By Dean Legge
Georgia will not have the pressure or the players from the 2008 season in 2009. It did not respond overwhelmingly well to the pressure last season and the jury is still out on how it will respond without Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno.
What is known about Georgia's 2009 season is the unknown. How will new starting quarterback Joe Cox handle the spotlight five years into his Bulldog career? Who will take over for Moreno? Will the rash of injuries that hit the Dawgs last season return in the fall?
Georgia will know the answer to many of the questions surrounding the team in no time. A trip to Oklahoma State opens the season before the SEC opener in Athens against South Carolina. The Dawgs then travel west again, this time to face Arkansas. They return to Athens for two more difficult games – Arizona State and LSU – before hitting the usual difficult SEC season in October and beyond. The Bulldogs are not used to such a grinding September schedule, but it will likely be the most difficult stretch of the season.
If there is an immediate area of concern for the Dawgs it is at the skill positions on offense. Cox will be the starter under center, and 2008 SEC Freshman-of-the-Year A.J. Green will star at receiver, but the other playmakers are a little up in the air.
There is no clear-cut replacement for Moreno as running back. Caleb King didn't lock down the starting job in the spring, but he will likely be the No. 1 back going into fall camp. Richard Samuel, who missed spring with an injury, will fight him for the starting spot and playing time in the fall. Newcomer Carlton Thomas could be a difference maker as a changeup to those two backs.
At receiver it is clear that Mike Moore, a senior, has come along to be the No. 2 receiver. But Kris Durham's injury in the fall means Georgia is suddenly without much depth at that spot. Tavarres King is another to keep an eye on, but it is unclear how much impact he will have in the fall. Two true freshmen, Marlon Brown and Rontavious Wooten, will also bring a little something new to the Dawgs this fall. All of the mentioned receivers should play.
Georgia's defensive and offensive lines will be the strength of the team. Several starters along both fronts who missed all or most of 2008 or spring 2009 practices will return to the starting lineup for the Dawgs in September. Jeff Owens, Trinton Sturdivant, Justin Anderson, Vince Vance, Josh Davis, Chris Davis and others will all return to the starting lineup or rotation in the fall. The return of so many players will unquestionably help the Dawgs in the fall.
Georgia's linebackers, starring junior linebacker Rennie Curran, are deep and good. The group will be used heavily on special teams, too, which struggled as a result of so many injuries last season. The cornerbacks, with junior Prince Miller and newcomer Brandon Boykin at corner, should be solid. Vance Cuff and Sanders Commings will provide depth at that spot. Bryan Evans, who was at corner, found his home at safety at the end of the fall. He will be joined by future NFLer Reshad Jones at that spot.
Georgia certainly has the capability to win 10 games this fall, but the challenge will be the schedule. A critical game with Florida in Jacksonville will likely decide the SEC East – the Gators are the early favorite to win the BCS this season. If Georgia can get off to a good start it will have the chance to make some noise in the SEC. If it struggles out of the gate it could be one of the longest seasons of Mark Richt's tenure in Athens.