ATHENS - I am not a member of the Georgia football team's coaching staff, as my paycheck will reflect. I am just a humble beat writer who during the course of the job will occasionally form my own opinions on a few things.
As the season nears, the Bulldogs are in pretty good shape. Well, at least as far as pending major decisions, or position battles. The suspensions, well, you can't really do anything about that. But otherwise there are no huge overhanging issues for the team when it begins preseason practice on Aug. 1.
So the following are not earth-shattering proposals, like going to the Wing-T, starting Aaron Murray at safety or, God forbid, letting Nike design new uniforms. Nonetheless, the team does have some percolating issues, and here's the way I would go:
1. Marshall Morgan’s replacement: The regular offense
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It hasn’t been announced how many games, if any, the sophomore place-kicker will miss after his foray on Lake Oconee. But if he does miss time, the Bulldogs may feel good with walk-on Adam Erickson, who made a long field goal on G-Day, or even punter Collin Barber. But the best option may be just going for it. We’re talking about potentially the best offense Georgia has ever fielded, and one that should have a reasonable chance of converting on short fourth downs, or even on longer ones. Every situation is different, obviously. Fourth-and-goal from the 7? Kick the field goal. Fourth-and-seven from the 32? I’d go for it. Fourth-and-inches from the 22? Go for it.
2: Play John Theus at left tackle
Just do it. Look, everyone loves Kenarious Gates and his work ethic, but his best position is probably guard. And Theus, for all the rough edges, is the team’s most high-upside offensive lineman. It’s not certain he’ll be a lock-down left tackle or be good enough to hold Jadeveon Clowney in check. But the NFL is already worried about how it will block Clowney. Theus, given a month in preseason to work at left tackle, may just give Georgia its best chance. As for the rest of the line, you can play Gates at right tackle if Xzavier Ward isn’t ready, or play Gates at left guard. Either way, along with entrenched starters David Andrews and Chris Burnette, you should have a decent six-man rotation. Mark Beard can make it seven, and Greg Pyke could make it eight. And I haven’t even mentioned Watts Dantzler, but
2a: Redshirt Watts Dantzler The loquacious and fun-loving junior deserves a year off to be in better position to finish his career strong. This is assuming he doesn’t come in during August and make clear he’s one of the best five. Barring that, it just makes sense for Dantzler and the future of the O-line to save one of his playing years.
3. Don’t force Hutson Mason into games
Mark Richt has said Mason has earned the right to play, but has also said it won’t be a David Greene-D.J. Shockley arrangement. Good. What’s the happy medium? Not to be callous, but it shouldn’t keep Richt up at night. Aaron Murray has proven his worth and there’s no reason to mess with an offense that works. Mason, by virtue of his willingness to take the redshirt, has put himself in line to be the unquestioned starter as a senior. He’s also the unquestioned first guy in if something happens to Murray. That should be enough, and Georgia isn’t under any obligation to give him anything more.
4. Don’t over-compensate for the loss of Josh Harvey-Clemons for one game
It’s only a one-game suspension. A very big game, but not an SEC game. It’s still going to be very important that Harvey-Clemons be ready to play the star position (hybrid safety-linebacker) for the rest of the season, and for the defense to be cohesive with Harvey-Clemons in the lineup. So don’t spend too much time in August getting his replacement ready, just to move everyone back after Week 1. You could do it last year with Sanders Commings at safety and cornerback because he was a senior, and it was a veteran defense. Not this year. Just play whoever emerges as the third cornerback (Shaq Wiggins, Branden Langley) at the star, and deal with the repercussions. You could also move Damian Swann there, although I suspect he’ll be on full-time Sammy Watkins duty.
5. Front seven: Rotate like crazy up front, but not in the back
Defensive line coach Chris Wilson has a lot of unproven but intriguing options, and he’s vowed to use them. In fact, he refuses to categorize guys as nose tackles or end. He also may have more than just three spots available, if Todd Grantham emphasizes playing a 4-2-5. So it’s a sound strategy to go six, seven, eight deep on the line, whatever it takes. But with the linebackers, there isn’t as much need. Jordan Jenkins shouldn’t come off the field much, if at all. The other outside linebacker spot won’t be needed in the 4-2-5, but James DeLoach will be just fine when necessary. As for inside linebacker, last year the team rotated four guys, at least when that many were available. It should only be three to start this year. Amarlo Herrera is the unquestioned starter, and a potential star. Next to him, junior Ramik Wilson is assuming the other spot, with freshmen Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin the top backups. Wilson deserves a chance to start the season, while Carter really showed a nose for the football during spring ball. There might be a temptation to see what Rankin can do, or one of the other incoming freshmen. But for now, at a spot where experience is really important, let Wilson and Carter have a 60-40 split of snaps beside Herrera, and go from there.