ATHENS - Now that Orson Charles has made his decision, it's safe to go ahead with a way-too-early look at how the Georgia offense will line up next season.
There's no way, of course, to make this 100 percent accurate. There are still a few recruiting decisions that could impact this list, most notably junior college receiver Cordarelle Patterson, tailback Todd Gurley and offensive lineman Avery Young. Their decisions and potential impact will be noted in the breakdown that follows.
It's also important to note that last year at this time, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King would have been regarded as the top two tailbacks, Malcolm Mitchell and Isaiah Crowell were mere possibilities, Bruce Figgins was still a tight end, and Chris Burnette and Justin Anderson were non-factors on the offense line.
But last offseason was one of great transition for the Bulldogs. So it seems likely that the following list has a better chance of being accurate.
We will also have a defensive breakdown, now that the underclassmen are making their decisions. But I'll hold off at least one more day on that.
For now, without further ado, one man's projection of how the Georgia offensive two-deep will look in 2012:
Starter: Aaron Murray, Jr.
Top backups: Christian LeMay, R-Fr., Parker Welch, Soph. (walk-on)
Comment: Murray is obvious. The big question is what happens with Hutson Mason. As of this second he hasn't made his decision, or at least made it public. I consider it most likely that he'll either redshirt or transfer, so for the purposes of this I'm taking him out of the 2012 equation. Faton Bauta, who just enrolled, could be part of the commpetition, but I'm guessing Welch, even though he's a walk-on, will be ahead of him on the depth chart, at least initially.
Starter: Keith Marshall, Fr.
Top backups: Isaiah Crowell, Soph., Richard Samuel, Sr., Ken Malcome, Soph.
Comment: If someone out there just did a spit take, I understand. Marshall, a true freshman, over the SEC freshman of the year or other experienced tailbacks? Well, have you heard how loath Mark Richt has been to praise his returning tailbacks - other than Samuel? A lot of people will also discount Crowell because they think he won't be around next year. Well, until he's not on the team, he's still on the depth chart. I do think there will be some offseason attrition at this spot, especially if Gurley signs with Georgia. So while there's a lot to be resolved here, the one thing I feel confident about is Marshall either being the starter or part of the main committee. Gurley, if he commits, could also be a factor. That will depend on what happens with the returning guys, and what they show in spring practice and the preseason. Gurley is good enough to play right away, so those guys would have to hold him off.
Starter: Zander Ogletree, Jr.
Top backup: Quayvon Hicks, Fr.
Comment: Frankly if I were a coach I would move Samuel to this spot, since he's big enough for it, shows a good ability to adapt and the tailback spot is overcrowded. But I'm not a coach, as my bank statement reflects. Still, moving someone to fullback is something I wouldn't rule out, because they did it with Figgins last year. Ogletree is small, but he helped his cause with his long run at Georgia Tech. Hicks is good enough to be in the mix right away.
Starter: Tavarres King, Sr.
Top backups: Chris Conley, Soph., Rantavious Wooten, Sr.
Comment: King showed in the Outback Bowl that he could still be a dangerous receiver, and it was a great way for him to head into the offseason. Conley, like Michael Bennett, emerged as a dependable and versatile receiver, so he'll be in the rotation. Wooten, before his season-ending concussion in a car accident, was a guy the Bulldogs were sending on some deep routes.
Starter: Malcolm Mitchell, Soph.
Top backups: Michael Bennett, Soph., Marlon Brown, Sr.
Comment: Mitchell is the obvious guy here, and probably the top playmaker on offense. Bennett could also be a star in the making, while Brown would have one more year to show he can be a factor. Some other names to watch at receiver: Patterson, if he commits, Justin Scott-Wesley, who will be a redshirt freshman, incoming freshman Blake Tibbs.
Starter: Arthur Lynch, Jr.
Top backups: Jay Rome, r-Fr., Ty Smith, Fr.
Comment: Lynch will enter the spring as the favorite because of his experience. Clearly he has great size (6-5, 272) and knows the system. But he'll have to show he also has the athletic and pass-catching ability to hold off Rome, who was a five-star recruit and is now dallying with the Georgia men's basketball team. But both Lynch and Rome will play. The wild card is Smith, and whether he plays or redshirts.
Starter: John Theus, Fr.
Top backup: Watts Dantzler, Fr.
Comment: Yes, another true freshman starter, and at one of the hardest positions to start right away. But Trinton Sturdivant did it, and right now I expect Theus to also. There's a reason he's one of the nation's top overall prospects. Now Theus could also end up at right tackle if Dantzler or Kenarious Gates - or whoever is put there in spring practice - does a great job. Avery Young, if he signs with Georgia, could figure into it too. But I'd be surprised if Theus isn't starting somewhere.
Starter: Dallas Lee, Jr.
Top backup: Kolton Houston, Soph.
Comment: Lee started five times at left guard this year, and twice at right guard, and did an admirable job before breaking his leg against Florida. He'll enter the spring as the favorite to start at either guard spot. The question is at backup. Houston lost his entire redshirt freshman year to an ongoing NCAA issue. Assuming he's eligible in 2012, he'll be a factor somewhere. So will Mark Beard, the junior college prospect who has already enrolled.
Starter: David Andrews, Soph.
Top backup: Chris Burnette, Jr.
Comment: Burnette is also my projected starter at right guard, but I put him as the main backup because at the moment the only other player with snapping experience is walk-on Ben Reynolds. Who knows, maybe Reynolds will be that guy. I would also expect offensive line coach Will Friend to give a good look to a number of other players at center, to at least build up some possibilities. But Andrews being the starter seems a sure thing - unless a bunch of guards perform well and they decide to play Burnette at center. Not likely, but not out of the realm of possibility.
Starter: Chris Burnette, Jr.
Top backup: Mark Beard, Jr.
Comment: Burnette had a rough Outback Bowl, but he started nine games there and did a pretty good job. Beard is a guy virtually certain to play right away, given he'll have spring practice experience and the line badly needs depth. It's always possible he could push for a starting spot.
Starter: Kenarious Gates, Jr.
Top backup: Austin Long, Jr.,
Comment: The wild card here is Gates, who started nine games at left guard, but I'm projecting now to move to one of the tackle spots. That's a projection, not certain to happen. I could also see a guy like Dantzler or Young (again, if he signs) grabbing a starting spot, moving Gates back inside. Other candidates to play are sophomore Hunter Long, redshirt freshman Zach DeBell, redshirt freshman Xzavier Ward, and incoming freshmen Greg Pyke and Chester Brown. Most of those guys could end up at guard or tackle, but Ward is ticketed for tackle.