Three things to keep an eye on as the Dawgs get their spring practice under way -- and take another step toward defending their 2011 SEC East title:
1. Who's going to step up on the offensive line? Here's everything we know about the 2012 Dawgs' O-line: Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette, who started at the guard positions for most of last season, are likely to hold on to starting jobs this season. But things are so up in the air for Will Friend's unit that we're not even sure where they'll be starting -- Chris Burnette could move to center to replace Rimington Award finalist Ben Jones. Meanwhile, Lee's putative backup, Kenarious Gates, could be tapped for the all-important left tackle spot, or it could go to a true freshman (five-star recruit John Theus) for the second time in Richt's tenure. Depth, needless to say, is a concern nearly everywhere. The Dawgs have somehow soldiered through the last couple seasons without needing to dig too deep on the O-line depth chart, but if they want to make it happen again, they're going to have to start answering the big questions now.
2. Can they build some depth in the secondary? The loss of Brandon Boykin notwithstanding, a secondary consisting of Sanders Commings, Branden Smith, Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo seemed to leave the Dawgs in pretty good shape heading into 2012. But then the guys behind them started dropping like flies -- safety Jakar Hamilton and cornerback Jordan Love decided to transfer, and less than a month later safeties Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders were dismissed from the team. That's in addition to Commings and Smith serving suspensions for at least the first couple games of the season thanks to run-ins with the law. The situation has gotten so dicey that the coaches said breakout WR Malcolm Mitchell would spend almost all of spring at corner -- not the worst idea, considering how much playing time he saw on defense in high school, but Richt's not going to put one of his top receivers at any greater risk than he has to once the actual games start. Time to take the plastic wrap off 2011 "Dream Team" members Damian Swann, Devin Bowman and Corey Moore to see what they can do, because there's not much of a safety net otherwise.
3. Can Isaiah Crowell become a leader? The crown jewel of the '11 recruiting class got off to a fast start last season but was hobbled by injuries down the stretch (with a one-game suspension thrown in for good measure). And now his margin for error has grown thinner with a pair of blue-chip running backs, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, headed to Athens. Mark Richt has said a lot of positive things about Crowell's growth both as a person and a player since his tumultuous rookie season, but it's time for that growth to translate into more consistent production on the field and stronger leadership on the sideline. If it doesn't, both Marshall and Gurley will be given every opportunity to fill the void.