Georgia opens spring practice as the early favorite in the SEC East. The Bulldogs just missed on a division title last season and return 12 starters for 2015. Coach Mark Richt’s team will be busy this spring, as this team has question marks on both sides of the ball and three new coaches are spending their first spring in Athens. Offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer was the biggest coaching move from the offseason, but Rob Sale (offensive line) and Thomas Brown (running backs) are also under the spotlight.
5 Storylines to Watch in Georgia’s Spring Practice:
1. The Quarterback Battle
Hutson Mason has expired his eligibility after starting all 13 games for Georgia last season. Mason threw for 2,168 yards and 21 scores in 2013. Replacing Mason is a three-way battle, headlined by Brice Ramsey (24 of 39, 333 yards, 3 TDs). The sophomore has the edge in experience, but Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park will push for time.
2. Replacing David Andrews at Center
The lone departure on Georgia’s offensive line was a big one. Center David Andrews expired his eligibility after earning All-SEC honors last season. Who steps up to replace Andrews? It’s expected Isaiah Wynn and Hunter Long will have the first opportunity to fill the void at center.
3. Options at Receiver
Chris Conley and Michael Bennett depart after catching 73 of Georgia’s 217 passes last season. Malcolm Mitchell missed nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury and returned in 2014 to catch 31 passes for 248 yards and three scores. Can Mitchell regain the form from his first two seasons (85 catches)? And what other receivers will emerge as key targets in 2015? Will Justin Scott-Wesley return to full strength after only playing in six games last year?
4. Secondary Shuffling
The Bulldogs ranked near the top of the SEC in pass defense, limiting conference opponents to just 10 passing scores in eight games. But this unit loses top cornerback Damian Swann, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt isn’t afraid to mix and match personnel. Will Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman start at corner? Or can Malkom Parrish claim a starting job in his second year on campus? The safety spots are also up for grabs, with Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders as the favorites.
5. New Faces on the Defensive Line/Linebacking Corps
Three seniors depart from a defensive line that allowed 172.9 rushing yards in SEC contests in 2014. And it’s a safe bet coach Mark Richt and line coach Tracy Rocker are only writing their spring depth chart in pencil here. Freshman Jonathan Ledbetter will participate in spring ball, but No. 1 recruit Trenton Thompson won’t arrive until this summer. At linebacker, standouts Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera must be replaced. Junior college recruit Chuks Amaechi is a name to watch, along with the development of sophomore Lorenzo Carter.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Georgia:
As we mentioned above, Georgia is the very early No. 1 pick in the East. But is that almost by default? Florida has a new coach (Jim McElwain), Missouri has significant personnel losses, and Tennessee might be a year away. Georgia’s schedule certainly doesn’t provide many breaks, as this team has road trips to Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech, along with a home date against Alabama. The Bulldogs have one of the league’s best players (running back Nick Chubb) and four starters back on the offensive line. The defense returns six starters, but there are question marks in each unit as spring practice opens. The quarterback battle is the biggest storyline to watch this offseason, along with the development of the offense under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Even with question marks on both sides of the ball, Georgia has enough returning talent and potential to be a top 10 team in 2015.