Mark Richt is coming off the worst season in his nine years at UGA, but Bulldog fans have reason for optimism heading into 2010. Much maligned Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez is gone replaced by Todd Grantham who is installing a 3-4 defense learned under Nick Saban.
Additionally, Georgia returns one of the best wideouts in the country, A.J. Green and the entire starting offensive line.
To get a better look at Grantham and the rest of the Georgia team, I contacted the UGA Blog Get The Picture for their insight.
Q: Did the hiring of a new defensive staff quiet some of Richt's critics in the off season?
A: Some? I'd say most - at least if you're referring to the fan base. (Paul Finebaum is another story.) I posted during last season that Richt was starting to burn through his good will with the Georgia fan base by remaining loyal to Martinez in the face of diminishing results on the field. I know it had to be a tough decision for Richt, given their personal relationship, but had Martinez been retained, there would have been a real firestorm surrounding the program this year.
Q: How do you interpret the news that Richt will be sitting in on every QB meeting this season?
A: It's not that significant, IMO. But given the how green that group is, it certainly can't hurt.
Q: Will running backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey split carries evenly or does one have the upper hand?
A: Barring injury, it looks like the workload will be evenly split, which worked well over the second half of 2009.
Q: Is this the best offensive line UGA has had under Richt?
A: Potentially, yes, depending on health. It certainly looks like it's shaping up to be the deepest. The key will be whether Trinton Sturdivant can return and contribute.
Q: What are the early returns on how the switch to the 3-4 defense under new coordinator Todd Grantham is going?
A: About what you'd expect - a combination of respect for Grantham's knowledge and sense of purpose and concern about whether he has the personnel to carry it off this year. In short, it's a work in progress. The most encouraging thing early on about the defense isn't the scheme, though. It's the renewed emphasis on fundamentals, something that's been clearly lacking for a while.
Q: The Bulldogs lost three defensive lineman to the NFL. Do they have the depth to fully implement the new defense this year?
A: In my opinion, it'll be touch and go on the defensive line. I sense some real concern that there's not enough depth on the line to keep the players there as fresh as Grantham would like. The big question is whether they can get significant contributions from Geathers and Anderson, or perhaps one of the incoming freshmen.
Q: Tackling machine Rennie Curran is gone too. Who steps up to take the leadership role at LB?
A: Grantham has stated that he's expecting big things out of Justin Houston this year. Darryl Gamble, by all accounts, has also had a fine fall camp and is pressing Cornelius Washington at the other outside LB slot. He's a senior who was moved to a new spot with the scheme change and could have sulked about it. Akeem Dent, who's currently hurt but is expected back by the South Carolina game, is another senior expected to lead on defense.
Q: Georgia grabbed just 10 interceptions last year. Who needs to step up in the secondary to make this unit more effective?
A: Who doesn't? I'm optimistic about safety, where there appear to be at least three or four legitimate play makers, but I'm a little concerned about the cornerback slot opposite Brandon Boykin.
Q: UGA has a lot of rivals. Can you rank the rivalries in terms of importance and why?
A: I always say that I love seeing Georgia beat Florida more than any other school on the schedule and hate to see Georgia lose to Georgia Tech more than any other school on the schedule. It's a little weird that both series have been so lopsided as of late.
I'd rank the Auburn rivalry third because of the history and because it's been such a close series.
My feeling has been that Gamecock fans see the South Carolina game as a bigger rivalry than Georgia fans do, but there's no question that Spurrier's arrival in Columbia has added spice to the meeting.
Tennessee wasn't a historical rival, but due to divisional realignment and the Vols having been a power in the East that Georgia had to get through to get to Atlanta, it's become something of one. I think it's lost some of its intensity with Fulmer's departure, though.
Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?
A: The obvious one is redshirt freshman Aaron Murray at quarterback. The true freshman that looks to make an early impression is safety Alec Ogletree - he'll be all over special teams, but you get the impression already from the defensive coaches that he'll be making plays on defense before too long.
Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.
A: Georgia has to make up a whopping four game division deficit with Florida from last season, so I'd say that success in 2010 starts with making a competitive run in the SEC East. If the Dawgs can't at least do that, it's going to be a down year.
If Georgia makes it back to the SECCG, most fans would be thrilled. I suspect things will turn out somewhere in between, though.
Q: What is your prediction for this season?
A: I'm in the count-Florida-as-a-loss camp until proven otherwise, and I think there's a loss or two coming because of the changes on defense and because it's hard to get a rookie quarterback to learn patience until he's been through an SEC battle or two, so put me down for a 9-3 regular season, possibly better, depending upon how quickly everyone settles in.
The Dawgs won seven regular games last season, against a much harder schedule and with a minus-18 turnover margin, so I think respectable improvement is in store in 2010.
As for likely wins and losses, rather than predicting specific outcomes, let's just say that this season's success looks like it'll come down to the results of the South Carolina and Arkansas games early on and the Georgia Tech game at season's end.
My Take on Georgia...
About the only thing that didn't go wrong for UGA last year was losing Joe Cox to a season ending injury (though some would say that wouldn't have been a bad thing).
If you are in the Phil Steele camp of rebound teams, Georgia fits that mold perfectly with their awful turnover margin last year and returning starters on the offensive line where they return the most starts in the nation.
I doubt the QB Murray will be asked to do much early on except for hand off to King and Ealey and throw to A.J. Green, but he may not have to do much more if the o-line is as good as projected.
Defensively, Grantham is a breath of fresh air in Athens, but I agree with Get The Picture that expectations for a dramatic improvement need to be tempered a little.
The schedule is less daunting with Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech coming to town. But road trips to South Carolina and Miss State won't be easy road trips for the inexperienced Murray.
I see a loss to Florida, which will end UGA's SEC hopes, and toss ups with South Carolina, Miss State, Auburn, and Georgia Tech.
9-3, 2nd SEC East
Thanks again to Get The Picture for their insight.
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