2009 Georgia Offense Preview

ATHENS - There was never any question – in the state or around the nation – who Georgia's offensive stars were in 2008.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno were college football poster boys and household names through the season and right up until the time they were drafted by the NFL – Stafford No. 1 overall and Moreno No. 12 overall.

The upcoming football season will be different. If Georgia's offense has any success this season, it will be because of a group of players no one outside the Bulldog Nation has ever heard of or probably ever will be able to pick out of a lineup. For those outside the most faithful, their names are Clint Boling, Cordy Glenn, A.J. Harmon, Ben Jones, Justin Anderson and Trinton Sturdivant. Heretofore, they will be known only as the "offensive line."

As in, Georgia's "offensive line" is carrying that offense and the Bulldogs are a contender in the SEC East. Or, as in, that "offensive line" still isn't carrying its weight and the Bulldogs are headed for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

Without Stafford and Moreno, not to mention wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, a second-round NFL selection, the flash is gone from the Bulldogs' offense. The hope in Athens is that means it's back to the basics. Now it's time to see if the basics are worth falling back on.

Only once in head coach Mark Richt's eight seasons at Georgia have the Bulldogs had a dominant offensive line. The year was 2002, and that team lost only one game. In each year since, it's been a waiting game for Georgia fans – waiting on a perpetually young line to mature.

Is this finally the year? It's impossible to know, but there are more reasons to believe now than in the past. Sturdivant is a big one. After starting all 13 games at left tackle as a true freshman in 2007, he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of fall practice in pads and missed the 2008 season. Sturdivant didn't participate in spring practice, but is expected to return to his left tackle spot in the fall. With Jones (center) and Boling (tackle or guard) emerging as potential All-SEC caliber linemen, the Bulldogs finally again could have a dominant offensive line.

And they'll need it. Senior Joe Cox takes over for Stafford and has proven himself a solid, if not spectacular, signal-caller. The downside to Cox is his only important moment on the field for the Bulldogs came three years ago. The good news is he performed remarkably in that moment, completing 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning 20-yarder with 46 seconds left against Colorado, after replacing Stafford in a 2006 game.

Last year, Cox threw just 15 passes, all in mop-up duty. Now, the burden is all Cox's after three years of work as Stafford's understudy. Cox is liked by his teammates for his laidback demeanor and mature acceptance of his backup role the last three years, and he has the confidence of his teammates.

"I realized it was coming so it wasn't a huge surprise, but it's been fun getting out there and getting my chance," he said. "It's a great opportunity I am going to try to make the best out of it. I think everybody has responded to me well. We are getting used to each other quickly in the huddle. We haven't changed anything on offense."

The playbook may be the same, but there will be calls offensive coordinator Mike Bobo won't make because Cox can't make the kind of throws Stafford could. Whether that will be a good or bad sign is yet to be seen.

Cox's transition would be much easier if he still had Moreno around. When the New Jersey native decided to skip his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, the Bulldogs lost 16 touchdowns and 73 percent of their rushing offense. Worse, there is no heir apparent, no young back waiting in the wings to give Georgia's coaches or fans confidence that Moreno's production can be replaced.

Last year's backups, Richard Samuel and Caleb King, have been underwhelming at every opportunity. King, a rising sophomore, was Georgia's second-leading rusher last year with 247 yards on 61 carries, and Samuel had 133 yards on 26 carries. Each scored one touchdown.

Young backs Carlton Thomas, Dontavious Jackson and newcomer Washaun Ealey will all get a chance and could see the field given the Bulldogs' desperate need of playmaking potential in the backfield.

The only name player on the offense is wide receiver A.J. Green, who looks like a future star. Green caught only two fewer passes than Massaquoi last year (56 to 58) and was the team's leader in receiving yards with 963. He also scored eight receiving touchdowns and rushed four times for 61 yards.

The only question about Green entering the season is how many defenders he will face every Saturday. Unless another wide receiver proves to be a viable threat, it could be three.

Veteran receiver Michael Moore has shown flashes, but most of them have come in practice situations. Six-foot-5 Kris Durham is out for the season with a shoulder injury, depriving Cox of a wonderful safety net in the passing game, and tight end Aron White is unproven.

The wild card on offense could be fullback Shaun Chapas, who has the potential to have the kind of impact on the offense a healthy Brannan Southerland did in the past.

Head coach Mark Richt insisted during spring practice that his team has enough offensive skill players to be a serious contender in the SEC, but he acknowledged nothing has been proven.

"It takes a while to really see," he said.

At least one player from the other side of the ball thinks the lack of star power could help the offense, and the group as a whole.

"When everybody is talking about the team (rather than individuals), it just makes everybody more focused, everybody is more determined, everybody is on the same page and wants to do it right," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "Not to say when they were here everybody didn't want to do it right, but I feel like taking away that star power will help us focus on each other. We're all going to end up at the same place at the end of the year."

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