JACKSONVILLE FL - OCTOBER 30: Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs watches the action during the game against the Florida Gators at EverBank Field on October 30 2010 in Jacksonville Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Ken Malcome, Kwame Geathers and a much-improved front seven were the stars of Georgia's spring game.
Granted, you can only tell so much from a glorified scrimmage that a) had so many important players sitting on the bench due to injury and b) doesn't count in the first place, but here's some of the good and bad to keep in mind as the spring turns into summer and the Dawgs prepare for a pivotal 2011 campaign.
1. The defensive line may go from being one of the team's primary weaknesses to one of its biggest strengths. Kwame Geathers, who's bulked up to an impressive 350 pounds while also managing to polish his footwork and agility, was one of the brightest spots of G-Day, notching a pair of big stops behind the line and getting fairly consistent pressure on the QB. And all this before JUCO transfer John Jenkins has even shown up on campus. With Todd Grantham promising that Geathers and Jenkins will see a fair bit of playing time side-by-side this fall, it looks like running on Georgia's front seven just turned into a much tougher proposition -- a very good thing indeed with Boise State's Doug Martin and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore on tap in the first two weeks of the season.
2. The impending arrival of Isaiah Crowell may have fired up some healthy competition in the RB race. Caleb King looked decent, notching 30 yards on just five carries, but the star of the game on offense was sophomore Ken Malcome, who saw minimal playing time last season but made the most of his G-Day opportunities with seven carries for 39 yards and a TD. Though Crowell may be the most celebrated running back prospect to come to Athens since Herschel Walker, a healthy level of competition for the starting tailback job can only be a good thing. The bad news, of course, is that Washaun Ealey was hurt and Carlton Thomas lost two fumbles deep in opposing territory, which was already an unpleasant leitmotif from the 2010 season.
3. The offensive line situation might not be quite as dire as we feared . . . The line was already losing two experienced starters and lost a third when Trinton Sturdivant suffered yet another season-ending ACL injury in practice, but despite all that, they held their own on Saturday against Georgia's improved defensive front. Despite Kwame Geathers' emergence, his battles with center Ben Jones were fairly even for most of the afternoon, and the line's run-blocking overall was better than what we saw for most of 2011. The other upshot to Geathers' improvement is that Justin Anderson is moving back to the offensive line, providing another warm body for new OL coach Will Friend.
4. . . . But the other major question marks for 2011 remain question marks. Which, if you're scoring at home, are the defensive secondary and the WR corps. You can only judge so much about the secondary's performance Saturday when so many of their playmakers were on the bench, and you can't blame them for letting both Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason having pretty good days since both Murray and Mason are, well, pretty good QBs. But anyone looking for clear signs of hope from the embattled (and banged-up) DB corps is probably still looking. As for the WRs, it can't be a good sign that, as a group, they were pretty much eclipsed by both the loaded TE corps and a cornerback playing two ways (Branden Smith caught the only passing TD of the day). The search for A.J. Green's heir apparent remains ongoing.
5. Losing record aside, there's still a lot of enthusiasm surrounding this program. You wouldn't think that the spring game immediately following a 6-7 season would come close to setting any kind of attendance records, but the official tally of 43,117 did indeed set a new G-Day record. And all of those people came despite knowing that they weren't going to get to see Isaiah Crowell or Ray Drew in action, too. There were a miserable few weeks in the immediate afternoon of the 2010 Dawgs' Liberty Bowl loss, and that misery could come right back if Georgia face-plants against the two difficult opponents who'll be opening their 2011 season, but for now, hope does indeed spring eternal in Athens.