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Chip TowersChip Towers

Ten@10: Secondary, backup quarterback remain unresolved issues for Bulldogs

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THE TEN AT 10

Georgia just wrapped up spring football practice and the annual “UGA Days” speaking tour has already begun (last week in Greenville, S.C.; this evening in Gainesville; Thursday in Dalton). So this week’s Ten@10 will be dedicated to the Bulldogs’ gridiron pursuits and the issues left out there that will need to be addressed between now and the Aug. 30 opener against Clemson …

Sophomore Shaq Wiggins (6), here breaking up a pass for Michael Bennett during the G-Day Game, will likely figure prominently in the Bulldogs' defensive backfield plans in the fall. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Sophomore Shaq Wiggins (6), here breaking up a pass for Michael Bennett during the G-Day Game, will likely figure prominently in the Bulldogs’ defensive backfield plans in the fall. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

1. Any discussion of the 2014 Georgia football team needs to begin and end with the secondary. That was the Bulldogs’ Achilles’ heel last season and it continues to be an area of concern after 15 spring practices.

New defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt experimented with numerous lineup combinations throughout the spring both out of necessity and in an attempt to build depth. The problem with that is Georgia left spring drills without a solid starting five.

It appears rising senior Damian Swann will likely man one cornerback position – no surprise there – and that converted running back J.J. Green will man the star position when the Bulldogs are in a nickel look. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

“We don’t know where anybody is going to line up,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of the secondary. “I don’t know that anybody has nailed down a starting position anywhere. I think Coach Pruitt is going to be very interested to see what everybody does in the offseason, how they grow up in camp, what they retained. I know he wants to see the new guys that will be rolling into town and what their skill sets are and how they compete. I’d be shocked to get a lineup anytime soon. Even when camp starts we’ll line them up but I’d think we’ll move them around a bit before we settle in on it.”

Four defensive backs will enter the competition when they enroll this summer: junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng and freshman signees Shaquille Jones, Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders.

2. One wildcard in the secondary who hasn’t been talked about much is Reggie Wilkerson. The redshirt freshman from Citra, Fla., was well on his way to earning playing time as a true freshman before suffering a major knee injury during volunteer workouts last summer. Wilkerson was back on the field this spring, though the Bulldogs kept him under non-contact restriction.

“I think Reggie, to be where he’s at with his knee, has had a good spring,” Pruitt said. “He hasn’t been able to participate in any contact drills but he’s been able to do everything except when we went to the scrimmages. So he tells me he’s about 85 percent right now. He’s got to make some strides as far as getting his legs back under him. He’ll probably have a little more quickness when he gets back to full strength. But I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him as far as being a competitor. He seems to have some ball skills and a little savvy about him.”
3. Tramel Terry represents one of the Bulldogs’ experiments in the defensive backfield. The redshirt freshman from Goose Creek, S.C. was moved to safety from wide receiver during bowl practices last December. But Terry expressed frustration about his progress earlier this spring – he rarely got any first-team reps — then he missed the G-Day Game with a leg injury.

Richt was asked if Terry would stick with the defensive backs

“I would say yes right now,” Richt said. “I thought he made progress. It was slow progress early on, then he had a little hamstring issue at the end. But the healthier he gets and the more he learns the more we’ll find out really what he’s capable of.”

The question is how long the Bulldogs might be willing to work with Terry before deciding to move him back to offense. Georgia actually encountered some depth problems at receiver this spring due to injuries.

“I remember Mikey Henderson, it might have been his fourth year before we moved him (to offense),” Richt said. “He played cornerback most of his career, then we moved him to receiver one spring thinking he could go back at any time to play corner and he ended up sticking at wide receiver and playing really big for us. I don’t know if it’s ever too late.”

4. Obviously, the secondary is not where Pruitt would like it to be at this point, but he’s not panicked about the situation. He points to a similar scenario he inherited when he took over at FSU last year, and that seems to have worked out OK.

“Last year when I was at Florida State, we had two corners that participated in spring,” Pruitt said. “So, sure, you’d like to have a veteran group, a bunch of guys who’ve been back there and had success. We’re not there yet, but we’re starting to figure out a little bit, though. We’re communicating better and they’re learning what the expectations are. We’ve made some strides back there. But we’re not there yet.”

5. Of course, what coach is ever satisfied with what he saw during spring practice? Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo bemoaned Georgia’s dearth of offensive play-makers after the final spring practice this past Thursday. But the situation wouldn’t look as dire if the Bulldogs had some of their injured guys back in the fold.

They will soon, Richt promised. Receivers Malcolm Mitchell (knee/hamstring) and Justin Scott-Wesley (knee), tight end Jay Rome (foot) and tailback Keith Marshall (knee) will be “ready to go without limitations” by June.

“Whether it’s the start of June or mid-June, you don’t know 100 percent,” Richt said. “But I think (Bobo will) feel a lot better in June if in fact all those guys are running around, changing direction, making plays, catching the ball, I think his blood pressure will go down considerably. But right now, he’s not in a good way.”

Georgia had just one major casualty during spring practice. Walkon offensive lineman Eddie McQuillen suffered an ACL injury and likely will have to sit out the coming season.

6. Looks like some early help is on the way for Bobo. Rico Johnson, a speedy wide receiver from Swainsboro, told Dawgs247.com  that he’ll enroll at UGA for the “May-mester,” which begins May 13.

Johnson was originally a 2013 signee but failed to qualify academically and attended Georgia Prep Sports Academy instead. He graduated from that institution in December and told the 24/7 he has been cleared by the NCAA.

The rest of the 2014 signees will join the team in June when summer classes begin.

7. The Bulldogs have a different issue at hand at the tailback position. If Marshall proves ready to compete in preseason camp come August — and it appears now he will be – Georgia will have six scholarship tailbacks vying for reps in practices and games.

Of course, as long as he stays healthy, Todd Gurley will get the majority of those opportunities. The 6-1, 232-pound junior pleased the coaching staff immensely by fully participating in every practice of the spring and avoiding the injury bug that has plagued him his first two seasons in Athens.

Gurley said ideally he’d like to get about 20 carries per game. Based on last year’s averages, that leaves about 17 attempts per game left over to be distributed between Marshall, Brendan Douglas, A.J. Turman, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

But the Bulldogs don’t feel like they’re overloaded at the position. Six tailbacks is exactly the number they like to work with each year and that’s the number that got carries last season.

“It usually works itself out,” Richt said. “Over the course of the season there tends to be an opportunity for all those backs if they’re ready. We just like to let them come in and compete. The goal is to play the best guys, the guys who are the most productive.”

Sophomore Faton Bauta (10) remains locked in a competition with freshman Brice Ramsey to be the Bulldogs' No. 2 quarterback (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Sophomore Faton Bauta (10) remains locked in a competition with freshman Brice Ramsey to be the Bulldogs’ No. 2 quarterback (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

8. One issue left unresolved in the spring is who will be the No. 2 quarterback behind Hutson Mason. The good news is Mason, a fifth-year senior, distanced himself from Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey. But that’s also the bad news. Neither Bauta nor Ramsey distinguished themselves as markedly better than the other.

“I don’t know if we have an answer for that right now,” Richt said of who’s No. 2. “There were probably some days we thought it might be Brice and there were probably some days we thought it’d be Faton. I don’t know if that’s been settled. I would say no.”

9. Then there is the matter of the four players who were arrested over spring break for theft by deception. Richt has never said specifically what disciplinary measures he has set forth for safety Tray Matthews, outside linebacker James DeLoach, defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor and receiver Uriah LeMay.

It’s obvious that they are being subjected to early-morning conditioning and other punitive measures. But Richt hasn’t said whether any or all of them might be suspended for the Aug. 30 opener against Clemson or other games.

“They’ve handled the discipline I’ve given them to this point,” Richt said. “There probably will be a little bit more before it’s over. I’ll let y’all know when. Maybe I will; maybe I won’t. But if there’s something to announce I’ll announce it. But to this point they’ve at least done what I’ve asked them to do what I’ve asked them to do.”

There remains the possibility that at least some of the offenders don’t miss any playing time. Discipline for misdemeanor crimes is left to the head coach’s discretion, per UGA’s conduct code. Matthews, DeLoach and Taylor all got first-team reps at various times throughout the spring.

10. This & that: A day after wowing NFL scouts at UGA’s Pro Day with the extent of his recovery less than five months after ACL surgery, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray went on the Dan Patrick Show to discuss his impending draft status.  Murray said he expects to be a “mid-rounds” selection. But the primary topic of conversation was Murray’s “hot girlfriend,” Kacie McDonnell. Patrick suggested he and Murray collaborate on a reality TV show called “Real Girlfriends of SEC Quarterbacks,” featuring Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Johnny “Football” Manziel and their significant others. … The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter provided a nice update on former Georgia Bulldog Isaiah Crowell and his NFL pursuits. The tailback from Columbus left Alabama State after his junior season to enter this year’s draft. Crowell seemed remorseful about his two tumultuous years in Athens and said he had no hard feelings toward the Bulldogs, even though the charges for which he was dismissed (possession of stolen handgun) were dismissed.

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