Bama (Natl Champ)
Alabama Crimson Tide (National Championship)
L, 23-26

     The interior D-line should be one of the strongest positions for the 2009 Dawgs. The starting two will undoubtedly be Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens. Both of these guys are All-SEC caliber performers, but Owens's leadership on the field will impact the team far beyond tackles and QB pressures. Behind Owens and Atkins is plenty of depth, but even better, high quality depth. Kade Weston and DeAngelo Tyson would be penciled in as starters on most other teams right now, and they will be playing a lot this fall. Even the third stringers, Brandon Wood and Ricardo Crawford, are more than capable and will certainly be in Garner's rotation. Incoming freshmen Abry Jones and Derrick Lott will almost surely redshirt (short of injury issues) as the D-tackle situation in 2009 is very deep and very talented.

     Unfortunately, the situation on the edge is in stark contrast. It's certainly no secret that one of UGA's biggest downfalls last season was the play (or lack thereof) of the defensive ends. It is absolutely critical to the team's success that the ends produce closer to the 2007 season. The defensive backfield will be breaking in some new contributors in 2009, and they will need the benefit of a strong pass rush to keep opposing quarterbacks from picking them apart. The starting duo at end is still to be determined, but I'm still thinking it will be Demarcus Dobbs and Rod Battle on opening day. It's "put up or shut up" time for Battle, so I'm hoping he'll be able to stay healthy enough to live up to the potential he flashed as an under-classman. I know a lot of people are not high on Dobbs, but I still like him. He's solid against the run and has shown a knack for making big plays (int return for TD against Central Michigan and saving the Kentucky game with another interception). I'd agree 100% though that his biggest problem in 2008 was getting to the quarterback (as was everyone else's though to be honest), but this is a guy that has steadily progressed each of the last 3 years. He redshirted as a freshman, he was a solid special teams contributor his redshirt-freshman year and he was solid contributor at end last year. There's no reason to think he can't progress this offseason and get better at getting into the opponent's backfield.

     Now, having predicted Battle and Dobbs as the opening day starters, I'm going to double back and say that I wouldn't be surprised if neither start. All of their backups are quicker and more athletic than Battle and Dobbs. Cornelius Washington is supposed to be an absolute freak, but he's missing spring practice recovering from an injury. He'll have a lot of ground to make up in the fall if he wants to earn a starting spot. Neland Ball and Justin Houston have gotten a lot of pub as having potential, but there wasn't much in their redshirt-freshman years that showed me they're ready to step into starting roles. Jeremy Longo is fresh off a redshirt year and Montez Billings will be joining the group this fall. I think both of these guys will play, but I don't think either will seriously challenge for the starting spot. I really believe that all these guys will get a legitimate look by the coaches. Depending on their athletic ability, their mental toughness and how they practice, all will have their shot at a starting spot and all will contribute this fall. For UGA to challenge for the SEC championship, at least 1 of these guys will need to become a star. We desperately need someone to step up the way Marcus Howard did in 2007 to carry the torch established by guys like Grant, Pollack, Geathers, Moses and Johnson.