March 9, 2009

Countdown to Spring

Beginning today, UGASports will begin its Countdown to Spring Practice, a series of articles that will look in-depth at the 2009 Georgia football team and the many storylines involved.

Where to begin?

When the Bulldogs hit the field at the Woodruff Practice Facility on March 17, several positions will be up for grabs, on both sides of the ball.

Later today, we'll kick the series off by looking at the linebackers, including the development of sophomore Nick Williams after his move over from safety last fall.

Of course, the storylines don't stop there.

"We lost Matthew Stafford, and that's a big deal but there's a peace around the program with Joe (Cox) here and his leadership and knowledge of the system. He's been around plus we have some young guys who are talented here too. It's not a concern for me; I've seen enough of Joe to be confident," head coach Mark Richt said. "Like any quarterback, he'll need some help around him. The offensive line will be much more mature than it's ever been. It won't be at full strength for spring but by the time fall rolls around, the line will be fine. Our wide receivers will be productive, the running backs, we'll get some answers there and at tight end."

Let's start at the top where offensively, Cox will go into his first spring as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how his teammates continue to rally around the player many expect to lead with his words as well as ability on the field.

Don't forget about freshmen Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray who get their first taste of college practice.

"They have to learn what to do, the Georgia way of practice, meetings, lifting, running and just how to be a student at the college level. In the spring, that is the time to gain an understanding of what is expected of them and to show their potential," Richt said. "There will be times when they will do it right, and you can say when they get consistent, they will be a special player. I talked with Joe about the young guys, and his eyes lit up. He thinks they have tremendous potential and will be fun to watch. He says they will be real fun to coach too."

In the backfield, Caleb King and Carlton Thomas get the first shots at replacing Knowshon Moreno while Richard Samuel and Dontavius Jackson sit out the spring with their respective injuries.

Speaking of in injuries, the Bulldogs will have 18 players miss spring due to injuries from the previous year, although all, with the possible exception of offensive tackle Josh Davis, will be back in time for preseason camp in August.

As for the rest of the offensive line, Trinton Sturdivant and Vince Vance continue to rehabilitate their torn ACLs, and while neither will participate in spring, both are expected to be clear this summer.

The rest of Georgia's offensive line remains intact with the exception of Tanner Strickland who opens as No. 1 at right guard while Chris Davis recovers from his January hip surgery.

Clint Boling goes into spring as the starter at left tackle, Cordy Glenn at left guard, Ben Jones at center and Justin Anderson at right tackle.

At receiver, flanker A.J. Green will likely see limited time this spring as coaches want him to be extra careful while he rests his injured groin, but returnees Kris Durham, Mike Moore, Israel Troupe, Tavares King and Tony Wilson who will look to impress new receivers coach Tony Ball.

Defensively, a lot of eyes will be on defensive end Kiante Tripp.

Tripp, who was recently switched over from the offensive line due to injury issues at defensive end, where Demarcus Dobbs and Justin Houston are the only scholarship returnees who actually saw playing time last fall.

Redshirt freshman Jeremy Longo is also a player that will be closely watched.

Longo was injured during most of his freshman year, but will get an excellent opportunity to prove his worth along with Dobbs, Houston and Tripp.

At linebacker, Akeem Dent moves over to Mike where he will compete with Marcus Washington and Charles White, with Darryl Gamble sliding over to Sam and Rennie Curran back to hold down the fort at Will.

In the secondary, Brandon Boykin will get the first chance to replace Asher Allen at short corner along with redshirt freshman Sanders Commings. Prince Miller is back at wide corner with converted corner Bryan Evans going into spring as No. 1 at free safety with junior Reshad Jones sliding over to the strong side.

Special teams will also bear worth watching, with Boykin and Thomas listed 1-2 on the depth chart at kickoff return with Miller as the top punt returner.

The annual G-Day game is scheduled for April 11 at 1 p.m. It will be televised live by ESPN.

"We have to earn everything we get. It's a tough league every year. Every season there's new challenges. Every team has its own personality and you have to establish leadership. That's what we're doing right now, and we're off to a great start," Richt said. "We have something to prove every year. We're in the Southeastern Conference. It's the finest teams in the United States with the finest coaches in the country. There's no room for the weak. You have to play to your full potential every week or you're not going to have a chance."

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