ATHENS, Ga. — Even a football program that was 5 yards away from playing for the national championship last season returns to the basics in the spring.
Georgia coach Mark Richt opened his 13th spring practices with the Bulldogs on Saturday morning with the first of 15 workouts. This spring, the Bulldogs welcome 13 early enrollees.
“Every year you’re starting over again,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “It’s never the same. We’re excited about the guys that we’ve got.”
Georgia revised its spring practice schedule Friday. Two practices were moved to the week after the April 6 G-Day game. The Bulldogs will now wrap up on April 11.
Here are five storylines Georgia will face this spring:
New line, new coach
For the first spring since 1997, Rodney Garner won’t be coaching defensive linemen at Georgia. Former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson takes over the unit after Garner left for Auburn.
One of the key positions to fill will be nose guard, where 350-pounders John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers are gone.
Among those competing at the position: junior college transfer Chris Mayes (6-4, 340), redshirt freshman Jonathan Taylor (6-4, 335), junior Mike Thornton (6-1, 302) and early enrollee John Atkins (6-4, 323).
This is an important spring for junior Ray Drew and redshirt sophomore Sterling Bailey to establish roles at end.
Wilson has talked of having a six-to-eight-player rotation on the line.
Tailbacks treading lightly
Georgia will be cautious not to overdo it at a depleted tailback position.
Keith Marshall will miss at least the first week of spring practices with a hamstring injury. The Bulldogs are down to one healthy scholarship tailback – leading rusher Todd Gurley – now after Ken Malcome transferred this winter to Southern Illinois.
Georgia will have two freshmen tailback signees (A.J. Turman and Aquinas’ Brendan Douglas) join the fold this summer. Receiver/tailback Tramel Terry, an early enrollee, is out this spring after ACL surgery.
Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis, who came to Georgia as walk-ons, could lighten the load for Gurley.
Freshman receiver J.J. Green is slated to also get tailback work.
“It’s going to be a touchy situation in spring ball,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We can’t let our competitive juices get so much where we want to win every drill and wear Todd Gurley out at the same time. We’re going to have to be smart about it as coaches.”
Who will move into starting jobs alongside Swann in a secondary that lost Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and former Westside standout Sanders Commings?
Sophomore Sheldon Dawson could have the inside track to start at another corner spot.
Freshman Tray Matthews will compete for the starting free safety job. Corey Moore and Connor Norman are also battling for starting jobs at safety.
Josh Harvey-Clemons didn’t get many snaps on defense last year, but coaches will find a way to get the top recruit from 2012 in position to make an impact in 2013.
Grantham said Georgia will “mix and match and move him around.”
Junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph (6-5, 215 pounds) is in position to factor in right away in the receiving corps at flanker.
Managing the QBs
While the offensive line will be missing starters John Theus and Chris Burnette due to injuries, there is a long line at quarterback behind Aaron Murray this spring.
Hutson Mason comes off his redshirt season to assume the backup role. Early enrollee Brice Ramsey joins Christian LeMay and Faton Bauta as other scholarship quarterbacks.
Walks-ons Parker Welch and Greg Bingham round out the group.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Bobo said. “We’re going to have to be creative in how we get them reps.”