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March 2, 2008
Georgia opens spring practice Monday, the fourth SEC team to do so.
The Bulldogs' spring practice will be one of the most scrutinized in the nation for two reasons. One is that Georgia has a good chance to start the 2008 season ranked No. 1. Second is that the Bulldogs don't have many open positions, so the ones that are open are going to get a lot of media attention.
Here's a look at the Bulldogs as they prepare to open spring drills:
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is one of seven returning starters on offense for the Bulldogs.
Offense—7: G Clint Boling, TE Tripp Chandler, G Chris Davis, WR Mohamed Massaquoi, FB Brannan Southerland, QB Matthew Stafford, T Trinton Sturdivant.
Defense—7: CB Asher Allen, T Geno Atkins, E Roderick Battle, FS C.J. Byrd, LB Dannell Ellerbe, CB Prince Miller, T Jeff Owens.
Special teams—1: P Brian Mimbs.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
TB Knowshon Moreno isn't listed as a returning starter because he started only six of the Bulldogs' 14 games last year, but he rushed for 1,334 yards last season and was named the SEC freshman of the year. Even though Georgia doesn't have much depth at tailback, the Bulldogs should boast one of the nation's best rushing attacks as long as Moreno stays healthy. The return of cornerbacks Asher Allen and Prince Miller should help fortify the Bulldogs' pass defense. Even though end Marcus Howard has departed after his memorable Sugar Bowl performance, Georgia returns its other three starters on the defensive line.
HELP IS NEEDED
The graduation of Brandon Coutu means the Bulldogs must replace one of the nation's steadiest kickers. Georgia has a history of producing quality kickers, but the Bulldogs will have a tough time finding anyone who can match Coutu's consistency and range. The job could end up going to incoming freshman Blair Walsh, who arrives in the summer. Georgia returns three starters on the offensive line, but the loss of center Fernando Velasco leaves a big hole in the middle. Davis, a starting guard last season, could inherit Velasco's old job. Ben Jones, a freshman who already has enrolled, also could fit in here.
KEEP AN EYE ON
TB Caleb King: Moreno will enter the season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and the unquestioned starter at tailback, but Georgia coach Mark Richt traditionally likes to have at least two backs split carries. That should create an opportunity for King, a redshirt freshman and a former four-star prospect. Georgia lacks experienced scholarship tailbacks aside from Moreno, so King shouldn't have too much trouble winning a job as Moreno's understudy.
DE Jeremy Lomax: Georgia needs someone to replace Howard at defensive end. Lomax's status as a senior likely puts him first in line for the job, though he must hold off challenges from a host of talented underclassmen.
OT Kiante Tripp: This converted defensive end opens spring practice as the favorite to replace the departed Chester Adams at right tackle. Richt has raved about the sophomore's tenacity in offseason workouts.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Junior WR Michael Moore, a former four-star prospect, has caught a total of five passes so far in his college career. However, the departures of Sean Bailey and Mikey Henderson give Moore an excellent shot at earning an expanded role. Georgia has plenty of other receivers on campus fighting for playing time, but Massaquoi is the only wide receiver who caught at least 15 passes last season. If Moore doesn't win more playing time this fall – and that likely starts with an impressive spring – it might never happen.
Georgia enters spring practice as a popular pick to open the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, so it will be interesting to see if heightened expectations have any effect on the Bulldogs' preseason approach. The return of so many veterans creates a notable lack of position battles this spring, but the next few weeks should help provide some indicators about which players might start at center, right tackle and defensive end this fall. Georgia fans also have been waiting for quite a while to see just what they have in King, one of their prize recruits from the 2007 class. Now they finally get a chance to see the Moreno-King combination in action.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.