Back to basics: Dawgs start Spring ball

ATHENS — Spring football is traditionally when college football teams get back to basics, but Georgia's Mark Richt is taking the concept further this year.

Richt's goal this offseason is to go all the way back to 2000, before he led the Bulldogs to their first SEC championship in 20 years and back-to-back appearances in the conference title game.

"There's always a chance we could get too comfortable," Richt said. "That's been one of the points of emphasis, to look at it from a fresh perspective."

Georgia will return to the field today for the first time since its Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl victory over Purdue when it begins spring practice.

"We've got to work these guys as hard or harder than we've ever worked them before," Richt said. "In coaching, you are basically going to get what you demand from the players."

The Bulldogs finished last season ranked No. 7 in the nation with a record of 11-3, with two losses to national champion LSU and a loss to Florida. They will enter the fall with expectations as high as they've been since the early ‘80s. CBSSportsline.com ranked Georgia No. 1 in the nation in its pre-spring poll.

The Bulldogs return the core of their offense and defense this season but still have questions at several key positions, including tailback, defensive line and place-kicker.

The battle for the starting tailback spot probably will be the most watched of the spring.

"I'm very interested in seeing our tailback competition," Richt said. Freshman Kregg Lumpkin, who rushed for 523 yards last year and scored the game-winning touchdown in the Capital One Bowl, appears to be the frontrunner, but sophomore Michael Cooper, last year's leading rusher (673 yards), is right behind him.

The wild card in the race is newcomer Danny Ware (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), who was expected to be a fullback during his recruitment. Ware joined the Bulldogs for bowl practices and showed enough athleticism to earn a shot at tailback this spring.

Junior Tyson Browning is also in the mix, but veteran Ronnie Powell is not. Powell has taken a medical disqualification but will remain with the team as a student assistant, running backs coach Ken Rucker said. Georgia has four solid starters along the defensive line but will need to develop depth this spring. There are a handful of young linemen -- such as Quentin Moses, Marquise Elmore, Dale Dixson and Darrell Holmes -- who could emerge.

"We have to see what those guys can do," Richt said.

On the offensive line, Georgia will be without as many as six players due to injury.

"I think we'll be fine to get our work done, but you'd like to see the whole gang," Richt said.

At place-kicker, Georgia has to replace Billy Bennett, who started for four seasons and last year set the NCAA record for field goals made in a season. Andy Bailey, who redshirted as a freshman last year, will be the frontrunner but hasn't done enough to lock up the position.

"It's a very wide open position right now," Richt said.

Heading into spring practice, Richt was very enthused about what he had seen from his players during offseason workouts.

"I see a team very hungry to be the best they can possibly be," he said. "Right this minute, I feel extremely good about our attitude and work ethic."

Out for spring

OL Josh Brock (shoulder)

OL Trey Chandler (shoulder)

OL Bartley Miller (shoulder)

RB Tony Milton (leg)

OL Zeb McKinzey (knee)

OL Ryan Schnetzer (ankles)

WR Mario Raley (shoulder)

FB Jamario Smith (ankle)

Slowed for spring

WR Cedric Haywood (knee)

OL James Lee (shoulder)

QB D.J. Shockley (knee)

Left team due to medical disqualification

OL Tommy Gainous

S Derrick Holloway

DE Preston Pannell

RB Ronnie Powell

OL Reggie Weeks

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