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August 30, 2007

Richt unsure about 2007 season

ATHENS - Mark Richt knows Georgia fans are eager for their first look at the 2007 Bulldogs Saturday.

The coach says he shares their curiosity.

As many as 20 freshmen and redshirt freshmen are expected to play in No. 13 Georgia's opener against Oklahoma State on Saturday, including a large number of newcomers across the offensive line. Richt says he's just like the fans as he looks forward to the game against Oklahoma State.

"It's going to be fun to watch those guys we've never seen play before,'' Richt said.

It also may be a little scary.

With so many new players competing for playing time, competitions have been intense at several positions, including on the offensive line, at tight end, and at punter.

Richt said he's probably never had as many questions at as many positions. He says he's excited about the talent of the newcomers but says there are always surprises when players see their first playing time.

"It's going to be very interesting for everybody, including the coaching staff,'' Richt said. "We won't know until it happens. We won't know how these guys will respond. We won't know who will become a gamer or whatever. We don't know who's going to just take off. Some guys might play a little bit less or perform on a little less level. Some guys will play more.''

Center Fernando Velasco and right tackle Chester Adams, both seniors, are the only experienced players on the offensive front.

"We could at any given moment have three true freshmen playing along with a redshirt freshman guard,'' Richt said of his offensive line, including his tight end.

Freshman Trinton Sturdivant is the starting left tackle and freshmen Clint Boling[/d] and Justin Anderson are top backups. Redshirt freshman Chris Davis is the starting left guard and junior college transfer [db]Scott Haverkamp is the starting right guard. Another top backup is sophomore tackle Vince Vance, a transfer also in his first year in the program.

Freshman Bruce Figgins may start ahead of redshirt freshman NaDerris Ward at tight end as junior Tripp Chandler serves a one-game suspension.

"Any way you look at the situation we're going to be playing with some young guys up there,'' Richt said.

Oklahoma State can be expected to test the young line with blitzes as they try to put pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford, a sophomore with only eight starts.

Stafford, who was last season's most-watched newcomer, said the new starters' nerves should settle after the first snap.

"After the first play it's just football,'' Stafford said. "It's definitely faster than most of those guys are used to, but you catch up and we have enough veteran guys out there to make them feel comfortable.''

Added tailback Kregg Lumpkin: "I feel confident. You've got to trust the guys in front of you. ... As of now they seem well-prepared.''

Richt said his confidence in the line has grown since the start of preseason practice, but intrasquad scrimmages at Sanford Stadium can go only so far in preparing players for their first real game in front of 92,000 fans.

"Does it concern me? A little bit,'' Richt said. "I have liked the way they have practiced. They are talented young men. They have worked hard. They are a little undersized ... but they've practiced well and seem to know what they're doing.''

Velasco said his advice to the new starters is to simply relax.

"Don't go out there and try to play beyond yourself,'' Velasco said.

Other redshirt freshmen in backup roles on offense are tailback Knowshon Moreno, receiver Tony Wilson and fullbacks Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier.

On defense, freshman Rennie Curran has earned playing time at outside linebacker. Four redshirt freshmen are listed as top backups: end Demarcus Dobbs, linebacker Akeem Dent, free safety Reshad Jones and strong safety Quintin Banks.

Freshman Drew Butler, the son of former Georgia and Chicago Bears kicker Kevin Butler, is still competing with Brian Mimbs at punter. Richt said Mimbs would start but Butler also could punt.



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