ATHENS, Ga. -- Excitement is running high for Georgia’s 2013 recruiting class -- a group that ESPN rated tenth nationally -- which will report to campus next week.
With their arrival in mind, it’s time to review what happened with their freshman predecessors. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall drew most of the headlines as they helped the Bulldogs threaten for a spot in the BCS championship game, but it was a solid season for many of their classmates as well.
Top of the class
TB Todd Gurley: He might have been the less-heralded tailback prospect in this class, but Gurley was not just the Bulldogs’ top tailback last year, he was arguably the top freshman back in the country. He’s set up for a superstar career after rushing for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns and earning All-SEC honors as a freshman.
OLB Jordan Jenkins: Jenkins provided a glimpse of what Georgia’s coaches believe will become dynamic pass-rushing skills last season, starting six games and ranking second on the team with five sacks and 23 quarterback pressures. He said at the end of last season that he’ll be disappointed by anything less than 10 sacks this fall.
TB Keith Marshall: The only ESPN five-star prospect in the class, Marshall’s season was overshadowed by Gurley’s overwhelming production. But Marshall was impressive in his own right, rushing for 759 yards and eight scores and providing a home-run threat out of the backfield that Georgia hasn’t had in years.
OT John Theus: As soon as Theus signed with the Bulldogs, coach Mark Richt claimed that the big offensive tackle possesses similar next-level potential to former Georgia stars Matthew Stafford and A.J. Green, both first-round NFL picks. Theus didn’t become a superstar right away, but he started every game at right tackle and more than held his own.
On the cusp
P Collin Barber: It wasn’t any secret when they signed that Barber and kicker Marshall Morgan would become the Bulldogs’ starters because Drew Butler and Blair Walsh had departed for the NFL. That’s a lot of pressure for a freshman to face, but Barber handled it reasonably well. He started somewhat slowly, but improved his hangtime in the second half of the season to where opponents got virtually nothing out of their return games.
OT Mark Beard: The lone junior college signee in the class, Beard enrolled early and played sparingly at first. But his playing time increased down the stretch and he started twice at left tackle while starting right guard Chris Burnette was injured. Beard will once again figure into the line rotation this year, either as a starter or reserve.
CB Sheldon Dawson: He was mostly a special teams player last fall, but Dawson could become a regular in the secondary this fall. He was leading the team in interceptions during the Bulldogs’ spring scrimmages before suffering a hamstring injury.
OLB James DeLoach: DeLoach had a quiet freshman season, but landed a starting job at strongside linebacker during the spring. He should help bolster the Bulldogs’ pass rush and will be able to handle a number of assignments thanks to an athletic skillset that fits well at the position.
S/OLB Josh Harvey-Clemons: ESPN’s No. 1 outside linebacker in 2012, Harvey-Clemons was frustrated by his lack of playing time behind senior safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. They’re out of the picture now and it’s Harvey-Clemons’ time to shine. Though the sophomore will miss the season opener following a marijuana incident, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham says he plans to use the 6-foot-5 athlete in multiple positions and apparently likes him in that role enough to name him as Georgia’s defensive MVP of spring practice.
K Marshall Morgan: Not surprisingly, Morgan had an inconsistent debut season as an SEC kicker. He experienced early problems connecting on extra points and struggled down the stretch on field goals. However, thanks to Georgia’s record-setting pace on offense, Morgan set a new school record for PATs made and attempted (63-for-67).
Waiting their turn
QB Faton Bauta: Bauta contributed on the scout team as a redshirt last year and doesn’t figure into Georgia’s quarterbacking plans until next season at the earliest.
OLB Josh Dawson: Dawson is in line for a bigger helping of playing time this fall after playing sparingly as a freshman. The hard-nosed linebacker can also contribute at defensive end when the Bulldogs use four linemen.
FB Quayvon Hicks: Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo criticized Hicks for playing too soft, and he believes that made a difference. He had a strong spring and could threaten Merritt Hall for the starting fullback job at some point.
OG Greg Pyke: Pyke redshirted, but drew praise from position coach Will Friend late in the year for his capabilities. The Bulldogs return everyone on the offensive line, so Pyke probably won’t start in 2013, but Friend could include him in the rotation.
DE Jonathan Taylor: With John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers holding down the nose guard role, Taylor redshirted last year in order to learn behind the mammoth duo. However, he shifted to defensive end in spring practice and enjoyed a strong G-Day.
WR Blake Tibbs: Tibbs redshirted thanks to the sizable number of returning wideouts ahead of him on the depth chart. He could see some playing time this fall, but receivers coach Tony Ball wants to see more consistency from him first.
New on campus
DL John Atkins and OLB Leonard Floyd: Both players failed to qualify out of high school and spent last fall at Hargrave Military Academy. Atkins enrolled at Georgia in January and Floyd joined him at UGA in May.
Out of the picture
TE Ty Smith: Richt announced last week that Smith is leaving the program, but left open the door for a possible return at some point. Smith was arrested in February and apparently didn’t take care of business off the field and was involved in the same incident as Harvey-Clemons.