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Spring Football: Georgia rebuilds defense for 2013

Aaron Murray is back and should have a bit of a chip on his shoulder in 2013 as Georgia hopes to return to the SEC Championship for a third straight season. (Photo: USC Today Sports)

First Practice: March 2
Spring Game: April 6

It figures that a day after previewing Nebraska's spring football that today we take a look at the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia is coming off what should be considered a very successful season in 2012. Many teams would love to have a 12-win season with a division championship and a bowl victory against Nebraska. But not at Georgia, where the proverbial hot seat Mark Richt sits on in his office tends to be warmer than it should. Such is the life of a coach in the SEC, a conference with seven consecutive BCS titles to brag about. Yet there stands Georgia, who literally fell just yards shy of their first appearance on the BCS championship stage last season with a hard-fought loss to eventual champion Alabama.

With an offense that is stocked and ready to roll — quarterback Aaron Murray is back and on track to rewrite some record books and freshman running back Todd Gurley was a standout freshman — the question will be whether or not the Bulldogs have enough defensive bite in their bark to contend or will they be dragging their tail between their legs at the end of the year.

Plenty of talent, lofty expectations, and questions on defense. Yep, it's just another spring in Georgia.

Having a road game at Clemson followed by a home game against division rival South Carolina right out of the gate will be reason enough to be very focused this spring in Athens.

Here is a little bit of a closer look at the Georgia Bulldogs this spring…

Stability Factor (1 = Chaos; 5 = Rock Solid): 3.8

The offense returns 10 projected starters this season but the defense returns just one. But we'll talk about both sides of the football later.

The coaching staff is largely unchanged. Georgia avoided a potential disaster when defensive coordinator Todd Grantham decided to stay at Georgia instead of flirting with the NFL. The staff adds defensive line coach Chris Wilson from Mississippi State but the remaining coaches are unchanged.

Plus Mark Richt has lost control of… well, never mind.

Under the Microscope: Todd Grantham

Todd Grantham may have been on the brink of a coaching job in the NFL but ultimately decided to stick with Georgia. Now the work begins on finding a way to keep a defense afloat with ten starting jobs looking to be up for grabs.

Georgia has allowed fewer and fewer points per game each of the last four seasons but last season the Bulldogs struggled to stop the run. Georgia's defense was able to create turnovers often enough to shadow some of the deficiencies on defense, but now the task will be finding players to fill those roles and skills. Grantham needs to get the defense sorted out as quickly as possible. There will be plenty of evaluating that needs to be done this spring, with roster decisions being made along the way.

Locked and Loaded: Offense

Everywhere you look on Georgia's offense and you will see familiar faces. Aaron Murray will once again be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and he will have the luxury of having an experienced offensive line in front of him and freshman standout running back Todd Gurley lining up behind him. The tight ends are situated well and there is no reason to expect more of the same from Georgia's offense in 2013. The challenge they will face is being able to solve South Carolina's defense. If they can grab a home win against the Gamecocks then they will quickly become the team to beat in the SEC East.

Jockeying for Position: Linebackers

You could probably take your pick when deciding which position on defense you think is in the most transformation this season and none would be wrong. The linebacker position should be interesting though as Georgia bids farewell to Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones a year early.

Ogletree and Jones were a large part of Georgia's defense last season and replacing the duo will certainly not be easy. Those are monster shoes to fill. The good news for Georgia is they have some players already primed to start filling in the middle of that 3-4 defense. Amarlo Herrera picked up 70 tackles last season and should slide in to one of the starting spots available and last year's freshman campaign from Jordan Jenkins eventually led to a starting job by the end of the season. He should be a lock for another starting job to open 2013. Chase Vasser will hope to rebuild his reputation with a strong showing this spring and could end up winning back a starting job on defense after losing his starting gig last season to Jenkins.

Name to Know: Malcolm Mitchell

The two-way player split time between receiver and defensive back last season for Georgia, but withe the departure of two top three receivers it is expected Mitchell will focus solely (or largely at least) on the wide receiver position this spring. Mitchell finished the 2012 season second on the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. With a solid showing this spring he could quickly become Murray's number one target in the open field.

Spring Will be a Success If: The defense comes together quickly

There should be a healthy amount of competition at every position on defense this spring. Todd Grantham and Mark Richt have a lot of work to do to sort through all of their options on that side of the football, and with a tough schedule to prepare for in the summer it will be important to get through as much of it as possible now before it reaches crunch time. If Georgia's staff can see leaders emerging early on in the spring that should benefit the Bulldogs down the road as the can start to build that chemistry and cohesiveness early on.

Of course, this is always easier said than done.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Managing editor of Crystal Ball Run and contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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