UGA fall camp: 5 things worth watching

ATHENS, Ga. -- Little did Mark Richt know when he made a quick stop to check the condition of Georgia’s football practice fields Monday that the school’s grounds crew would put him to work.

Kenny Pauley, director of athletic turf grounds, and his crew were busy lining the fields when Richt visited, and soon they had Richt riding the field liner to paint a yard line himself.

The field-lining activity came on the last official day of the offseason, as the Bulldogs will officially report today for preseason camp. They will complete initial testing Wednesday -- also the final day of summer classes -- before participating in their first preseason practice Thursday afternoon.

With training camp finally upon us, here are the five storylines we’ll be watching throughout the month of August:

1. Special teams updates: Georgia was atrocious in nearly every way on special teams last season and now it must replace its place-kicker, punter and top return man. Richt’s coaching staff took a hard look at its kick coverage schemes during the offseason and he vowed that the team will spend extra time working on special teams in camp.

Kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber both have powerful kicking legs, but they haven’t had to perform at a college level yet. We won’t know whether they can hold up to the truly pressure-packed situations until they have to make a great play in a close game. That kind of opportunity will arrive in short order, but they can begin winning their coaches’ and teammates’ trust by performing consistently in camp.

2. Offensive line’s progress: One of the most closely watched position battles from spring practice will carry over into preseason camp -- with even more competition since true freshmen Greg Pyke and John Theus are now on campus. Theus in particular will face considerable scrutiny as the coaches try to gauge whether he can help the team immediately.

Offensive line coach Will Friend regularly juggled his lineup during the spring, searching for the best possible combination. He might do more of that early in camp before the Bulldogs have to begin settling on a rotation as the Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo approaches.

3. Freshmen making impact: Theus, tailbacks Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley and outside linebackers Josh Harvey-Clemons and Jordan Jenkins are the headliners of Georgia’s signing class -- and for good reason. It appears as though all of them will play key roles this fall, and that the greatest number of eyes will be gauging their progress in camp.

But they are not the only newcomers worth following this August. We’ll be interested to see whether Quayvon Hicks can win playing time at fullback, whether James DeLoach can break into a linebacker rotation loaded with veterans and whether tight end Ty Smith is a good enough all-around player to play multiple roles in Georgia’s offensive scheme.

4. Running back hierarchy: With Isaiah Crowell out of the picture, how is Georgia’s tailback depth chart going to reshuffle? Will Ken Malcome retain the No. 1 status he shared with Crowell by the end of spring practice? Will senior Richard Samuel reclaim the job after starting for the Bulldogs early last season? Will one of the two new young guns, Marshall and Gurley, take command of the position? Or do the Bulldogs even need a clear-cut No. 1 tailback?

LSU successfully employed a backfield timeshare last season and Georgia could reasonably find ways to use all four of its tailbacks this fall. Their performances during camp will help running backs coach Bryan McClendon begin solidifying their roles.

5. Secondary shakeout: It’s no secret that Georgia will be without at least one starter -- senior cornerback Sanders Commings -- for the first two games. The Bulldogs will be awfully green in the secondary without one, and possibly as many as three, of its senior defensive backs available in early games.

Malcolm Mitchell shifted from receiver to cornerback during spring practice and earned raves for making a fairly seamless transition. How he and fellow youngsters Damian Swann, Devin Bowman and Corey Moore handle increased roles in the secondary will be one of the biggest stories early in the season, particularly leading up to the Bulldogs’ visit to Missouri in Week 2.