5 questions going into Spring Practice

ATHENS, Ga. - Now that the championship drought is history, is Georgia rebuilding or reloading in 2003?

With players and coaches still getting used to their new 2002 Southeastern Conference championship rings, the focus already has shifted to Georgia's chances in 2003.

As spring practice begins this morning at Sanford Stadium, Coach Mark Richt has to replace every starter from the offensive line. Also gone from last season are the Bulldogs'  three starting linebackers, top defensive tackle,  tailback, fullback, leading receiver, punter and kickoff specialist.

That leaves a lot of big holes. The answers to these  five questions may go a long way in determining if Georgia can maintain the momentum established in its 13-1 2002 season:

Can Tony Milton replace Musa Smith at tailback?

Like Smith, Milton is a physical runner, but Milton may have better potential to break free for long runs. Even while rushing for 1,324 yards last season, Smith did not have a run as long as 40 yards.

A surprise could emerge on the depth chart behind Milton. Michael Cooper, who will be a redshirt freshman in 2003, is a top breakout candidate. Tyson Browning, who has the best speed in the group, could prove he can be more than just a specialty back.

Milton played capably as a fill-in starter against Kentucky. Also working in his favor is his blocking and the durability he showed by playing in all 14 games last season.

Freshman Kregg Lumpkin, who has the size-speed combination Richt wants in a feature back, will get a long look in the summer and may prove to be Milton's top competition.

How does Georgia replace seven seniors on the offensive line?

Richt says this is the top priority of the spring. Even so, of the areas that suffered heavy losses, this also boasts the most potential. There will be no seniors on juniors on the line next season, but the new, young starters may have a higher upside than the seniors they will replace. If such second-year players as tackle Max Jean-Gilles and guards Josh Brock and Bartley Miller build on their freshman seasons, this unit could be  as strong as the 2002 line by November. Even so, it is fair to expect some growing pains in the form of  missed assignments along the way.

The big question is center. The line will not be able to build chemistry until a starting center emerges. Russ Tanner or Randall Swoopes are the top candidates.

With Jean-Gilles sure to become a fixture at one tackle, the other big question is the other tackle spot. The two tallest players on the roster -Dennis Roland (6-9, 301) and Daniel Inman (6-7, 302) are the leading candidates.

Who will win the starting jobs at linebacker?

This may be the most difficult question of the spring and preseason drills. For the sake of putting out a depth chart, Thomas Davis - a promising sophomore with a knack for big plays - is listed as a starter at one outside linebacker spot. Davis spent much of last season at safety. Derrick White and Odell Thurman likely will lead the competition at middle linebacker. Tony Taylor is listed as the other first-string outside linebacker. Two juniors, Derrick Holloway and Arnold Harrison, will compete with Taylor and Davis.

The new starters could be undersized, raising concerns about the run defense.

Who needs to make a strong impression on the coaching staff?

With Michael Johnson out with a shoulder injury, Fred Gibson playing basketball and Terrence Edwards awaiting the NFL draft, there is room for someone to make an impact at receiver. An obvious candidate is Reggie Brown, who is entering his junior season.

Brown made five starts and caught 23 passes last year - sixth on the team. He could make a statement this spring that he is the player to watch at split end, but he also is participating in track.

If Brown doesn't step up, sophomores Mario Raley and Bryan McClendon could seize the opportunity.

Who could be a surprise star this spring?

The two-quarterback system with David Greene and D.J. Shockley will continue, but redshirt freshman Joe Tereshinski could steal the show - if only for the spring.

Richt wants to give younger players a long look in scrimmage situations, and Tereshinski could benefit from that exposure.

Other players who might boost their status with a strong spring: tailback Mike Gilliam, safety Olaolu Sanni-Osomo (who may not be exposed to full contact as he recovers from last year's knee surgery), fullback Chris Hickman, receiver Cedric Haywood, defensive tackle Gerald Anderson and punter Lee Jackson.

Up Next


Tweets