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2010 Georgia Football Preview: Offense

A wealth of talent and experience could portend big things for the Dawg offense this season.

Let's get the ugly fact out of the way right now: Nobody's going to miss the 17 total interceptions lobbed by Georgia QBs last year. We will, however, be missing any kind of experience, as the presumptive starter, redshirt freshman Aaron Murray, has never attempted a pass in a Georgia uniform. He is a five-star recruit who passed for 2,285 yards and a 33/5 TD/INT ratio in his senior year at Tampa's Plant High School, and he's walking into about the best situation possible: five returning starters on the line, power running game to take the heat off, and perhaps the nation's best receiver. But freshmen are freshmen, and nobody expects Murray to turn into Peyton Manning overnight. The coaches have made it clear that a) Murray has looked promising in summer practice and b) they're going to put as little pressure on him as possible in the early going, but that had better be the case -- if Murray collapses, the only choices behind him are Logan Gray, whose primary position this season will be wide receiver, and Hutson Mason, a true freshman (though a talented one) with even less experience. Murray won't be asked to do too much in the early going, but even so, we'll get a good idea fairly early on -- in what will surely be a blazing-hot crucible in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sept. 11 -- whether he's up to the task.
Projected starter: Aaron Murray (RFr).
Potential rising star: Hutson Mason (Fr).
Start gloating if: Stout offensive-line play and terrific stats from the running backs allow Murray to grow into his role nice and easy.
Start worrying if: Murray does his Freshman Stafford impression and feels the need to go for the home-run ball at every opportunity, even if said opportunity is in triple coverage.
Stat to remember: 140.85 -- David Greene's QB rating as a redshirt freshman in 2001. Which, for the record, would've ranked fourth in the SEC last year, behind only Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett, and Chris Todd.

When people talk about Georgia's offense potentially stunning the rest of the conference in 2010 -- despite the inexperience of the starting quarterback -- this is the reason why. All five starters return from a line that did an excellent job of keeping Joe Cox's jersey clean last season and paved the way for an average of 4.7 yards per rush. And that was in a season where the general consensus was that the line had gotten off to a puzzlingly ragged start. Waiting in the wings is LT Trinton Sturdivant, a blue-chip recruit who started all 13 games as a true freshman but effectively missed the entire 2008 and 2009 seasons due to ACL injuries; he's technically a backup at the moment but will likely see playing time early and often this year. Backup players A.J. Harmon, Ben Harden and Jonathan Owens all got at least one start last season as well. The only knock on this unit is that those backups may get more reps than the coaches would like -- injuries have been the undoing of the Dawgs' O-line before, and they've cast a cloud over summer practice, with Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn, and Josh Davis having lost significant practice time due to various ailments. If everyone can stay healthy once the games actually start, though, the rest of the country is predicting big things -- Clint Boling popped up on preseason All-SEC and All-America lists all summer long, and Phil Steele ranked the Dawg O-line #1 in the nation.
Projected starters: LT Clint Boling (Sr), LG Cordy Glenn (Jr), C Ben Jones (Jr), RG Chris Davis (Sr), RT Josh Davis (Sr).
Potential rising star: LT Trinton Sturdivant (Jr).
Start gloating if: They pick up right where they left off last season and turn opposing D-lines into mere paving stones for Washaun Ealey and Caleb King.
Start worrying if: Injuries once again prompt lineup-shuffling that goes on for weeks.
Stat to remember: 12 -- the number of sacks allowed by Georgia's line last year, sixth-fewest in the nation.

"You're reeeeally gonna miss Knowshon Moreno," Dawg fans were told last year, and for the first half of the season, they certainly did: The Georgia rushing attack had amassed a mere 583 yards in six games, at a mediocre 3.4-yard-per-carry clip. But a light otherwise known as "Washaun Ealey" went on during the Vanderbilt game, and from there on out, Ealey and Caleb King were damn near unstoppable, nearly tripling the season's rushing total in their final seven games. The pinnacle: a stunning 339-yard team rushing total in the massive road upset over seventh-ranked Georgia Tech. Behind them, Carlton Thomas lurks in the shadows; in front of them, fullbacks Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier have proven equally adept as blockers, rushers, and pass-catchers. All in all, it's a backfield that could finish the year as one of the most productive in the country -- assuming everyone stays healthy.
Projected starter: RB Washaun Ealey (So), 125-717, 3 TDs in 2009; FB Shaun Chapas (Sr), 7-45, 1 TD.
Potential rising star: RB Carlton Thomas (So), 22-92.
Start gloating if: Either Ealey or King start to home in on 1,000 yards for the season. (If they both do, tent your fingers and cackle maniacally.)
Start worrying if: The injury bug sets in, or the fumble-itis that afflicted this unit at times in 2009 starts popping up again.
Stat to remember: 5.5 -- Georgia's total per-carry average over the last seven games of '09.

All the talk in the offseason has been about A.J. Green, and not without reason: He collected 963 yards and 8 touchdowns as a true freshman in '08, and the following season, even when everyone knew to double-cover the living daylights out of him, he still amassed 808 yards and 6 TDs (and that was in spite of missing three games due to injury). So Green is already popping up on Heisman watch lists, but don't let that trick you into ignoring the other wideouts on the roster. Tavarres King finished second on the team last year with 377 yards and a TD as a redshirt freshman, and though he'll be suspended for the season opener due to an offseason citation in connection with Dontavious Jackson's DUI arrest, his backup, Kris Durham, has been a reliable slot receiver over the past few years and will be a welcome sight to Dawg fans after missing 2009 due to a shoulder injury in spring practice. The young talent coming up behind these guys is considerable -- Israel Troupe, Marlon Brown, and Rantavious Wooten were all blue-chip recruits coming out of high school, with Troupe showing off particular flair with a 50-yard TD catch in the win over Auburn last year. Even Logan Gray, the backup QB moved to WR after the spring, has impressed coaches in summer drills. Outside of Green, most of the receiving corps ranks as "promising" as opposed to "proven" heading into 2010, but they'll all give Aaron Murray plenty of opportunity to become the kind of quarterback Dawg fans would love for him to be.
Projected starters: A.J. Green (Jr), 53-808, 8 TDs in 2009; Tavarres King (So), 18-377, 1 TD.
Potential rising star: Israel Troupe (So), 4-90, 1 TD.
Start gloating if: A.J. starts building serious Heisman hype -- and opposing defenses spend so much manpower trying to stop him that King, Troupe, or Wooten goes off for a 100-yard game.
Start worrying if: Opposing defenses spend so much manpower trying to stop Green that they do manage to neutralize him, and nobody else steps up.
Stat to remember: 5 -- number of different Georgia WRs who caught at least one touchdown last season.

For many years a standout unit on the Bulldog offense, the tight end position fell off the radar a bit in the mid-aughts, but that doesn't look like it's going to be a problem in 2010. Consider this: A couple weeks ago, Aron White was named to the watch list for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top tight end -- and he hasn't even nailed down the starting job yet. Fellow TE Orson Charles, a sophomore, actually came in third last year on the receptions list with 374 yards and three TDs, but they'll both be competing with junior Bruce Figgins, who sat out all of 2009 after a six-game suspension for rules violations turned into a medical redshirt. Oh, and there's Arthur Lynch, a five-star recruit out of Massachusetts who saw limited action against Tennessee Tech last season. The TE corps struggled with pass-blocking for a good part of 2009, but with the top three contenders all coming into 2009 with a good bit of experience, Aaron Murray should have plenty of "safety valves" in what could be, at least in the beginning, a fairly conservative passing game. Mark Richt has even talked about making two-TE sets a prominent feature of the offense this year, and while that's not something that typically gets football fans' blood a-boiling, in Georgia's case it could make for some exciting opportunities indeed.
Projected starter: Orson Charles (So), 23-374, 3 TD.
Potential rising star: Arthur Lynch (So), 2-17.
Start gloating if: Richt's two-TE sets prove to be a wealth of opportunity for Murray -- and diabolical for opposing defenses.
Start worrying if: Injuries on the O-line and/or growing pains at QB mean the tight ends spend most of their time pass-blocking.
Stat to remember: 15.5 -- the yardage of the average TE reception last year.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.