The biggest surprise player in the conference had to be true freshman quarterback David Greene. Greene unseated heir apparent Cory Phillips. Greene showed tremendous poise for a freshman and never seemed intimidated by the moment. Greene has the best play action fake in the nation. David has the starting nod again this year, but he will be pushed by bluechipper D.J. Shockley. Shockley will see some time this fall, as the coaches bring him along slowly, but Greene is still the man for now. I can't imagine that Shockley could unseat Greene, but most folks expected Greene to be holding a clipboard all of last season too. This will be interesting and it will be fun to watch to see how Richt handles it, especially if things start slowly with Greene behind the wheel.
Musa Smith is the starting tailback period! There is no controversy. There is no confusion. Sometimes I wonder if some sportswriters write things just to start a dialogue or if they just don't have a clue. Smith has been plagued by small injuries most of his career, but there is no one prepared to replace him. Smith split time a year ago with Verron Hayes, but one would think if Smith had been 100% he would have had the bulk of the workload. Smith needs to achieve his potential this season if the Dawgs are to step into the conference's elite and challenge for the SEC East crown.
The top pass catchers from a year ago all return. Terrance Edwards struggled with drops in pressure situations which limited his chances down the stretch. A costly drop in the endzone against South Carolina cost the Dawgs a win. Edwards must play like a senior if he has hopes of playing at the next level. Damien Gray and Fred Johnson will attract a lot of attention at split end. The offense will find a way to get Johnson more touches as he has a flair for the dramatic. Johnson could become the go-to guy if Edwards doesn't handle his end.
The offensive line may have the best five starters in the conference. Jon Stinchcomb may be the best lineman in the conference regardless of position. Stinchcomb won't get beat very often and he will see the best the SEC has to offer. Kevin Breedlove and Alex Jackson highlight the guard positions and must help shore up the middle as regular Ian Knight takes over as starting center. Seniors start five across the O-line which bodes well for all concerned, but if somebody gets banged up, there is no depth to speak of. The health and play of this group will make or break the season.
Georgia has had great success in the past few years producing defensive linemen. They just keep reloading up front. Two starters return from a year ago and most of the backups have some quality time. Johnathan Sullivan will be counted at heavily at DT. He has the most experience and must show some leadership. David Pollack saw quality time as a freshman at defensive end. He returns to the mix and should have a solid campaign. There is a lot to replace in departed DE Charles Grant, but they must plug the hole.
The linebacking corps is not very deep, but the starters are about as mean as the come. Boss Bailey should be the heart and soul of this defense. Look for Bailey to have a monster campaign. Most of his putdowns will be from sideline to sideline, as most will run away from him. Tony Gilbert is a solid performer and should provide solid run support. Chris Clemons has the other spot, but Derrick Holloway will get some playing time in relief. This group should be a good barometer for the rest of the defense. If this group steps up, the rest of the squad will as well.
The secondary is the biggest area of concern. The Dawgs have seniors up and down the 2-deep chart, but the underclassmen should all get the starting nod. One starter, Bruce Thornton, returns from a year ago. The group was pretty inconsistent most of the season and probably didn't have a game where everybody played well. Both safeties are gone and the reserves were relegated to special teams most of the season a year ago. This secondary will learn on the fly. The UGA philosophy a year ago placed a lot of run support responsibilities on the safeties. It will be interesting to see how wide open the middle is early in the season.
@ South Carolina
New Mexico State
Two items of great news. #1) The non-conference schedule should be a sweep including the opener with Clemson. #2) The rivalry games are at home! There are a lot of "ifs" for the Dawgs, but if most of the '"ifs" hold true, then the Dawgs could play a home game in the Georgia Dome in early December. The Dawgs have beaten the Vols two straight, so expect the Vols to be up for this one. Florida @ Jacksonville and the game @ Alabama will determine if the Bulldogs have a great season or another decent one. I look for at least a split and if they can get some help, a 10-2 record seems like a cinch, not to mention a shot at Atlanta. But I look for UT to get a little payback in Athens this year. That would mean that the Vols would have to lose three in the conference for the Dawgs to get the crown. And folks, I just don't see that happening.
Georgia is part of the new SEC East, and with some solid recruiting could become the annual favorite. With the Gators falling back to the rest of the pack, the Dawgs could replace them as Tennessee's must game every year. I for one like the parity and think that the Georgia Bulldogs are very good for the SEC. I'd love to see them win the East within two years. And if they'll stick with David Greene, I think they will.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.