The message from Georgia football coach Mark Richt as his players wrapped up their 15 spring practices on Thursday was pretty clear.
Starting jobs remain up for grabs all over on the Bulldogs’ lineup.
“If you’re working out this summer thinking you’ve got something nailed down, you better re-check your thinking,” Richt said. “We’re going to have 29 practices in the fall and probably about at least 20 of them before we nail down who’s going to start across the board. It’s going to be a lot of competition.”
OK, quarterback Aaron Murray, tailback Todd Gurley and cornerback Damian Swann, you are safe. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins just about has his job sewn up.
Richt said there are spots to be won all over an overhauled defense that held its own this spring and on the offensive line.
Richt said center with David Andrews is about the only certainty up front.
All of the defensive line positions remain open, both inside linebacker spots are open, and only Swann has a spot nailed down in the secondary, he said.
“We still don’t know for sure who’s going to start,” Richt said. “We have a good idea of who’s getting closer to being ready to play. As far as nailing down starting positions, I can’t think of a year where I’ve had more uncertainty as far as who’s going to start. I feel like we’ve got the right ingredients, the right talent base. It’s just a matter of who’s going to win it and are they going to be mature enough to play well enough early enough, especially with how the season begins.”
That would be with rugged matchups against Clemson to open on the night of Aug. 31 and back home against South Carolina the following week.
The questions surrounding Georgia’s defense entering spring practices were many. Some answers were found.
Richt didn’t say it, but it would be a surprise if freshman Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons didn’t hold onto their starting safety spots after strong springs.
The defense held its ground against an offense that returned 10 starters (including injured lineman Chris Burnette) from 2012 when the Bulldogs set a school record for scoring.
“I think it was heathy for the offense just to not have their way the defense the whole time,” Richt said. “I think the defense performed well most of the spring, but it wasn’t like it was some kind of a mismatch. I’m hoping that the offense understands that last year was last year.”
The question about the offensive line isn’t about having enough guys that can play, but how and who will line up with the starters, Richt said.
All five starters return, but it hasn’t been a standout spring for the frontline players, but Richt said he isn’t disappointed in the line.
“Is the offensive line as hungry this year as they were a year ago?,” Richt said. “I don’t know. We’re trying to create that hunger by letting them know you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to earn it again.”
Xzavier Ward, Austin Long and Mark Beard provide options beyond last year’s starters.
Georgia integrated 13 early enrollees into the program this spring.
The timing couldn’t have been better with eight starters on defense to replace including All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones, leading tackler Alec Ogletree, the top two nose guards and all but one starter in the secondary.
Matthews, inside linebacker Reggie Carter and junior college transfer nose guard Chris Mayes are expected to see immediate playing time this season and cornerback Reggie Wilkerson, inside linebacker Ryne Rankin and safety Quincy Mauger — all freshmen — will provide depth.
Cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley could factor into the equation in the secondary when they arrive this summer.
Georgia’s lack of depth at the position was evident when Wilkerson worked with the starting unit on G-Day while Sheldon Dawson was out with a pulled hamstring.
“We need to get roles established as soon as possible so we can get ready for the season,” secondary coach Scott Lakatos said
The answers about the defense could go deep and that might be a good thing.
“Defensively, we see good signs, but we’re not a solid, cohesive unit yet because we’re not exactly sure yet who’s going to be our starters and who’s going to play,” Richt said. “We’ve got guys coming in that we think that can challenge for some playing time, too. It’s going to be kind of fluid here for a little while even during camp.”