Richt, Dawgs open camp with some questions

ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt enters the 2007 season today somewhat surprised to be the fourth-longest tenured coach in the SEC.

Only Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer (15 years), Arkansas' Houston Nutt (nine years) and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville (eight years) have been in the conference at their current schools longer.

"I never knew I'd last over three or four years, but we're still here," Richt said. "I mean, it's a rough league, it's a rough business. I don't know what the average stay for coaches is. It might be four or five years. So far, so good."

Georgia fans mostly would agree. Richt is 61-17 at the school, but the Bulldogs are coming off the worst year of his tenure. Georgia was 9-4 a year ago, losing four games in the conference for the first time under Richt. The Bulldogs won their last three to salvage a Top 25 finish.

"It meant a lot to us to finish the way we did, but when you look at the course of the year, we were 1-4 in the (Eastern Division)," Richt said. "We thankfully won our Western Division games. If we hadn't, it would have been really bad."

Georgia starts fall practice today believing it's a better team now, but there are plenty of questions that need to be answered in the 29 practices between today and the Sept. 1 season opener against Oklahoma State in Sanford Stadium.

The Bulldogs officially reported Friday and will take the field at 3:20 p.m. for their first practice of the season. They begin two-a-days on Thursday.

The two biggest questions will center around the lines of scrimmage. Georgia's offensive line performed well this spring, but it still has a new starter at every position heading into the season. The defensive line must replace two defensive ends who were selected in the NFL Draft. Senior Marcus Howard and sophomore Rod Battle will enter practice as the starters but watch out for GMC transfer Jarius Wynn.

Among the other questions:

How good can sophomore Matthew Stafford be in his first full year as the starting quarterback?
He threw for 1,749 yards last year and had four touchdowns and one interception in his last four games.

Can C.J. Byrd hang onto the starting job at free safety or will redshirt freshmen Reshad Jones or Quintin Banks move into that position?
Byrd, a junior, has been the heir apparent for two years, but Jones and Banks, a Houston County High School graduate, drew rave reviews this spring.

Who will start at defensive tackle opposite junior Jeff Owens?
Sophomore Geno Atkins is listed in that spot headed into practice, but Kade Weston and Corvey Irvin will push him hard.

How will Mike Bobo do in his first year as offensive coordinator?
The 33-year-old will be calling plays for just the third time when the season opens against Oklahoma State.

Can Brandon Miller develop into a dominant defender?
Richt said the senior, who has been moved from outside to middle linebacker, is the key to Georgia's defense. He's a scary presence when he knows what to do.

"I almost feel like we're starting over in a lot of ways," Richt said. "I feel very good about our program. I feel like we building this program on a very solid foundation. We've got a chance to win and do it the right way, and I'm excited about that."

SEC Coaches
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee 16th year
Houston Nutt, Arkansas 10th year
Tommy Tuberville, Auburn Ninth year
Mark Richt, Georgia Seventh year
Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt Sixth year
Rich Brooks, Kentucky Fifth year
Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State Fourth year
Urban Meyer, Florida Third year
Les Miles, LSU Third year
Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss Third year
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Third year
Nick Saban, Alabama First year

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