Fast Five: What to Watch for in Fall Camp

ATHENS – Dean Legge gives readers five things to watch at the start of fall camp.

At the start of any season its is important to take account of everything on the field in the program. The hard work of recruiting, workouts and coaching changes are done. Now the Georgia Bulldogs are storming towards the 2014 season with only fall camp in their way.

It’s a critical (and very hot) time of the year. Here are the five things you need to watch for – and we will be covering closely – at Dawg Post.

1. Todd Gurley

The North Carolina native is the most important player on the team, and perhaps the most critical part to any Georgia season since A.J. Green in 2010. Gurley missed the middle of the 2013 due to injury and it showed. Georgia played three games and lost two of them, and needed overtime to escape Tennessee last October.

Even when Gurley returned, as powerful and thumping as he was, he wasn’t completely healthy. Insiders say he was more banged up than the media knew about or reported. So it will be critical to watch just how far he’s come in his recovery. Mark Richt isn’t going to put Gurley in a lot of live situations, but this year the Heisman candidate will be challenged in terms of snap numbers with the return of Keith Marshall, the arrival of the freshmen running backs and the return of a slew of receivers.

In many ways it was the Todd Gurley show at the end of 2013. Georgia won’t have a successful season if Gurley, alone, has to win them every game.

2. How Good is Hutson Mason?

We don’t know. Frankly, how could we? Last year’s performances were mixed, but the reality is that Mason did enough to win Georgia both games he started last season. Had it not been for horrid dropped passes by scholarship fifth-year seniors in the Gator Bowl the Bulldogs certainly would have won that game. Had it not been for a very sluggish/nightmarish start to the win over Georgia Tech, Mason could have had a confidence-building blowout of the Jackets to end the regular season with.

Doubting quarterbacks, however, is a seasonal festivity in the world of football. The signal caller is the most important person on the team, and observers are relentless in their critique of those under center.

Mason has gotten his fair share of doubt and critique over the last eight months, and that’s not going to end any time soon. Mason, like us, lives in this demanding world of SEC football. He’s going to have to play well enough to win on the road, which is something he should be able to do.

If he plays we well as he can play – just as well as he can play, not try to be something he’s not – Georgia will win the SEC East.

3. Secondary Problems

If it was not for Georgia’s disastrous 2013 secondary there wouldn’t be much bad to talk about on the defense. But the holes in the back four (or five) of the secondary last year literally cost Georgia wins against Auburn, Clemson and Nebraska.

The turnover at the starter spots in the secondary leaves opportunity for players like Corey Moore and incoming freshmen to fill out the secondary. It seems that Damian Swann and Quincy Mauger are going to start. Moore seems likely to start as well, but the other cornerback spot is up in the air and seems totally open for competition this fall.

The nickelback spot is another opportunity to get a defensive back on the field, so that’s another position to watch. The point is that Jeremy Pruitt was given double the money he was earning at Florida State to come and fix Georgia’s broken defense. The secondary was broken – not the defense itself. Insiders are confident that if the defensive back play well that the team could be quite good.

4. Return of injured players

The list is long, but it is one to watch for sure. Gurley, Malcolm Mitchell, Keith Marshall, Michael Bennett, Jay Rome, Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley all of those players missed at least one SEC game last fall – most missed at least three.

The natural question is just how good Georgia’s offense could/can be with all of its weapons. It’s not that hard to figure out that it is more difficult to score when your best offensive players are not on the sideline hurt. Mike Bobo offenses have scored at record rates… when his starting players have been healthy.

So it goes without saying that one of the key things to see/watch this fall is how that group is coming along. It is also even more important to make sure they get to the starting line in once piece. Most eyeballs will be on the return of the receivers, but the running backs are key.

5. How Mark Richt is/what he says

I’ve been around Mark Richt for longer than most everyone on the beat at Georgia. I’ve watch him a lot because his mood pretty well directly relates to where the program/team is going.

He was nearly never in a good mood going into 2009. He knew his team was good in 2012. His summer seemed miserable in 2010 until Damon Evans was appropriately replaced by Greg McGarity. If you are around Richt for long enough you can tell when he thinks Georgia is good – and from what I can tell he certainly thinks this is a good Georgia team.

He made his case as such at Media Days in making such a big to-do about not being happy about not being picked to win the SEC East. He said repeatedly that he felt that Georgia would be at the top of the East by the end of the season. That I believe what he is saying is irrelevant. That he is saying it is totally relevant.

Mark Richt is one of the most disciplined public speakers in coaching. He’s also not dumb. That he was as aggressive as he was about finishing first at Media Days is all you need to know about what he thinks about this team. If he follows that up in August you will know what he thinks about the team. And if he gives the “I think this team reminds me a lot of the 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2012 teams” speech then you might want to save your money for expensive road trips in the winter.

Watch Mark Richt. You see him as much as I do, and you can tell as well. See if you can tell what I am talking about.

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