ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia Bulldogs recently wrapped up one of the most successful football seasons in school history, finishing with 12 wins, an SEC Eastern Division title and a Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska.
The 2012 squad became just the third Georgia team in program history to finish a season with 12 wins, joining the 1980 national champions (12-0) and the 2002 SEC champions (13-1). As the team looks back upon and enjoys the numerous accomplishments from the 2012 season, head coach Mark Richt and the rest of the Bulldog squad must also begin the process of transitioning into offseason workouts and preparing for another exciting year in 2013.
With the losses of key defensive players to either graduation or the NFL Draft, Richt knows that the defensive unit will face a number of questions and challenges during the offseason.
"We better be ready," said Richt on Thursday afternoon. "We don't really have a choice. I have a lot of faith in these guys, but they've got to work. They have to prepare right now. They can't just sit here and wait until camp starts, or even until summer. They have to start now...They need to prepare to try to be the very best in America at what they do."
Along with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, new defensive line coach Chris Wilson will play an important role in developing the young talent coming to Athens.
"We are very fortunate to get Chris with his experience as coordinator, co-coordinator and those type of things," Richt said. "He's actually had some special teams responsibilities over his career, so he's a very well-rounded coach. He's very experienced and very mature. He's a great family man and just a great role model for our guys."
Thirteen incoming freshmen have enrolled early at Georgia for the spring semester, and Richt looks forward to seeing the freshmen in action at the start of mandatory weight lifting sessions on Monday.
"I think these guys are almost a class to themselves, meaning that there are 13 of them," Richt said. "Last year we had 15. So it's a really large number of mid-year guys. I told them just to look out for each other and to help each other out. Our coaches have done a good job catching up with them. We had a team meeting last night, and they all had a chance to introduce themselves to the entire team, which was good. They got to feel a little bit more part of the family little by little, so I think they're doing fine."
The Georgia offense, which returns every starter from last season except for receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, is already expected to be one of the most prolific scoring offenses in the nation in 2013.
After quarterback Aaron Murray announced his decision to return for his senior season and forgo the NFL Draft, it became clear that the Bulldogs would not have a shortage at the quarterback position. Hutson Mason, along with Christian LeMay, Parker Welch and incoming freshman Brice Ramsey are all also available at the quarterback position next season.
"I'm expecting everybody to learn what to do and to keep getting better," Richt said. "Hutson is to the point where he certainly knows what to do. He is ready for the next step, which is playing time. Like I said before, what that looks like, I don't know. But the other guys still have other things to learn and perfect (in order) to get to the point where they're ready to go. We're in a situation with Aaron and Hutson, and Aaron is obviously our quarterback. He's the guy right now, and everybody knows that. There's no question about that part. But if something happened to Aaron, would Hutson be ready to play? I think yes he would."
Richt also looks forward to the return of wide receiver Michael Bennett, who missed nine games last season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
"He's doing very well," Richt said, when speaking on Bennett's rehabilitation. "He has a very good attitude, and (Georgia Director of Sports Medicine) Ron (Courson) feels that he's making great progress. As far as spring ball, I know that he won't be doing anything live. I don't remember if Ron thought there'd be a possibility of him doing any route-running or catching balls out of competition phase. He may be able to do that, but I don't remember. It may be a little early on that."
Incoming freshman Tramel Terry (Goose Creek, S.C.), who has spent time at both wide receiver and running back in high school, also suffered an ACL injury in December at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. However, Richt remains excited about Terry's potential and his ability to impact the Bulldog offense in the future.
"We just want to make sure that he gets very healthy," Richt said. "If we do get him into a competition setting of learning what to do and trying to compete, we just want him to be really healthy before we do that. We don't want him to have any setbacks, so we know that if we needed to redshirt, we could. It might make sense, but we're not going to say that that's what we're going to do. We want to see how well he rehabs, how fast he rehabs, and what he's capable of when the time comes. It is a long season, and he might not be ready for game one, but he could be ready sometime not long after that. We'll just have to wait and see."
With the incorporation of a talented freshman class on defense and a strong unit of returning starters on offense, Richt knows that the Bulldogs are once again capable of emerging as one of the nation's elite teams next season.
"We plan on being that," Richt said. "We hope to be that, but we've got to earn it."
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