Though the Georgia Bulldogs will return most of its team in 2016 and did well on National Signing Day, which ex-player will the UGA end up missing the most?
The 2015 Georgia Bulldogs were about as good of a non-ranked team as one could get with their 10-3 (5-3) record in the final year of the Mark Richt era in Athens. While the Dawgs came up short of winning the SEC East for the third year in a row in 2015, UGA is in a good position to challenge for the division crown in 2016 with many great players returning and adding another top 10 recruiting class into the mix.
However, UGA does lose some key upperclassmen after the end of the 2015 NCAA season including outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, and offensive tackles Kolton Houston and John Theus. Among those five and a few others no longer playing for the Red and Black in 2016, which Dawg will UGA end up missing the most?
At first glance, one would probably say either of the starting outside linebackers Leonard Floyd or Jordan Jenkins. While UGA does lose both of its pass rushers on the outside this season, as well as a great one-year Dawg in inside linebacker Jake Ganus, the Georgia Bulldogs have done a fine job recruiting on the defensive side of the football for a long time and all three can to some extent be appropriately replaced.
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Georgia will now start Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter full-time at outside linebacker, as both will be juniors with a great deal of experience playing in the front seven in the SEC. Replacing Ganus is more of a challenge, but perhaps a guy like Natrez Patrick or Roquan Smith are ready to take over on the inside as true sophomores in 2016?
Losing Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver isn’t great either, but true sophomore Terry Godwin came on in the second half of the 2015 NCAA season and now stands as the Dawgs’ best receiving option entering 2016. Expect new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and new wide receivers coach James Coley to find better and more creative ways to get Godwin and his fellow wideouts the ball than former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did in his lone year in Athens.
While other players like running back Keith Marshall, kicker Marshall Morgan, and tight end Jay Rome are all done playing for the Georgia Bulldogs, UGA will have its toughest time replacing its starting offensive tackles in right tackle Kolton Houston and especially left tackle John Theus.
Houston received a rare sixth year of eligibility to play for the Dawgs in 2016. While he played great for UGA in his last three years with the Dawgs, he’s not going to leave as big of a hole on the offensive line as does Theus for three reasons.
1.) Left tackle is a slightly more important position on the offense line than right tackle, as left tackle has to protect the quarterback’s blind side.
2.) Houston was a great player, but Theus was an All-SEC left tackle, a former five-star recruit out of The Bolles School in Jacksonville, and projects as an at-worst second round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
3.) Should UGA struggle to find a suitable replacement to protect the quarterback’s blind side, then it doesn’t matter who is slinging the pigskin under center in Athens, whether that’s Jacob Eason, Greyson Lambert, or Brice Ramsey.
Bringing in a guru of an offensive line coach in Sam Pittman on head coach Kirby Smart’s staff is certainly a huge plus. However, if there is one area that UGA has struggled to recruit in recent years, it has been on the offensive line. With both starting tackle positions up for grabs, any number of players will vie for either starting job with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Losing John Theus’ great play at left tackle and leadership in the UGA locker room at this time stands as the biggest hole on the UGA roster that needs filling. If the Georgia Bulldogs want to contend for an SEC Championship Game in 2016, they will have to address the left tackle position as quickly as possible. With a new offensive staff in place, hopefully they do. Let’s Go Dawgs!