Georgia is returning eight offensive starters from a team that finished the 2001 season 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the tumultuous SEC. Leading the offensive charge for the Bulldogs will be SEC Freshman of the Year David Green, who set Georgia freshman records last season with 2,789 passing yards and 17 touchdowns.
However, the Bulldogs also have talented redshirt freshman D.J. Shockley waiting in the wings at quarterback. And following a strong push during spring practice and the offseason, Georgia head coach Mark Richt says that he will definitely play Shockley. "I have every intention to play D.J. in every game and to play him early."
The situation at running back for the Bulldogs is not as deep, however. Richt notes that the running back duties will fall squarely on the shoulders of one man. "I think Musa Smith is a huge, huge piece to our teams puzzle. If he can stay healthy and play like I know he can play, we have got a chance to be a really strong offensive team."
With only inexperienced backs such as redshirt freshman Tony Milton, sophomore Mike Gillam and redshirt sophomore Ronnie Powell as backups the load on the injury-plagued Smith will be heavy.
At wide receiver Georgia could have one of the best lineups in the conference and perhaps even the country. The Bulldogs will return their top three receivers from last season in Terrance Edwards who can set school records this season for touchdowns, 100-yard receiving games, all-time receptions and all-time receiving yards. The other two Bulldog receivers are junior Damien Gary and sophomore Fred Gibson.
"I think our receiving corps has a chance to be good, if they make the plays when they count," Richt explains. "I've seen practice enough and games enough to know they are capable of making the plays, but there can't be an off game."
Georgia is expected to have a high powered offense capable of putting a lot of points on the board from anywhere on the field. However, the defensive side of the ball could cause the Bulldogs some troubles in 2002 where they are only returning five starters.
"We have got a lot of inexperienced players at corner and safety and then even defensive end," Richt says. "We lost three senior defensive ends last year and we lost Charles Grant as a junior last year."
Up front the Bulldogs will be replacing a talented foursome of defensive ends who combined tallied 114 tackles, 21 tackles-for-losses and 11 sacks. Replacing Grant, Josh Mallard, Bruce Adrine and Terin Smith will be very difficult. Yet, juniors Jonathon Sullivan and Ken Veal along with David Pollack up front at tackle will attempt to do the job while the ends get squared away.
The losses that Richt is speaking of in the secondary were starters Jermaine Phillips, Terreal Bierria and Tim Wansley, who finished second, third and fourth, respectively, in combined tackles last season with 80, 75 and 69. The Bulldogs will look to part-time starters Bruce Thornton, Decory Bryant and Ryan Davis to pick up the slack in the secondary.
Georgia will return some serious talent and leadership at linebacker with Tony Gilbert, who can become the first Bulldog to lead the team in tackles for three straight years since 1977. Boss Bailey<, who recorded 65 tackles last season including six for losses, is also back. The Bulldogs will look to Chris Clemons, who had 44 tackles last season in three starts, to take over the weakside linebacker spot.
This season will be the 20-year anniversary of the last SEC championship for the Georgia Bulldogs and Richt says that seems strange to him. "It kind of surprises you to know that it has been 20 years since Georgia has won a championship. And these guys are real hungry for it and our fans are hungry for it so we want to get to Atlanta."
This could be the year that Georgia finally does make it to Atlanta in December. Or at least that is what a lot of people are predicting heading into the 2002 season.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Over the offseason Richt had corrective laser eye surgery. And Richt says that he believes the surgery could be a real boost for himself and his team for the upcoming season. "It will help me in the heat of the battle during ballgames to keep an eye on that clock."...Senior offensive lineman Jon Stichcomb noted that the Bulldogs have not exactly enjoyed their recent games against the Tigers. "I don't think that anybody likes losing to Auburn, at Georgia. We have got a lot of respect for them, but I don't think anybody enjoys losing to them."