Ahh, the life of a coach.
Last year at this time, the seat was hot and the clock ticking for Georgia coach Mark Richt. This year, Richt is celebrating the recent signing of a contract extension.
Georgia opened 0-2 last season, and speculation ran rampant as to who Georgia would hire after Richt was fired. But the Bulldogs righted themselves and won the SEC East for the first time since 2005.
Mark Richt guided his Bulldogs to the SEC East crown last season.
Coach: Mark Richt (12th season)
The Bulldogs lost their final two games, to LSU in the SEC championship game and to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, but they still won 10 games for the seventh time in Richt's tenure, which began before the 2001 season.
Richt faces a different kind of pressure this season. The Bulldogs should go into the season expected to win the division again and contend for the overall league title.
Defense should lead the way. The Bulldogs return 10 defenders who started at least seven games, and there looks to be an especially solid linebacker group headed by returning All-American Jarvis Jones. Cornerback looks to be the lone potential trouble spot on defense.
The offense has more issues. QB Aaron Murray is back, and the receiving corps is deep enough that stud sophomore Malcolm Mitchell is being moved to corner.
But TE Orson Charles is gone, there are questions about TB Isaiah Crowell's intensity and the offensive line lost three starters, including all-league guys at center (Ben Jones) and tackle (Cordy Glenn).
Georgia also has to rebuild its special teams.
Still, it's a safe assumption that Richt would rather deal with expectations than thoughts of being fired.
The biggest problems: Offensive line and cornerback. The biggest problem for Georgia is finding some depth, both on the offensive line, where three starters (Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson) graduated, and at cornerback, where dismissals and suspensions have left the Bulldogs thin. Richt is confident he has the bodies to fill the spots on the line with junior college transfer Mark Beard and junior Austin Long, among others. At cornerback, the Bulldogs are moving All-SEC freshman WR Malcolm Mitchell to help fill the void. Although the move may sound extreme, Mitchell was Rivals.com's top-ranked cornerback coming out of high school in 2010.
On the spot: TE Arthur Lynch. He has been in the background, playing behind Orson Charles and Aron White, and he finally will finally get his chance to shine this spring. At 6 feet 5 and 265 pounds, Lynch has prototypical size; he is known more for his blocking but is underrated as a receiver. He'll get a chance to prove that this spring.
On the verge: TB Isaiah Crowell. He is a former five-star performer who rushed for a team-best 850 yards as a true freshman last fall. Still, he suffered myriad injuries that kept him from reaching some lofty preseason goals he had set himself. He also fell out of favor for a perceived lack of effort and did go through some growing pains, as evidenced by his one-game suspension against New Mexico State for a violation of team rules. Richt said recently that he believes Crowell has started to "turn the corner." Time will tell.
General overview: Although Georgia returns a two-year starter at quarterback in junior Aaron Murray, defense is expected to be the Bulldogs' forte as nine starters return on that side of the ball. Georgia ranked fifth nationally last season in total defense. All-America LB Jarvis Jones, who collected 13.5 sacks and was just shy of David Pollack's single-season mark (14), is one of the returnees. In addition, to finding the new starters on the offensive line, the Bulldogs also must replace K Blair Walsh and P Drew Butler. Keep an eye on early enrollee Keith Marshall at running back.
For in-depth coverage of Georgia athletics, go to UGASports.com
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