August 25, 2013

Defense under microscope

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If experience - proven experience - means anything, even the most astute Georgia football fan will have to dig pretty deep to find any real questions regarding the Bulldog offense for 2013.

The defense? Well, there's plenty of questions there.

While most watching Saturday night's season-opener (8 p.m., ABC) likely expect Aaron Murray and company to have success, the main worry Bulldog fans have on their mind is whether or not Todd Grantham's young defense can be successful against quarterback Tajh Boyd and what looks to be a potent Clemson offensive unit?

We're about to find out.

"Nobody straps it on but us, nobody gets on that field but us," cornerback Damian Swann said. "When it's time to get between those white lines, we've just got to show up. We'll be ready, we'll be fine."

Tight end Arthur Lynch has had a front row seat when it comes to the development of the young Bulldog D.

"There may be some alignment issues, but there's no more or no less than last year. That's actually kind of comforting and when you talk to the veterans we do have like Garrison Smith, Connor Norman, Swann, they say we'll be good."

But like it or not, there's a lot of proving that needs to be done.

On Saturday, ESPN's Lee Corso said the biggest reason he did not consider the Bulldogs to be a top 5 team is due to what the Bulldogs return on defense.

Although Corso's comments made some Georgia fans see red, it's easy to see why the veteran talking head feels the way he does.

Unless you've been hiding under Howard's Rock, then you know the Bulldogs' had seven players of the group selected in the NFL Draft.

But that's only part of the reason for concern.

Even with all that experience, the Bulldogs ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing offense, giving up 182.1 yards per game. Considering Clemson averaged 191 yards per contest, it's easy to understand the concern.

The Bulldog no longer have All-American Jarvis Jones and return just four players - outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, Smith and Swann.

Did we mention injuries to what was already going to be a young secondary?

If there's been a storyline to Fall Camp 2013, that's certainly been one.

Already without starting strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons to an opening day suspension after admitting marijuana use, Georgia enters Game Week still not sure how much - if any - projected free safety starter Tray Matthews, junior college transfer Shaquille Fluker, safety Corey Moore and backup cornerback Devin Bowman will be able to play.
Of the four, Moore - who was expected to start in place of Harvey-Clemons - is thought to be the most unlikely to participate, although Matthews has not received any actual contact reps for the better part of three weeks. Coaches have their fingers crossed that will change this week.

Even Swann and cornerback Sheldon Dawson have missed time with various aches, meaning true freshmen Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley and junior college transfer Kennar Johnson will be asked to contribute right away.

According to wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, the newcomers don't lack for confidence.

"You can tell they've got some swagger. You can tell they're not going to let somebody punk 'em," Scott-Wesley said. "They're coming out and competing. That's good to see them out there competing and not letting the older receivers bully them."

Other defensive questions also abound.

Although Georgia's defensive line may actually be deeper in terms of numbers, only Smith, Ray Drew, Mike Thornton and Sterling Bailey have any actual SEC experience, meaning newcomers like Chris Mayes, Toby Johnson, redshirt freshman John Taylor, and perhaps others, will be asked to fill the rest of the gaps.

At inside linebacker, freshman Reggie Carter is being counted on as the top backup to Herrera and Ramik Wilson, with Leonard Floyd - the talk of preseason camp - apparently ready to make a huge impact as another outside pass rusher.

"I think the sky's the limit for them as far as potential and skill. In my opinion, they work hard and I think they've got a chip on their shoulder to a certain extent, because they want to fill what came before them much like Jay (Rome) and myself at the tight end position," Lynch said. "That being said, you can have all this want and desire but you still have to go out and do it. I think they've done everything to this point to go out there and succeed, but at the end of the day, you've still got to go play between the lines."

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