There were differing thoughts on how the University of Georgia would fare going into the 2009 season. I was optimistic going into the season but we finished a disappointing 8-5 with heart breaking losses to Kentucky and LSU and beatdowns at the hands of Urbin Meyer and that Kiffin guy. The offense, led by Joe Cox, was wildly inconsistent during the year but may have found an identity when Caleb King and Washaun Ealey ran roughshot over Georgia Tech in the regular season finale. The defense was the vein of Georgia fans existence in 2009 but Mark Richt has cleaned house and brought in 3 coaches that look to make a great impact on Georgia in the short (and hopefully long) term. This year is another year of unknowns for Georgia. We will be inputting a brand new defense scheme and turning over a lot of starters and on offense we will be starting with a new Quarterback for the second time in as many years. Let's take a look at what has transpired so far this busy off-season for Georgia.
This has been one of the most talked about position battles in all of college football this off-season. Going into the off-season Georgia had 3 returning players competing for the position. Junior Logan Gray was the only returning player to have taken any snaps in college and those were few and far between (5 of 12 for 31 yards and 2 INTs). Gray is most well-known, to the confusion of many Georgia fans, as the player we use to fair-catch deep punts. Gray is a tremendous athlete and was heavily rumored this off-season to switch positions to Wide Receiver. Gray is thought of more as a change of pace quarterback and not a guy who is going to step up and be the number one guy. During the spring scrimmages Gray finished 23 of 42 (55%) for 280 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Redshirt Freshman Aaron Murray out of Tampa has been the odds-on favorite to replace Joe Cox since the season ended. From all reports Murray is very workman like in his approach to the QB position and has been approaching the position since last year and preparing as if he was the starter. Rivals ranked him as the #3 QB in his class and as a junior in High School he passed for over 4,000 yards with 51 TD and 7 INT and also ran for over 900 yards. As a senior in HS he broke his leg in the middle of his senior season but came back and played hurt and help them win a state championship. In the 3 spring scrimmages Murray finished 31 of 53 (59%) for 380 yards with 3 INT and 2 TD. The last contender Zach Mettenberger was the least heralded kid of the 3 but also the one with the highest upside due to his arm strength. Unfortunately Mettenberger made some very poor decisions off the field and it led to him being dismissed from the team. Statistically Mettenberger also had the strongest spring of any of the 3 QBs and had been gaining a lot of momentum with the fans base but ultimately was dismissed from the team. So it's a two man battle between Murray and Gray with Murray looking to have the highest up-side. Freshman Hutson Mason will be on campus in the fall but I think he would be better served redshirting and learning the offense. The loss of Mettenberger has made UGA more attractive to big-time 2011 QB recruits Christian LeMay and Nick Marshall.
This off-season Mark Richt made one of the most difficult but also easy decisions of his career when he parted ways with much criticized Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez. Richt then made the biggest hire of his coaching career when he grabbed Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham to coach the Dawgs defense. Grantham wasn't the first guy Richt looked at but it feels like he might be the best fit. In addition to Grantham, Georgia made a couple of huge hires in Vanderbilt linebacker coach Warren Belin and Connecticut defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos. From everything I'm hearing these guys are really bringing in solid techniques, strong fundamentals and high energy. Grantham is moving the team from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and we look to have a much more aggressive and physical style of play on the defensive side of the ball. The big concern for me is that in our current society we expect immediate turnaround and if the defense struggles early you will have an outcry from the lunatic fringe that we got the wrong guy. Right now I feel good about the secondary and the linebackers but I'm a little concerned about the defensive line (we are losing 3 NFL caliber defensive linemen in Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston). I'm intrigued by what the defensive depth chart will be when it is released later today.
Georgia has had 2 big issues this off-season and it has ended with both individuals kicked off the team. The first was with QB contender Zach Mettenberger getting arrested for underage drinking and position of false identification. Several weeks later he would be kicked off the team for reasons that Coach Richt would not share but 680 the fan's Chuck Oliver took a stab at (check out the link earlier in this blog). Defensive End Montez Robinson was also booted from the team from repeated issues. He was a troubled kid with a high up-side that Georgia took a chance on and obviously did not pan out. There was a third instance involving suspected racism in a cab that was quickly jumped on and unnamed Georgia players were accused but it was later found out that back-up RB Dontavius Jackson actually played the role of peacemaker in the situation.
It's been a very busy off-season at Georgia. Expectations are always high and Mark Richt has helped to raise those expectations by performing at a high level since he's been at Georgia. Last year was a 8-5 rollercoaster ride of a season. This year we are breaking in a new defensive scheme and a new QB. It will be another interesting and potentially wild ride this year and I am looking forward to it.