ATHENS, Ga. -- With the Fourth of July holiday in the rear-view mirror, many folks start to pay attention to those countdown to kickoff clocks that permeate college football websites.
For those who don't, we are less than 8 weeks from kickoff. In fact, the University of Georgia football team will report for camp this month, on July 31.
With that in mind, we open our inaugural 11Alive UGA Insider Mailbag to answer your questions about the upcoming season.
Jane Knox: Do you think Hutson Mason will get UGA to the SEC Championship game?
Radi Nabulsi: No. Now before anyone thinks I am ripping Mason, let me explain. If Georgia makes it to the SEC title game, it won't be on just the strength of Mason's arm or his decision making ability. If the Bulldogs want to play in Atlanta at the end of the season, the defensive secondary has to gel, the offensive line has to come together and a tight end or three needs to emerge. Mason can't do it by himself. So I guess the better question is, "Can Mason do his job well enough for his team to win the SEC East?" The answer to that question is yes, but with one caveat. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will need to slightly adjust his system to keep the offense going at the speed Hutson likes, which is fast. Mason by his own admission likes to "grip it and rip it." We saw how effective he was versus Georgia Tech when the offense sped up.
Mark Thompson: Who from last year's Tennessee game carnage are healed and ready to roll? Will they be more effective or less effective?
RN: We had the scoop a few weeks ago that Keith Marshall was back. I witnessed him doing box jumps and sprinting without a brace during one of the summer workout sessions. He was interviewed last week by Rivals.com and he confirmed that he was cleared for practice. Marshall also said that he had been banged up prior to that Tennessee game and the subsequent year of rest after his injury has him feeling stronger than he felt prior to that game. Wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley was also seen running sprints during the spring and again this summer. He isn't quite as far along as Marshall, but has been cleared for activity without his brace and is expected to practice in August. Scott-Wesley should be available for the South Carolina game. Is he capable of having a repeat performance against the Gamecocks? Last time I spoke to Scott-Wesley, he said he would be better than ever, but do we really expect a player to say anything different? As for Michael Bennett, the third casualty of that Tennessee game, he is healthy and I predict he will have a big senior season.
Spencer Breedlove: My son Tyler Breedlove and his buddy Zach Ragle ask: How has the defense responded to the changes in coaching staff as well as dismissed players?
RN: It has been a mixed bag. The defensive players I have spoken to on and off the record acknowledge that Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons are incredibly talented and their abilities will be missed. Both were young and getting better. Harvey-Clemons ranked third on the team in tackles despite missing two games. Cornerback Shaq Wiggins transferred, but not before he led the team in interceptions. No player on the roster would say Georgia is better off without those guys. However, there has been an increased sense of resolve among the players I spoke to, as you can see here and here. Even the incoming freshmen can tell that there has been a paradigm shift with the new coaches. I overhead this conversation two weeks ago:
Player 1: "Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt doesn't talk to anybody..."
Player 2: "He hasn't spoken to Lorenzo [Carter] since he got here."
It was off the record so I omitted their names. We may never find out if that was a real thing or just an exaggeration. The point is, Pruitt doesn't appear to be a player's coach. He is tough, demanding and doesn't coddle anyone. In the short run, the team has been hurt by transfers and dismissals, In the long run, the team will be strengthened. The players still on the roster keep telling me they love Tracy Rocker, Kevin Sheerer and Mike Ekeler, but I think there is more respect (and a little bit of fear) when it comes to Pruitt.
Aaron Allen: Who will be Georgia's biggest breakout player this year?
RN: My crystal ball is on the fritz due to the humidity but I'll give this a shot. The backfield is too crowded for a new face and the wide receivers, defensive line and linebackers are too established for anyone to really break through. If Jay Rome breaks out at tight end I won't be surprised. I picked him last year but then he was injured. Maybe Jordan Davis or Jeb Blazevich will blow up if Rome continues to get hurt. Brandon Kublanow could lock down a guard spot as could fleet-footed Greg Pyke.
The best opportunity to break out is in the secondary. Maybe this is the year Corey Moore puts it all together at safety like Shawn Williams did. Damian Swann could return to his sophomore form or J.J. Green become a star at nickel. If I have to pick just one though, I am going to go with Shattle Fenteng at cornerback. Part of being a break out player is the opportunity to shine. The need is there and he will be tested often. If Fenteng has what it takes, we will all know. If not, Georgia could be in for a long year.
I originally was going to pick Reggie Wilkerson at cornerback, but now that he is at safety, I think he has some learning to do.