Depth Chart Battles (and Other Summer Tangents)

Sophomore strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for the huge GEORGIA-Clemson opener on August 31st (8:00 p.m., ABC, at Death Valley in South Carolina) yet is holding off another excellent athlete, junior Corey Moore, on the official team depth chart. The reality is Moore will start the next time toe meets leather, and he actually “started” one game on offense in his career as Richt inserted him as a fullback wham blocker on an early game sweep play late last season. Moore was a top special teams player in 2011 and 2012 and should contribute much beyond the Clemson game, which is looking quite dicey. Our kicker, inconsistent last season, may also be booted from the contest as he was recently busted for boating while boozing. “J H-C”, versatile and rangy, fast and a legit 6’5 with long arms and good reflexes, is being heralded as the next big deal on a UGA defense which has been a professional training ground in recent seasons but must face the rigors of extensive attrition in 2013. Clemson broke through for the ACC with late game heroics and a big bowl win over LSU, but the SEC just is.

Last season, UGA returned virtually an entire defensive unit (full of All-SEC and All-American candidates) and was coming off a #5 national statistical ranking in total team defense. While the team who ended up as our cross-divisional champions, Alabama, and 2011’s conference champs, LSU, had to replace many starters. Things didn’t play out as foreseen as both the Bayou Bengals and the Crimson Tide simply reloaded defensively and appeared much better prepared than Grantham’s Georgia D, which struggled early to hold scores down with a lack of cohesion due to suspensions and way too many misalignments. Further, UGA failed all season to effectively stop the run. By season’s end, UGA was 12th of 14 SEC teams in rushing defense, a formula which cost UGA an SEC title in a game they led 21-10 and nearly cost UGA a third straight bowl loss, to the multiple and complex rushing attack of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Murray and Gurley, playing at near peak, pushed Georgia past the Huskers but came up just short in Atlanta. Unusual but UGA now gets the most national media respect the program has had in years by losing a close football game to Bama.

More depth chart news: speedy sophomore outside linebacker James DeLoach is holding off last year’s sometime starter, when not suspended or injured, senior Chase Vasser. Vasser is an effort guy I expect to see making big plays in his final campaign in the Classic City.

The Dream Team Twins: Sterling Bailey (redshirt sophomore) is starting in front of hungry junior Ray Drew. Both were outside linebacker/defensive ends upon recruitment and the top high school sack artists in the USA. Both continued to pack on pounds of muscle at UGA, and both are game-ready true down linemen now. Both will play extensively this season and both must come up big for a Dawgs defense replacing so many effective starters.

On offense, ten starters return, including senior QB Murray (career 61.5% completions, 10,091 yards, 95 touchdowns, 32 interceptions). Murray was second nationally in quarterback rating and should set the SEC records for TDs and completions (over Chris Leak, a lousy Gator) and yardage (over David Greene, a good Dawg). Gurley returns for year two after going for 1,385 on 222 carries, with 17 touchdowns and a rushing average of 6.2…second on the team in average to explosive co-starter Keith Marshall. “GURSHALL” actually outproduced Herschel as a freshman. Sky is the limit for the UGA offense, which led the nation in yards per play (7.09).

Michael Bennett is the non-returning starter. He led the team in receiving yardage at the time of his injury in 2012 and was one the two most clutch offensive players on the team in 2011; the other was Malcolm Mitchell, last season’s starter at cornerback when the season started. Richt’s plans to Champ Bailey him and play him the whole game were rightly abandoned. He is a wideout. I don’t like him much as a corner and not at all as a shaky punt returner.

Even more defensive depth chart news: freshman Reggie Carter is pushing the punishing junior Amarlo Herrera for some linebacking snaps. Recall Herrera being forced to play extensively early as a true freshman and recall him playing well. He is a hard hitting ballhawk. Carter looks to be an undeniable force, though.

The O-line is looking great. The last official depth chart listed redshirt sophomore Xzavier Ward ahead of former all-world recruit and last season’s full-year starter John Theus. Right tackle is one of the five most important positions in football, and I’m glad to see healthy competition on a deep offensive line.

They and the new defense are the key to championships, as Murray looks to have shaken the can’t beat ranked teams label with 2012 wins over Top 10 Florida (where he struggled) and a ranked Nebraska (where he played lights out). But that Bama second half loss remains what sticks out in the national consciousness. That and the Carolina beat down.

#SECMediaDays was purely awesome this year. I plan to muse more on that on The Sports Joc Show – http://www.thesportsjoc.com – 9a-noon (EST) Mondays. The Sports Joc Show with Wayne Gandy (of Auburn and 15 years in NFL: Falcons, Saints, Rams, Steelers) is a national sports and entertainment radio show with simulcast I contribute to regularly, especially during American college football season. Only a month or so away…