Once again, if Georgia is to make it back to the SEC Championship Game for a third consecutive year and have another crack at playing in the biggest game of them all, then both the Bulldogs’ seasoned players as well as the incoming freshman and junior college enrollees will have to rise to the occasion in Georgia’s biggest games, starting of course with that twoheaded monster known as Clemson/South Carolinia. Here, Bulldawg Illustrated selects 10 offensive players and 10 defensive players who have caught their position coaches and teammates’ eyes – the head turners if you will – in this year’s preseason camp.
Freshman wide receiver Reggie Davis
This Tallahassee product has come into preseason camp and impressed both coaches and fellow players with his natural ability and work ethic. Although only a slight 6-0, 159 pounds, Davis has dazzled with his tremendous speed and quick moves and could possibly give an already talented Bulldog receiving corps still another deep threat.
“Reggie’s speed is in a different class than really everybody else on the team,” said junior quarterback Hutson Mason. “He got here in the summer and I didn’t even know who he was. But he made a name for himself real quick when he ran a ‘go’ route.”
Sophomore tailback Todd Gurley
What can you say about this guy? He turned heads from the first game of his college career when he rushed for 100 yards and ran the kickoff back 100 yards against Buffalo. And, after his 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns as a mere freshman in 2012, the 6-1, 232-pound bulldozer is still turning heads in camp as he preps for what could be an All-America sophomore campaign.
“It’s hard to find a weakness on Todd,” said sophomore outside linebacker/end Josh Dawson. “You try to take away his speed, but he’ll outrun the safety. You try to take power, but he’ll run a defensive back or linebacker over.”
Sophomore tailback Keith Marshall
The other half of the Bulldogs’ famed “Gurshall” combo and, yes, I know the two Georgia tailbacks don’t exactly relish that moniker. But Keith Marshall is the Bulldogs’ lightning to his buddy Gurley’s thunder. With his sprinter speed, the 5-11, 219-pound Marshall is a scoring threat from any spot on the field, as he showed in 2012 when he reeled off a number of long TD jaunts while rushing for 759 yards and a 6.5 yards-per-carry average. In the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage of this preseason camp, Marshall jetted 75 yards for a touchdown.
“Keith had that long touchdown run in the scrimmage,” said Josh Dawson. “He can still fly and he’s got power. He’s looking bigger and faster too.”
Junior center David Andrews
At 6-2, 295, David Andrews is the smallest guy on Georgia’s talented offensive line but also, one of the toughest. A motivator of the offensive front from his center position, Andrews has continued to display solid leadership in this preseason camp and could be one of the best centers in the SEC in this, his junior campaign.
“Boss, David Andrews, is that solid, dependable guy in the middle and that’s what you need in your center,” said senior tight end Arthur Lynch.
Junior wide receiver Michael Bennett
This guy, who was leading the Bulldogs in receiving after five games last year before then suffering a torn ACL in practice and missing the rest of the season, has returned to preseason camp apparently better than ever. Bennett is running his same precise routes, catching the ball in traffic and just doing everything that the leading receivers in the conference are expected to do.
“Michael hasn’t missed a beat at all,” said fellow sophomore wideout Justin Scott-Wesley. “He’s confident, he’s physical, he’s blocking well and he’s running great routes.”
Freshman tailback J.J. Green
This 5-8, now 195-pound freshman, who was one of the early enrollees that went through spring practice with the Bulldogs, continues to dazzle the defense with his quickness and speed. Currently the No. 3 tailback, he had maybe the highlight of camp thus far when, in a 3-on-3 drill that was caught by the ESPN cameras, Green landed on a pile of blockers and defenders, flipped over onto his feet and raced on for a touchdown.
“All our freshman running backs had a great first scrimmage,” said sophomore defensive end/linebacker Josh Dawson. “J.J. is a scatback, kind of. He’s super fast and can make a defender miss any second. Then our other freshman running backs, A.J. Turman is a bruiser and Brendan (Douglas) is also a bruiser.”
Junior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell
Anytime this player is on the field, he’s prompt to turn a few heads. Now concentrating strictly on the receiver position after seeing action on both sides of the ball the past two seasons, this Valdosta speedster could surely be one of the most explosive pass catchers in the SEC this coming fall. The 6-1, 190-pound Mitchell, who will always have a special place in Bulldogs’ hearts for making the TD catch and run that put away the Florida Gators last season, had four catches for 64 yards in the first camp scrimmage last week.
“Malcolm, he ain’t nothing to mess with,” said junior college transfer safety Kennar Johnson. “He’s a great receiver. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s fast and he knows how to play.”
Senior tight end Arthur Lynch
No question, this guy has gotten better and better over the course of his five seasons (redshirted in 2010) in Athens, so much so that he’s been named to the AllSEC preseason first team at his tight end spot. A rugged blocker who can snare the ball in traffic and also drag defenders along with him after the catch, the 6-5, 254pound Lynch teams with sophomore Jay Rome to give the Dogs one of the best tight end tandems in the nation. In Georgia’s first preseason scrimmage, Lynch had four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
“Artie, that’s a big guy,” said Kennar Johnson. “You got to be careful with him. He’s not easy to bring down after he catches the ball, he’s going to keep trucking.”
Junior wide receiver Jonathon Rumph
After enrolling early after two outstanding seasons at Holmes Community College, this 6-5, 215-pound receiver began opening eyes in Georgia’s G-Day game when he caught four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. And Rumph has continued to sparkle in preseason camp, having four receptions for 53 yards in the first scrimmage. With his size, speed and leaping ability, Rumph figures to play an integral role this season in the Bulldogs’ already deep receiving corps.
“I see a big difference in him than I did in the spring,” said head coach Mark Richt. “You could really see his gears turning in the spring, trying to figure out how to line up, what route to run, how to run routes. Now, he had a tremendous summer, he’s in great shape, he has a better working knowledge of the system. He’s certainly not perfected everything but he certainly looks so much more confident.”
Senior quarterback Aaron Murray
You didn’t think this guy could have been left out, did you? Saving the best for last, Murray is the undisputed leader of the Georgia Bulldogs this season. Coming back for his redshirt senior season instead of jumping to the NFL, Murray is drawing a bead on all of the UGA and SEC career passing records. But, more importantly, he’s providing the kind of leadership that every team with championship aspirations must have from its senior quarterback. Certainly, if the Bulldogs are to make the SEC title game again this year, win it and then go on to play in Pasadena for the national championship, it must be Aaron Murray leading the way.
“Aaron’s more vocal now,” said sophomore wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley. “Last year, he was a leader but it was more by example. This year, he’s more vocal. He’s not afraid to chew a guy out because he’s not moving fast enough, he’s not afraid to step up and get in the receiver’s face and tell him ‘get out of the break, get on the line.’ Aaron’s the man. He’s a great quarterback, he’s our guy and he’s going to lead us to however far we’re going to go.”
Sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins
The heir apparent to two-time All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, the 6-3, 250-pound Jenkins brings all the tools to be a great one and, make no mistake, despite him being just a sophomore, Jenkins is already one of the undisputed leaders of this young Georgia defense. He’s showing as much in this camp after a freshman season that saw Jenkins play in all 14 games, make six starts and end the year with 31 tackles and five sacks, second on the team to the great Jarvis.
“Jordan’s got great burst off the ball,” said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “He’s very explosive; to me, as explosive as anyone in the country. Jordan has all the characteristics you look for in playmakers. I think it’s just a matter of working and developing and perfecting his craft. If he does that, I think I’m excited about what he can do.”
Freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd
When one is discussing head turners of Georgia’s 2013 preseason camp, this guy deserves to be right at the top of the list, that said despite the fact Floyd was sidelined the opening week of contact drills with a fractured left hand. But before his injury, the 6-4, 220-pound former Dodge County High and Hargrave Military Academy standout was drawing raves from both players and coaches due to his tremendous athletic ability and his quickness off the edge in both rushing the passer and stopping the run.
“Both Shaq Wiggins (freshman corner) and Leonard Floyd are amazing,” junior linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “Those two are putting on a show right now and they’re going to help this team out if they keep doing what they’re doing. He (Floyd) is unblockable. His pass rush is unblockable. He plays like Barkevious Mingo from LSU.”
Junior strong safety Corey Moore
With Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings no longer patrolling the secondary, this would appear to be Corey Moore’s time and, from the looks of his performance in this preseason camp, the 6-2, 214-pound player out of Griffin is aware of that fact. Moore played in all 14 games for the Bulldogs last season so he teams with Damian Swann this year to bring much-needed experience to the rebuilt defensive backfield.
“I like Corey Moore,” said junior cornerback Damian Swann. “He’s had a great camp. And I think with the reps he’s been getting, he’s going to be big, too. He’s just been waiting his turn. He’s been playing behind a veteran guy in Shawn Williams. He just hasn’t had much of an opportunity but now I think with him having an opportunity, he’s taking advantage of it and he’s ready.”
Junior defensive end Toby Johnson
This four-star rated, junior college transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) CC, is bringing both size and athleticism to the Bulldogs’ defensive front. A native of College Park, Ga. where he played at Banneker High, Johnson wowed his teammates prior to preseason camp when he, at 6-4, 305 pounds, did a standing back flip, despite him coming off a torn ACL in juco last season. And you can bet the Georgia staff is hoping Johnson can bring that athletic ability into play in getting after the quarterback and opposing ball carriers over the next two seasons.
“Toby’s been great,” new defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. “He’s been in every drill we’ve asked him to do, and shown flashes of what he was coming out of junior college. He’s kicking butt right now. We’re being smart with his reps. He’s learning our process on how we do things, how we work, how we get going.”
Junior cornerback Damian Swann
While Aaron Murray and senior guard Chris Burnette were designated by Mark Richt back in the spring as the team’s offensive leaders this season, the only defensive player tabbed by the coach at the time was Damian Swann. Swann is simply one of the most experienced and talented players returning to the Bulldogs’ rebuilt defensive unit and is the undisputed leader of the secondary after a sophomore season when he led the Bulldogs with four interceptions and a total of 53 tackles.
“Swann is a great player who can play the ball,” said junior cornerback Kennar Johnson. “He’s not perfect, nobody’s perfect but he deserves to be out on the field and play his role. He’s an All-SEC type player.”
Junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera
With Alec Ogletree now playing for the St. Louis Rams, the 6-2, 244-pound Herrera has assumed the leadership role among the Bulldogs’ middle linebacking corps. And Herrera has stepped up his role in this preseason camp following a sophomore season when he played in all 14 games and recorded 70 tackles, an interception, forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Clearly, if the Georgia defense is to develop into a championship unit, Herrera must have a big junior campaign.
“Amarlo makes almost every play, he’s going to be somewhere around the play,” said freshman tailback J.J. Green. “He’s like my big brother, we’re always doing something together.”
Freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins
This 5-10, 165-pound defender out of Sandy Creek High has impressed both the veteran and younger players with his nose for the football and solid work ethic. His quickness and leaping ability in defending passes could possibly mean Wiggins sees the field a good bit in this, his first season in Athens.
“Shaq is a little fiery thing, like a little bug that won’t go away,” said sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson. “He’s doing his job, and I think he’ll give receivers problems because they’ll be like ‘Oh, he’s so small, I can get past him.’ It’s phenomenal that he’s that small but plays so big.”
Freshman free safety Tray Matthews
The 6-0, 196-pound Matthews set tongues to wagging the minute he stepped on campus as an early spring enrollee. With his ability to track the ball in the air and his ferocious hitting ability, Matthews grabbed a lock on a starting position almost immediately and though he’s been sidelined a bit in camp with a shoulder sprain he’s on track to help lead the secondary in the season opener at Clemson.
“Tray Matthews is going to be the next guy at Georgia,” said freshman tailback J.J. Green. “When he stepped on campus, everybody knew Tray. The next three or four years, Tray is probably going to be first round.”
Freshman cornerback Brendan Langley
Like Shaq Wiggins, Langley has come into this camp and impressed the coaches and fellow players with both his pass coverage and hitting ability. And with the Bulldogs desperately needing to build depth in the secondary the former Kell High of Marietta standout looks to be just what the doctor – or rather defensive backfield coach Scott Lakatos – ordered.
“Brendan Langley and Shag Wiggins, they’re both doing good,” said junior cornerback Damian Swann. “They’re trying to mature into the players we need them to be. We’re expecting a lot out of those guys, we’re putting a lot on their plate. They don’t have a choice but to step up and be big.”
Junior linebacker Ramik Wilson
With people like Ogletree and Christian Robinson no longer in Bulldog red, this would appear Wilson’s time to shine. And, with his speed and quickness to the ball, the 6-2, 232-pound Wilson should team with Herrera to give the Bulldogs a very solid inside linebacker corps in ‘013.
“Ramik is athletic. He plays like a safety but he’s too big to play safety so he plays linebacker,” said J.J. Green. “He can run, he can cover, he’s doing everything a veteran needs to do, like Tree did.”