In a 2013 season that started full of promise, Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs appeared prone to take the next step and claim their place among the elite in college football. With the return of Aaron Murray and a high-powered running attack led by Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, expectations were high in Athens. Their dream quickly turned into a nightmare with three early losses to the Clemson Tigers, the Missouri Tigers and the Vanderbilt Commodores. Commingled with these losses was a rash of injuries to offensive players that all but ended Georgia’s championship hopes before the end of October.
Defensively, Georgia was marred by mental lapses in the secondary all season. A very young and inexperienced unit, Georgia’s secondary ranked 10th in the SEC in third down conversions allowed, 13th in interceptions and 9th in pass defense. A loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Gator Bowl was punctuated by a 99-yard touchdown strike on a third and long that was a microcosm of their season-long struggles. The departure of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, defensive line coach Chris Wilson and secondary coach Scott Lakatos culminated a lost season for the Bulldogs.
Fast forward to Feb. 5, 2014. Coach Jeremy Pruitt has taken the reigns of the defense, and coaches Tracy Rocker and Kevin Sherrer have assumed control of the defensive line and secondary, respectively. Along with these new faces wearing headsets and calling plays will be the new faces of the 2014 Signing Day class. Many of these true freshmen are headed for a red shirt season due to the depth at their position or the need for a year in the weight room. However, several of these young Bulldogs could see the field early and often, especially in the secondary and offensive line.
Malkolm Parrish and Shattle Fenteng were signed to bolster the beleaguered secondary. Parrish is a highly-rated cornerback that does not shy away from contact. Parrish played in the US Army All-American Game and performed well against top competition. Fenteng is a former junior college cornerback that brings a long frame (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) to patrol the passing lanes, something desperately needed in light of the low interception total from 2013. Considering the defensive coaching changes, the relative lack of experience in the current secondary and the suspension of starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, Parrish and Fenteng could have their number called when Georgia squares off against Clemson in Athens on Aug. 30.
On the offensive side of the ball, Isaiah Wynn was signed as a guard, a position of need with the graduation of Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette. Wynn dominated one-on-one competition at various camps in the Southeast and has explosive power in his legs and hands. Kendall Baker was signed as a defensive tackle, however, all signs point to a move across the line of scrimmage. Baker has a large frame (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) and surprising quickness that could be useful at the offensive tackle position, vacated by the graduation of Kenarious Gates. Also faxing his letter of intent was Jeb Blazevich, arguably the No. 1 tight end prospect in the nation. With the loss of Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome recovering from season-ending surgery, Blazevich could catch his first pass in Sanford Stadium in 2014.
The 2014 season will begin with many unanswered questions. What will the starting offensive line look like on Opening Day? Can the defense rebound from a subpar performance in 2013? The answers to these questions could lie with these true freshmen and their considerable skills. Maybe the highly-talented freshman duo of Lorenzo Carter and Keyon Brown will surprise everyone and pass the crowd at their respective positions before August. Bulldog fans will have to wait and wonder as the summer unfolds.