ATHENS, Ga. -- Spring practice has started for the Georgia Bulldogs, and all eyes are turning to the defense to see how that unit is going to shape up after losing so many starters from last year. Questions abound on what type of squad Georgia will field this fall and where the Bulldogs stand on the recruiting trail. We have taken some of those questions and added them to the weekly DawgNation Mailbag.
1thatguy: Who will be the surprise player of the season next year? Last year nobody at all talked about Todd Gurley before the season but he ended up being amazing. What players do you think have the potential to impress like that next year and have been under the radar?
Radi Nabulsi: That depends on what you mean by “under the radar.” Can a four-star recruit be considered a sleeper? Last fall we wrote extensively about Gurley and while few, if any, predicted he would lead all running backs in the SEC in total yards, it should not have been surprising that he started, considering how Gurley’s coaches and teammates raved about him. So let’s limit the scope to new signees, not in the ESPN 300, who could start next year. Those signees in the ESPN 300 are expected to contribute early so they would not really be a surprise.
Of course, doing so leaves only a handful of players since the Bulldogs signed a strong class. But of the ones left, I fully expect Reggie Carter to be a force at the middle linebacker position. He is strong, instinctual and hits like a truck. Same thing with Leonard Floyd at outside linebacker -- he has packed on some pounds and is quick to the quarterback. And let’s add John Atkins on the defensive line. He too could earn a start this year.
Scott Spivey: The state of Georgia produces many FBS players, so it is impossible for UGA to get them all. However, in the past two recruiting cycles, there have been many elite in-state players that have decided to go to out-of-state programs. Why has this been the trend, and what can UGA do to help minimize so many of the elite players from leaving the state?
RN: I get this a lot. There is no simple answer because each case is different. In this last recruiting cycle the top players in Georgia went to play with family members (Robert Nkemdiche), followed a coach who switched schools (Montravius Adams), were never offered by UGA (Carl Lawson and Trey Johnson), or they always wanted to play for an out-of-state school (Tyren Jones). The same can be said for the Class of 2012. Vadal Alexander chose to be closer to his family in Louisiana. Brandon Green and Dillon Lee were headed out of state from the start. Geno Smith wanted to go to UGA, but changed his mind when the Bulldogs signed a large number of defensive backs in 2011. This happens every year and there is nothing the Georgia staff can do about it. You can’t make someone like you.
The flip side to this is to look at who Georgia does keep in-state and who they reel in from outside. Getting Jordan Jenkins, Malcolm Mitchell, Tray Matthews, Brice Ramsey, Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons is not too shabby. Getting Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley likely impacted Georgia’s chances with Alvin Kamara. Football fans in South Carolina and Florida wonder why the Bulldogs were successful in raiding their states for Tramel Terry and John Theus, among others.
Carol: At the Rising Seniors camp you said that you knew of players that had lost their offers because of things they tweeted. Has Georgia pulled and offers recently that you know of?
RN: I don’t know of any recent offers that have been rescinded by the Bulldogs’ coaching staff, but then they are not allowed to talk to the media about recruits. But after talking to some high school coaches, I can tell you that there several schools did not offer talented players a scholarship in the first place due to raunchy, disrespectful or immature tweets and Facebook postings. Some of today’s recruits have tens of thousands of tweets a coach must wade through to get an idea of what is important to that prospect. I have seen multiple SEC schools cease their recruitment of a player after a particularly bad series of tweets. The offer might not be formally pulled, but if the coach is no longer answering calls, well, that offer no longer exists.
John Chapman: With the exception of A.J. Green, Georgia seems to have great difficulty in recruiting at the wide receiver position, especially given the talent we have had in recent years at the quarterback position. What reasons do you see for our difficulty?
RN: I guess I don’t see the situation in the same way. I mean, Georgia signed Malcolm Mitchell, Tramel Terry, Tavarres King and Marlon Brown over the last few years. Those players were ranked among the best in their class. Mitchell is a superstar, King owns a few receiving records and Terry could be the next Percy Harvin according to his high school coach. Brown may not have lived up to his billing but he was expected to be another Green. And if we look further back, the Bulldogs have had Kris Durham, Mohamed Massaquoi, Terrence Edwards, Fred Gibson, Reggie Brown and many more in the Mark Richt era. There are so few talents like Green that it is tough to compare other receivers to him. But when you are getting the production that Michael Bennett and Chris Conley give you, then I wouldn’t worry about that group.
Cbreedlove3: What are your early predictions for the participants and winner of the SEC championship game? Will the Dawgs be able to beat LSU, South Carolina and Florida to take the East for a third year in a row?
RN: With only three practices under their belt in the spring so far, I am going to say no. I think Florida and Alabama meet in the Georgia Dome in December. Georgia lost too many players on defense for me to predict them to repeat at this point. Ask again during fall camp and I might answer differently. I do expect the Bulldogs to win against South Carolina and LSU. Both those teams were decimated by early NFL departures and graduation as well. Getting both teams at home will be big. Florida also lost a lot of players but the Gators have recruited so well I feel they will be tough to beat for a third year in a row.