August 26, 2006

UGA's Players of Impact

We're just a few days away from the end of preseason practice with game week preparations for Western Kentucky officially start next Monday on the Woodruff Practice Fields. thought that now would be a good time to take a look at three different groups of players that should make an impact this fall.

Established Bulldogs

First let's start at defensive end with Quentin Moses. He contemplated going pro after a junior season where he had 11.5 sacks, the second-most in the SEC. His decision to stay was good news for defensive ends coach Jon Fabris, but bad for offensive linemen across the SEC, even those in Athens. Moses has been so disruptive in practice that he and Georgia's other defensive end, Charles Johnson, have been held out of two of the Bulldogs' three scrimmages during the preseason.

Tailback Thomas Brown carried most of the load at tailback last year in a three-player rotation, rushing for 736 yards. He's looking to take hold of a bigger piece of Georgia's offense on the ground this fall, and all indicators are that he shouldn't have too much trouble. His effort during spring practice and preseason camp combined with him putting on more than 20 pounds to get his weight near the 210-pound mark have separated him from Georgia's other two tailbacks, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware.
In the middle of Georgia's offense is the Bulldogs' top offensive lineman, center Nick Jones. Though he's playing center after lining up at mostly guard the last two years, Jones is frequently referred to by Georgia's coaching staff as the team's top offensive lineman. His senior leadership will be key in the first two games when the Bulldogs will be without starting tackle Daniel Inman and the top option to back-up Jones, Ian Smith.

A year ago, Jarvis Jackson had the most tackles of any Georgia linebacker with 84. Jackson will be able to make plays from a different spot this fall after his move from Will to the Mike early in spring practice that's directly aimed at taking advantage of his playmaking ability. Tony Taylor, who was the Mike last year, is at Jackson's former position at the Will.

Except for when he filled in for an injured starter twice, Paul Oliver's last two years have been spent as Georgia's nickel cornerback. Despite limited playing time, he's picked off four passes in the last two years, including three last year. With Demario Minter and Tim Jennings graduated, Oliver's the leader of a young group of Georgia cornerbacks. He's proving his status ahead of the rest of the Bulldog cornerbacks is well deserved. After shutting down Georgia's top receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi in spring practice, he's had an interception in practically every preseason practice. In Thursday's scrimmage, he picked off a pair of passes and returned one for a touchdown.

Dawgs looking to do more

Since Mark Richt's arrival, the tight end has been an integral part of the offense. The play of players like Ben Watson and Leonard Pope hasn't hurt matters at tight end either. Pope's gone though, leaving room for Martrez Milner to step up. Milner struck a high-water mark last year with 14 catches for 291 yards and two touchdowns, but the year wasn't all roses. He had struggled with dropped passes off and on during the 2005 season, so he'll need to make some plays early in the season when it comes to catching passes.

Georgia has one proven defensive end in Quentin Moses. If Charles Johnson's play during spring practice and preseason camp is a barometer, the Bulldogs could have another. Johnson, who split time with Will Thompson last year on the way to registering four sacks, has the starting job to himself. Like Moses, Johnson has been disruptive enough during the preseason to warrant holding him out of two of the three preseason scrimmages. With Johnson riding such a strong streak into the season, the only question mark is how he'll perform when facing an offensive line other than Georgia's in practice.

Ramarcus Brown's already known for being one of the fastest Bulldogs. He's got a chance to further apply that speed in the first two games when he'll start at wide corner ahead of junior Thomas Flowers, who is suspended for the first two games of the season. Brown's had the starting job since the start of preseason camp and hasn't done anything to lose it. In fact, he's fended off the challenges of redshirt freshman Bryan Evans and true freshmen Prince Miller and Asher Allen in the process. The only thing left for Brown to do now is to perform outside the walls of the practice field by translating his effort to game action starting Sept. 2 against Western Kentucky.
Kregg Lumpkin appeared to finally recover from a knee injury in August of 2004 last fall when he rushed for 74 yards against Georgia Tech and also ripped off a 34-yard touchdown run in the Sugar Bowl against West Virginia. Now Lumpkin, who's shown enough to hold onto his No. 2 spot on the tailback depth chart behind Brown, is looking to prove that last year's performance towards the end of the season was a sign that he's back to the form that won him the starting tailback job as a true freshman late in the 2003 season.
Aside from when he started last year against Kentucky in place of the injured Tra Battle, Kelin Johnson's spent most of his time as a Bulldog either backing-up Georgia's starting safeties or on punt and kickoff coverage. That's all changed for the Daytona Beach native who's out to continue to line of All-Americans at safeties for the Bulldogs. Johnson will start the year at free safety, a position vacated by Greg Blue's graduation. Johnson doesn't have the same big-hitting energy that Blue and Davis were known for, but hasn't looked back after taking over the starting position at free safety in the spring. Given the reputation of Blue, Davis and Sean Jones, Johnson has a lot to live up to.

Dawgs looking to make their first impact

Georgia fans got their first look at what Asher Allen could do during G-Day when he was one of two Bulldogs returning an interception for a touchdown. Though he's a true freshman, Allen stands a good chance to make a quick impact. He's currently the favorite to start the season as the Bulldogs' nickel corner and also stands a good chance to play at wide corner early in the season where Ramarcus Brown's the likely starter. Allen, who helped himself closer to the field by enrolling in January, is also being considered to return punts and kickoffs.

Roderick Battle nearly ended up being slotted for playing time last year at defensive end before Georgia's coaching staff opted to redshirt him. Battle now weighs in at 249 pounds and stands a great chance to contribute since the Bulldogs usually prefer a rotation of about four to five players at defensive end. Battle's currently playing behind Charles Johnson, so every opportunity Battle gets to play in order to give Johnson a rest will be an instant chance for Battle to make an impact despite limited playing time.

Since four linebackers signed with the Bulldogs last February, much hoopla has revolved around the four freshmen Georgia tabbed to line up at linebacker. Of the four, Darius Dewberry, who spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy, has the best chance to play at Sam linebacker. Dewberry's even gotten some work as the No. 2 Sam linebacker, but a hamstring injury caused him to miss approximately two weeks before Dewberry returned to full strength during Thursday's scrimmage. A healthy Dewberry, who drew praise early on in preseason camp for being more ready than the other three freshmen linebackers to play, is likely to see time this fall at the Sam, especially with Brandon Miller being an option to play at the Will in case of an injury there.

Joe Cox's spring ended roughly with four interceptions during G-Day, but he's apparently gotten himself back on the right track since then. He's been solid in preseason camp for the most part, showing an ability to cut down mistakes to run Georgia's offense in a smooth manner. For his work so far, he's been named the Bulldogs No. 2 quarterback for the season-opener against Western Kentucky. As solid as Cox has been so far, he's got to prove that he belongs a play away from starting when he takes snaps in an actual game for the first time. If he is unable to do that, he could be passed by Matthew Stafford or Blake Barnes on the depth chart.
Speaking of Matthew Stafford, he's thrown the ball well during the preseason, but he's currently the co-No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart alongside Barnes. One fact to bear in mind is that Richt said Sunday night that there is no disappointment in Stafford's play in the preseason. Stafford's only been on campus for a shade under eight months, so in terms of knowledge of the Georgia offense, it'd be a safe assumption that he's the furtherest behind Georgia's other three quarterbacks. With time though, Stafford will pick up Georgia's offense. If he picks up enough of the offense in the next month or so and can take advantage of opportunities to take snaps with the No. 2 offense, a move up in the depth chart could be in order.

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