The Georgia Bulldogs (along with the Texas A&M Aggies) were the first SEC school to kick off spring practice as they took to the field on Saturday. With Georgia starting practice, spring previews are popping up all over the internet. Georgia returns most of a dynamic offense that averaged 37.8 ppg but will have to replace the bulk of it's production on defense. All eyes this spring will be on the defensive side of the football.
Georgia loses nine of their top twelve tacklers from 2012. The three that return are ILB Amarlo Herrera (70 tackles,1 INT), DL Garrison Smith (57 tackles, 1 sack) and CB Damian Swann (52 tackles, 4 INT, 2 sacks). The other top returners are OLB Jordan Jenkins (31 tackles, 5 sacks) and DE Ray Drew (23 tackles).
There will be very important position battles all over the defense this spring for Georgia. Based on their performance last season I would expect Smith, Herrera, Jenkins and Swann to be penciled in as starters. I also expect Drew, Sheldon Dawson (CB) and Ramik Wilson (ILB) to have the inside track at their positions.
That leaves the most interesting battles at nose tackle, both safety spots and OLB spot opposite of Jenkins.
At NT, the Dawgs lose both John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. With the loss of those two monsters, Georgia will be smaller on the line but they should be more versatile, athletic and deeper. The battle here is wide open with Chris Mayes (JUCO early enrollee), Jonathan Taylor (RS Freshman/2012 Scout.com #9 DT), Mike Thornton (RS Junior/2010 Scout.com #16 DT who might be better suited at DE in 3-4) and John Atkins (prep school early enrollee) among those battling for playing time.
Opposite Jordan Jenkins there is a lot of talent but not a lot of known commodities. Sophomore Josh Dawson showed flashes and should get a long look this spring. Another sophomore James Deloach is also a front runner at this position and was said to look good on day one. Returning senior Chase Vasser is a guy that can be plugged in as needed and should get on the field this season due to his experience and familiarity with the defense. Georgia is deep at OLB and I'm sure Todd Grantham will throw everybody he can at the position and see who is the best fit.
Safety might be the most critical position to fill for Georgia because it loses both Shawn Williams (a key leader on the defense) and Bacarri Rambo (Mr Interception). Georgia returns Connor Norman (18 tackles in 2012) and Corey Moore (14 tackles in 2012) and those are the two team veterans that have the best opportunity to earn some playing time. But I would keep an eye on the youngsters at this position. Sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons is very versatile and could play at both safety and linebacker this season. Early enrollee Tray Matthews has already made enough of an impression on the coaching staff that he's lined up as a first teamer in some drills on day one. Including Matthews, Georgia signed five safeties this spring and that includes two JUCO players that will get a long look (Kennar Johnson and Shaq Fluker).
This is going to be a very interesting spring for the Georgia defense. Georgia loses the majority of their starters off of their defense but let's face it, this is a defense that under performed in 2012. Will the new blood in 2013 be able to upstage the returning talent the Dawgs had in 2012?