary. The bigger problem was when far-worse offenses were able to run the ball consistently. (Hello, Buffalo … and Florida Atlantic … and Kentucky.)

2-Ha, you went from a typical recruiting question to a loaded sociological question by the end there. To be honest, I’m not sure many recruits think about the Confederate flag anymore, unless it’s brought up. They still wave it at Ole Miss games, but it’s been greatly minimized. And I’m not sure how many teenage kids out there either recognize Dixie, or know its historical connotation. They just know what Hugh Freeze, Chris Kiffin and the Rebel staff are telling them. They know how to recruit, and they're on a good run.

Since Malcolm Mitchell is moving to flanker this year, do you think he will still be featured on special teams or will someone take over return duties?
- Patrick

The special teams return duties are still very much up in the air as preseason practice begins. Mitchell will be a candidate if they think he can make better decisions. (Remember the near-disaster at Missouri last year?) His move to flanker isn’t really connected to potential special teams work. My sense is that as long as the offense is expected to be potent, they're going to play it safe on the return units. Rhett McGowan may not seem an inspiring choice, but if they don't have complete confidence that Mitchell or anyone else will be trouble-free on returns, they'll take a fair catch and let the offense take it from there.

How much is Matthews going to grow? Everything we've heard about him is re: his big hits. Reminds me of another S we moved to ILB.
- Ben Sheppard, via Twitter

Alec Ogletree? I’d be surprised if Matthews shifted down, but hey, I was surprised when Ogletree moved. Matthews is listed right now at 196 pounds, and although those haven’t been updated since April, it’s probably still close to that. So Matthews would have to put on a ton of weight to be a linebacker. Matthews is also just 6 feet, while Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, the current first-team linebackers, are each 6-2. Herrera is 244 pounds and Wilson is 232. I don't see Matthews putting on that kind of weight.

What is your pick of the game outside the big four (Clemson, SC, LSU and Florida) where Georgia has the highest probability of losing and why?
- Joey

A few of us were going back-and-forth about this the other day in the media room. My first instinct was to say the toughest game will be Clemson: It’s the one true road game of those four, Georgia's defense will be without a key player, and the place-kicker might be out too. Then again, if you don’t buy into the ACC, and you have very good reason not to, then you could argue the other three are all harder.

It’s hard to project all the way out to the Florida game, and only a little easier to think about the LSU game. Right now, I have bigger questions about their quarterbacks than I do Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, who also has an all-American candidate on offense, Sammy Watkins. And South Carolina will still be really tough, but a little less tough for Grantham and company without Marcus Lattimore, who leaves college 3-0 against Georgia.

So right now I’ll say Clemson. But remember back to last year, when the trip to Missouri in Week 2 set up to be a super-tough game, with so many people picking an upset that it ceased to be an upset pick. And looking back, hardly anyone looks at that Missouri game as that important. Our outlooks on those early-season games often get very skewed.

Urban Meyer took quite a beating today by the Big Ten media. Do you think that the coverage and media covering that conference is significantly different than the SEC?
- Josh "normally asking special teams questions" Hancher, Griffin

It would be hard to make any general statement about coverage in each conference, having never covered the Big Ten. I know some friends who have covered both, and they think the media in each conference covers things pretty tight. Meyer would have received equally tough questioning this year were he still coaching in the SEC. If he were still at Florida, the same inquisition would've occurred this year in Hoover. Just think back a few years ago to the pummeling Mark Richt received for Georgia’s off-field transgressions. And not to be callous, but none of Richt’s players had been accused of murder.

Coverage can also be demonstrably different within a conference, depending on the team. I’ve been covering Georgia long enough to be comfortable saying that the media atmosphere around here is a lot more critical (in a good sense) than it was at South Carolina, where a large segment of the public was less amenable to critical coverage.

Ever since Todd Grantham's arrival at UGA, Georgia fans have been ecstatic. Then in 2011, when Georgia's Defense's was ranked 5th in the nation, everyone felt that we had finally found a Defensive Coordinator to lead UGA to victory.

But with all that talent returning in 2012, Grantham's defense rarely played to the potential that everyone expected with all those stars coming back. To compound such a poor performance with such talent, Grantham allowed numerous rumors of his imminent transfer to the pros to negatively affect Georgia's recruiting in 2012.

Thus, I would ask you Seth, what is your opinion of Grantham as a defensive coordinator?
- Ray Bailey

Oh, you have to put me on the spot like that, Ray. But I’ll bite.

I would say the jury’s still out. We’re going to find out a lot about Grantham this year, as he works with a mostly young and inexperienced defense, but also one that is pretty much entirely comprised of his recruits. It might be a win-win for Grantham: A good or respectable year makes him look good, and maybe anything less isn’t held against him. But if the Bulldogs do struggle, it would be pointed out that while the unit is young, there is a lot of four- and five-star talent.

Grantham has had one so-so year (2010), one very good one (2011) and one down year (2012). To hear Grantham tell it, the problems last year had more to do with the early-season suspensions, which caused the defense to take time to gel. But I don’t quite buy that, considering it was a veteran defense that played well together the previous season. If the issue was that too many players were looking towards their pro careers, then part of that falls on Grantham’s motivational ability. Finally, there was a tendency last year to struggle in the first half of games, which goes to gameplanning.

These are all criticisms. But Grantham has shown a good ability to be organized (not as easy as it may sound) and his players listen to and trust him. He’s smart and in control, there’s no question about that. There’s kind of a mad scientist quality to his lineups and moving players around, and I mean that in a good way. You don't go from genius one season to forgetting everything the next. The true measure of Grantham probably lies somewhere in between.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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