Roundtable: Position that must improve?

On Monday, most of the Georgia signees in the Class of 2012 reported to campus to begin summer school and offseason workouts. Three of the signees enrolled in January and went through spring camp. The freshman class is low on numbers but is packed with talent. Add to that a number of position moves in the spring and the Bulldogs should have quite an interesting depth chart heading into the first game against Buffalo. So, looking ahead, DawgNation’s Roundtable question is: “From what position does Georgia need to get more production in 2012 and do you think they have the talent there to do it?”

David Ching: I suppose there is a chicken-or-egg argument to be made here. Looking back over the four games Georgia lost last season, its production in the run game was anemic in three of them.

My first inclination is to blame the running backs. For instance, leading rusher Isaiah Crowell was injured in the final two losses against LSU and Michigan State, and in the season-opening loss to Boise State he was not yet the feature back. Richard Samuel, Ken Malcome and Carlton Thomas didn't do much in those games, either. Adding Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley to the mix will help this fall.

However, it is not entirely fair to blame the running backs alone. The offensive line was average at best in several key games and below average in a couple of those losses. Now the Bulldogs must replace three starters who were drafted by NFL teams, so it's hard to say whether they have the talent to be stout right away. The talent base is pretty good, but the Bulldogs have a shortage of experienced SEC linemen.

Truthfully, you could pick either of those positions and say they must improve for Georgia to be a better team this fall. If I have to pick one, I'll take the offensive line. If they're knocking defenders off the ball, Georgia's production in the running game can't help but improve.

Radi Nabulsi: My knee-jerk reaction (pun intended) would be to say Georgia needs more production at kicker. Then I would ask whether the punt-coverage team is classified as a position. But I will settle on the running backs.

Besides the lack of production, there was just way too much drama from the group as a whole. Granted, Crowell was named SEC Freshman of the Year for his 850 yards rushing, but Crowell “definitely needed to mature” in the words of Aaron Murray. Fans and teammates alike were disappointed with his attitude and many questioned his toughness and desire. Being suspended for the New Mexico State game didn’t help his image, either, and he was booed in the SEC title game.

Crowell wasn’t the only issue. Thomas and Malcome both missed the New Mexico State contest for violations of team rules as well. With Samuel injured, former walk-on Brandon Harton had to fill in as the starter. It was a black eye for the squad and the program. Malcome spent the first half of the season in Mike Bobo’s doghouse and eventually left the team, although he did return. Four of the five scholarship backs missed games due to injury. Thomas wound up missing two other games due to suspension, and he left the team this spring. Drama indeed.

But there is new hope in Athens. Crowell has matured and is determined to silence his critics. Malcome has proved he can start in the SEC, and Samuel has returned to the form we witnessed at the end of the Florida game. The addition of five-star All-American Keith Marshall and four-star Todd Gurley to the Bulldogs’ backfield will ensure depth and talent that Georgia has not seen for a while. This year the only drama should be who starts, rather than who is left.

Kipp Adams: Tough to pinpoint a specific culprit for the mediocre blocking and abysmal kick coverage in 2011, so next on the list would be kicker. It might not be fair, but it is the individual position at which improved play last season would have had the biggest effect on the season. If Blair Walsh makes the 33-yard field goal versus South Carolina and the 42-yard kick versus Michigan State, the Bulldogs end up with a 12-win season, the second best in the Mark Richt era.

Improved special teams play overall and more aggressive play calling in overtime might have had an equal impact in both games, but for a kicker voted to the UGA team of the decade Walsh had a season to forget in 2011. He made only 21 of 35 field goals (60 percent), which placed the senior an abysmal 80th out of 95 qualified FBS kickers in field goal percentage. The Bulldogs cannot afford the same production in 2012.

Incoming freshman Marshall Morgan will likely be called upon to take over the reins. Considered the No. 5 kicking prospect in the 2012 class, Morgan was 25-of-28 in the last two seasons at Archbishop McCarthy and American Heritage, with season longs of 53 and 59 yards, the latter tying a Broward County (Fla.) record. He also kicked the game-winning 47-yard field goal in the closing minutes to lift his West team to a 17-14 win in the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.

Freshmen kickers at Georgia have had some success. Walsh made 65 percent of his kicks as a freshman, and Billy Bennett was an astounding 93 percent, the best at Georgia. If Morgan can make the mental adjustment to kicking in front of nearly 100,000 people, he could be next in line among the Bulldogs' kicking greats. The 2012 season could depend on it.

clynch314 I am going with offensive line. The interior needs to be able to open up holes for Crowell. Justin Anderson was not great at right tackle and that position needs to be upgraded. Also important because of the running style that Keith Marshall brings to the table, outside running plays need to be open and that involves the tackles sealing their man, whether it be the defensive end or an outside linebacker.

I have faith that the offensive line will pull it together and am intrigued to see how John Theus performs in the fall.

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