What We Are Hearing

ATHENS - There is a renewed since of optimism at Georgia – there are any number of reasons why.

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Jeremy Pruitt; the return of injured players; the arrival of new players; the departure of former players; a tightness among the football staff; the professional nature of camp this fall.

Take your pick.

One has to be mindful – as well – of the potential pitfalls of the season: playing Clemson and South Carolina to start the season is another huge challenge for the Bulldogs; the secondary is still a work in progress; and Malcolm Mitchell’s injury slammed the breaks on 100% optimism.

At Dawg Post we like to live in reality – sunshine pumping is fine for three-year old birthday parties. If you want that go read elsewhere.

On Monday QB Hutson Mason sat out throwing drills during the open media period. It appeared there could have been any number of reasons why (throwing competition for the backup QBs), but as it turns out Mason had a slightly sore arm. Mark Richt is going to get this team to the starting gates in full form if he can. That’s the reason Mason sat out some throwing drills yesterday.

Is Mason’s arm said to be a serious problem? The last two starting quarterbacks at Georgia have dealt with this same issue during their tenure at Georgia, so at this time it is not thought to be serious. What you don’t want is for something that is not serious on the fourth day of practice to become serious on the 14th day of practice.

I am seeing an attempt at Georgia to be as intelligent as possible about the handling of players’ injuries. Jay Rome seems to be in that camp as well – if he is hurt they are not going to hurt him more. Mike Bobo wanted to see more of Rome in practice on Sunday telling him that he would have to work through it, so there is going to be some figuring out of Rome’s situation as we move forward. John Lilly wasn’t dong cartwheels about his conditioning on Monday.

The only real settled positions on defense seem to be the linebackers. The four guys whose names you know will be starting. On the defensive line and in the secondary that’s a little harder to know for certain.

The secondary is going to start no fewer than two players brand new to SEC football this season, and that’s going to be the challenge. Aaron Davis and Shattle Fenteng are getting the reviews they need to get to be the starters at Georgia from the talking class, but what will life be like for those two when reality hits in the form of playing at Williams-Brice and when Sammy Watkins’ replacements come to town?

That is a critical question we simply will not have the answer to until we see it live. I believe in Corey Moore and Damian Swann. Moore isn’t perfect, but he will do anything that’s asked of him – anything. Dude is fired up and ready to do it all of the time. Georgia needs more guys like Corey Moore. Swann is, four years later, the oldest, most experienced guy in the secondary, and he knows the money is on the table.

The question is if Pruitt will go with his four guys and stick with them or figure it out along the way. Will J.J. Green get onto the field? Is Dominick Sanders really that good? What about Malkom Parish? What about Quincy Mauger?

On the defensive line Georgia is going to throw what looks like eight different guys at offenses the entire season. Ray Drew is still rolling with the third-string defensive line. I am not sure what that means. There are two guys better than Drew out there? Again, I don’t know what that means if anything.

Drew would tell you that the depth chart is irrelevant, and I would believe him other than the fact that the first string linebackers are all with the first string defense. The first string secondary, Swann, Moore, Davis and Fenteng – is all going together.

Is this season on defense going to be what it appears to be at running back? Are the Dawgs just going to throw wave after wave after wave of silver britches at the opposition until they wear them down in the fourth quarter? No one seems tired out here – is that because of the weather?

One thing that you hear over and over again on the defensive side of the ball is “body language” and “get your hands off your hips”.

If Georgia can figure out its secondary it will win the SEC East and probably the SEC. There’s no one in the conference this team can’t beat. There’s very few teams this team would be an underdog to in Atlanta. It goes without saying that beating South Carolina in Columbia would help, but not complete the task of getting back to the SEC Championship Game.

That’s the other thing, too: you can tell this staff gets along better than with the Grantham staff a season ago. I don’t know if that’s because of previous history with Pruitt and Will Friend, or because the only “old person” on staff anymore is Mark Richt. This is an up-and-coming group rather than a more settled group like you had last season on defense.

The offensive staff has been around so long and had so much success that its not surprising that they all get along quite well. But the synergy with the defensive staff is much better. It just “feels” like people are happier.

On the offensive side of the ball the few things to work out seem to still be on the offensive line. Also, this could be one of the best offensive lines Georgia has had in some time.

The two players’ names I have heard more than anyone else’s so far this fall camp are both on the offensive line – John Theus and Isaiah Wynn. Wynn, it seems, is going to be a multi-year starter for sure, and that could start as early as this season.

It would not surprise me to see Georgia go like this at some point this season: LT – Theus, LG – Wynn, C – Andrews, RG – Pyke and RT – Houston. That means that at a minimum Mark Beard and Brandon Kublanow would be coming off the bench at guard and tackle. Andrews isn’t coming out.

Theus told me the other day that his mind had matured about coming out of games. He said that he was great with coming out because he said that if the other guys going in can go hard and the offense is still moving then he’s all for it. He said it also gives him a chance to recover and go back in refreshed.

And while Theus will try to get back to his days of “bulling” people on the field. Look, Theus knows the drill, too. The money is on the table for him as much as anyone not named Gurley or Wilson on this team. 2014 is moving time for Theus – and he understands that.

Wynn seems to be soaking up everything – perhaps at a pace fast enough to start sometime in early October or even in September. “He just works,” one insider said. “People really, really missed on him (Wynn). This is a good offensive line, and he helps it. I saw where he struggled in pass blocking at center the other day – no wonder… I didn’t know he’s never done that before.”

Left guard is a fight between Wynn and Kublanow right now.

At running back Gurley is a Greek god – next.

Keith Marshall still seems to struggle at times with balance. If he could ever get that down he would be a freak. Sony Michel is learning the little things like properly receiving a handoff. Once the ball is in his hands he’s impressive. Nick Chubb is my leader in the clubhouse between the young guys, but let’s let that play out a little longer.

One insider said of those two freshman: “They both are sick.”

Get ready for waves of running backs.

“They are going to have as many backs as they want – at any time,” another insider added.

The tight ends are as diverse as I have seen in some time. I am still curious the way in which Mike Bobo uses Quayvon Hicks, who seems to be out of place with the tight ends just because of his height.

But that tight end group had some serious energy on Monday – serious energy. They were out there to get it, and that group’s energy was infectious.

Hutson Mason, however, is going to be the person who is going to have to guide this team to Atlanta and to the playoff or a major bowl. The Sugar Bowl was stolen from Georgia in 2012; they lost two championship games in 2011 and 2012.

It is high time for a major trophy to be brought back to Athens, and if that’s going to happen Mason is going to have to be the player who plays well the entire season. Play well doesn’t mean to hold back – it means to play without fear on every snap… even if it is a handoff to Gurley.

Gurley is going to make life much easier on Mason. And by the time the trophies are on the table, for lack of a better term, Mason should have all of the moving parts he needs to win the game. If he’s a game manager – that’s fine. I am convinced that Mason is fine with that label… if Georgia wins. I don’t think he has to be that, but I think that he’s fine with that label.

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