ATHENS - As Georgia entered last season, one of the ways we found to preview things, and yes kill some time during a dead time, was to rank the team's most important players. Not necessarily the best, but the most vital when it came to determining the team's success. Here's how that list looked:
10. Corey Moore
9. Isaiah Crowell
8. John Theus
7. Shawn Williams
6. Jarvis Jones
5. Kenarious Gates
4. Damian Swann
3. Marshall Morgan
2. Aaron Murray
1. Malcolm Mitchell
As you can see, this list was done prior to late June, when No. 9 on the list ran into a wee bit of trouble and ended up not being so important. The above list was also defensive-back heavy, including Mitchell in that category, because the secondary was going to be so ravaged by suspension. As it turned out, Moore didn't even play safety in Bacarri Rambo's absence, and Mitchell was back at receiver after four games.
10. Keith Marshall: One half of the Gurshall tandem, which not only starred on the field, but managed to stay on the field.
9. Tavarres King: On a receiving corps that lost two key guys (Michael Bennett and then Marlon Brown) and had to wait for Mitchell to come, King was the dependable constant.
8. Jordan Jenkins: Few expected a freshman to see time on last year's defense, and he ended up being second in sacks.
7. Damian Swann: Stepped in with Sanders Commings out the first two games, then emerged as a dependable No. 2 cornerback.
6. Alec Ogletree: Even after missing the first four games, led the team in tackles.
5. Malcolm Mitchell: He filled in ably at cornerback, then moved to receiver and gave the receiving corps the extra dimension it needed.
4. Shawn Williams: The emotional leader of the defense who arguably can be credited with saving the season.
3. Todd Gurley: Isaiah who?
2. Aaron Murray: Led an often-dominant offense.
1. Jarvis Jones: Held the defense together throughout the season.
Now, it's time to take a crack at the 2013 version of the same list. We're banking on this one ending up more accurate, thanks to much less chaos entering this season, both known and unknown.
Let’s emphasize that this is not a list of the team’s 10 best players. That list would look much different. This list takes into account where Georgia has concerns and weaknesses. It takes into account depth. (As in, players that would be really missed if they can’t play.) We cannot predict players having unexpectedly bad years or players coming out of nowhere to do well. Some very good players will not make this list because there is depth at their position, or they project to do as well as they have in the past. And obviously we can't predict injuries.
A good way to look at it is this: If Georgia is going to win big this year, it is important that these players, in this order, have a good year.
So now let us begin with ...
10. JOHN THEUS
WHY HE’S VITAL: Because if you go purely by talent, the guy with the best chance of blocking Jadeveon Clowney on Sept. 7 is Theus. Of course Georgia won’t single-block Clowney much, if at all, in that game. And Theus could still end up playing right tackle. But while Theus had an uneven freshman season, there’s a reason he was a five-star recruit, and there’s a reason the team decided late in spring practice to give him a shot at left tackle.
QUOTABLE: “I would like to be (the left tackle), but that’s honestly up to me and how I perform.” - Theus
BEST CASE: Theus wins the left tackle job, becomes the dominant force that he was projected to be out of high school, pancakes Clowney left and right OK, well that may be pushing it. But as Mark Richt has pointed out, all they may need from the line this year is to work well together, and give the team’s talented skill players enough room to make plays. Theus can certainly be the anchor to the line who does that.
WORST CASE: Theus still struggles to be consistent, and mistakes once again cost the line and the Georgia offense. Sacks, false starts, no room for the tailbacks, etc. In other words, the poor performance from the line on G-Day proves not to be a fluke.
FINAL WORD: The fact coaches won’t say Theus has locked down a starting spot (while saying two other linemen basically have) shows they still want to see a bit more out of him. Yes, Theus isn’t the team’s only lineman. And Richt is correct in saying he would rather have five average guys blocking well together than three superstars and two bums. But if Theus can make the kind of Year 2 improvement that a lot of college players make, it will go a long way to shoring up the Georgia offensive line. That’s what makes him important in 2013.