We’re less than a quarter of the way into the college football season, but already some relatively unproven Georgia football players have distinguished themselves on the field.
Here (in alphabetical order) are five Bulldogs who might be deemed breakthrough players — or at least pleasant surprises — in the season’s early going. You’re likely to see a lot of them in Saturday’s game against North Texas (WPCH, 12:21 p.m.)
Defensive end Sterling Bailey: The 6-foot-3, 285-pound sophomore from Gainesville finally is 100 percent healthy, and it has shown in his play. Bailey leads all defensive linemen with 14 tackles — including 10 against South Carolina the last time out — with a sack and two quarterback pressures.
The converted outside linebacker was redshirted his first season with the Bulldogs after having shoulder surgery, and he played in only three games last season after a foot injury sidelined him for most of the season. Now free from the training room, Bailey has shown the quickness and athletic ability that coaches expected.
Tailback Brendan Douglas: Douglas (5-11, 215) committed to Georgia Tech before Georgia offered him late in the 2012-13 recruiting period, but his only other offers were from Georgia Southern, Charlotte, Samford, Wofford and Tennessee State. Suffice it to say, a redshirt for Douglas seemed a certainty. But two games in, that’s off the table.
Douglas has carved a niche for himself behind Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall as a short-yardage and goal-line specialist. He came off the bench in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and carried the ball five times for 31 yards as the Bulldogs grounded out the last 8:28 of the game clock.
Fullback Quayvon Hicks: Not only has the sophomore overtaken Merritt Hall as a starter, but he has emerged as the Bulldogs’ best playmaking threat at fullback since Verron Haynes in 2001.
Georgia knew it had a strong and athletic blocker on its hands last year when they transitioned the former defensive lineman into a role on offense. But Hicks (6-2, 260) has proved to be effective with the ball in his hands as well. His 9.4-yard average on seven carries tops the team, and he has two catches for 61 yards.
Cornerback Brendan Langley: It was assumed that sophomore Sheldon Dawson, who played a good bit as a freshman, would move into a starting role at corner. But while Dawson was slowed by a knee injury and unable to go full speed for much of preseason camp, the freshman Langley (6-1, 180) managed to stay on the field and operate at a high level every day, and he was named the starter before the opener against Clemson.
Langley held his own against the pass-happy Tigers. But he was picked on by South Carolina and gave up two touchdowns to receiver Nick Jones. Coaches and teammates have defended the young defensive back and said he remains the Bulldogs’ best option. Langley has 10 tackles and a pass break-up heading into his third start Saturday.
Receiver Justin Scott-Wesley: There was much concern for Georgia’s prospects on offense when dynamic, playmaking wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell went down in the first quarter of the first game with a season-ending knee injury. But the Bulldogs turned to sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley (5-11, 206) in that game, and not only did he come through then, but he carried it through against the Gamecocks.
The speedster leads Georgia’s receivers with 171 yards and had an 85-yard touchdown catch against South Carolina. Scott-Wesley also has shown a penchant for making tough catches in traffic and exceptional downfield blocking.
Asked what players surprised him in terms of their early impacts, Georgia coach Mark Richt mentioned Hicks and Bailey.
“With Quayvon (Hicks), we saw it in the spring,” he said. “We felt like he was taking the job over in the spring. We saw it as a freshman that he had it physically, but he just didn’t know his assignments well enough to overtake Merritt (Hall). So it wasn’t a total surprise to us because we saw it happening in practice.
“We saw the same thing with Sterling Bailey. In bowl-practice scrimmages for guys that weren’t getting a lot of playing time, Sterling was showing up and making plays. Those guys are certainly two of the guys that are making some progress. We saw it coming and were hoping it would come through in the game.”