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August 21, 2007

Three battling for TE spot

ATHENS - Three tight ends shared practice time with the first-team offense on Tuesday as Georgia continues to look for a starter for its first game.

Senior Coleman Watson, redshirt freshman NaDerris Ward and freshman Bruce Figgins worked with the No. 1 offense, and coach Mark Richt said he's not close to picking a starter for the Sept. 1 opening game against Oklahoma State.

``It's muddy. To me, it's real muddy,'' Richt said. ``I couldn't tell you who's going to start, how much they're going to play.

Tripp Chandler, a junior from Woodstock, ended spring practice as the starting tight end, but he and third-string quarterback Blake Barnes are suspended for the game following June arrests on alcohol-related charges.

The suspension creates an opportunity for Watson.

``For me, it's do or die,'' Watson said. ``This is all she wrote. I've got this year to show Georgia and my family and the fans that I am a legitimate SEC football player.''

Watson (6-6, 253) played in eight games last season and caught a 13-yard pass for a touchdown against Western Kentucky for his only career reception.

Watson said he wants to start more than one game.

``I'm competing to keep that starting job when he comes back,'' Watson said. ``I don't want to just start that one game and have (Chandler) come back and be in a backup role. I want to show the world I have the ability to be number one.''

Tight ends coach David Johnson said Chandler ``is pretty secure'' as the starter following the suspension.

``We're pretty comfortable with him being our starting tight end as he was coming out of the spring game,'' Johnson said.

``He's made himself a very complete player at this point. He's not the fastest guy or the most elusive guy, but he knows where to be at the right time. He's smart and he executes. He really is a complete tight end at this point.''

Chandler played in 13 games last season. He made one start but played behind 2006 senior Martrez Milner most of the year.

Ward, from McClymonds High in Oakland, Calif., was rated among the top three high school tight ends in the nation by Scout.com and Rivals.com. He is coming back from shoulder surgery last fall.

``The only thing is he just needs to get stronger,'' Johnson said. ``He hasn't been able to get in the weight room like we'd like him to and like he wants to. It's just a matter of him getting his body stronger, particularly his upper body.''

A strong showing by Ward (6-5, 255) or Figgins against Oklahoma State could lead to continued playing time even after Chandler's return.

``I'm just trying to prepare as much as possible and let the coaches know I'm ready to play and they can trust me,'' Ward said.

There have been no questions about Figgins' strength. Figgins (6-4, 254) was known for his blocking skills at Shaw High in Columbus, and he already has made an impact with his physical play.

``As far as Bruce goes, I think he's going to be the man,'' Watson said, adding Figgins' blocking ``will definitely be his best thing.''

Watson said Figgins ``is definitely a player you need to look for in the future.''

Ward, Figgins and another freshman, Aron White, are trying to add to Georgia's strong tight end tradition.

Three former Georgia tight ends are current NFL starters: Arizona's Leonard Pope, New England's Ben Watson and Randy McMichael of St. Louis. Two more Milner, a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons, and Jacksonville's eight-year pro Jermaine Wiggins, who has 186 catches the last three years also are likely to make opening day rosters.

White was a big name in the recruiting class, but he reported at only 230 pounds and has been working at receiver and tight end.

Notes: Michael Moore, a sophomore, is pushing Mikey Henderson for the starting job at flanker. Richt says Moore has made ``the biggest move'' of the receivers. ... Georgia will have a dress rehearsal scrimmage at Sanford Stadium on Thursday. Players and coaches will go through the complete game-day routine. ... ``Today the defense won,'' Richt said of Tuesday's practice. He said the first-team defense made a stop with an interception by C.J. Byrd in a one-minute drill against the No. 2 offense, and the No. 2 defense also made a stop. Richt said quarterback Matthew Stafford was hit as he threw and also threw an interception.



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