2001 Season Football Preview...

The Mark Richt Era is underway at the University of Georgia and there is a tremendous sense of renewed optimism that a new head coach always seems to provide. Put simply, the 2001 Bulldogs are looking to considerably better their football fortunes of the past two seasons. Expected to win the 2000 Southeastern Conference title and contend for the National Championship, Georgia instead compiled its second straight 8-4 record. The Bulldogs were 5-3 in the SEC and routed Virginia in the Oahu Bowl.

Richt, a former offensive coordinator at Florida State University, is considered one of the nation's top young coaching commodities. He takes over a Georgia program that hasn't won a National Championship in 21 years or a Southeastern Conference crown in nineteen seasons. However, the Bulldogs appear on the verge of a return to their former status as a league and national power year-in-and-year-out. The 2001 season could springboard Georgia to achieving that goal.

"This program is not in dire straits," said Richt. "It's hard to say how far away it is (to becoming a big-time winner again). It could be quick; it could take a little time. This year's team has a lot of talent. Our coaches and players will enter every game expecting to win it."

The 40-year old Richt replaces Jim Donnan, who compiled a 41-19 record in five seasons at Georgia. However, Donnan's record included a dismal 6-14 mark against four of the Bulldogs biggest rivals--Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Tennessee.

Georgia lost several headline players from last season. In fact, the NFL scouts loved the 2000 Bulldogs, nabbing two defensive tackles among its first 13 draft picks, and two more players in the second round. The six Georgia players picked overall--Defensive Tackles Richard Seymour (Patriots) and Marcus Stroud (Jaguars), Linebacker Kendrell Bell (Steelers), Quarterback Quincy Carter (Cowboys), Offensive Tackle Jonas Jennings (Bills) and Cornerback Jamie Henderson (Jets)--were the most of any SEC team.

While those performers will be difficult to replace, the Bulldogs have a large nucleus of quality players this season. Georgia returns 55 lettermen, 26 on offense, 25 on defense and four specialists. Among that group are six offensive starters, seven defensive starters and both starting kickers from last season. Returning are players who produced 81 percent of Georgia's team receptions (145 of 181) and four of the top five tacklers.

Read on for a further analysis of the 2001 Bulldogs.

OFFENSE

Co-Number One QB David Greene Photo: Dean Legge/DawgPost.com
The first order of business for Richt and his offensive coaching staff will be settling on a top Quarterback. The Bulldogs' only experienced signal caller, Cory Phillips, is locked in a battle royal with redshirt freshman David Greene (pictured right) for the Number One job. Phillips is an underrated player who displays poise and an ability to produce. Last year, Phillips started five games and threw for 400-plus yards in two games. Greene, a southpaw who has ideal size (6-foot-3, 222 pounds) and a bit more mobility than Phillips, enjoyed a solid spring. However, freshman D.J. Shockley, a highly regarded 6-1, 175-pounder could emerge as Georgia's starting signal caller.

At Running Back, the Bulldogs were dealt a blow in the spring when talented redshirt freshman Albert Hollis suffered a knee injury that will force him to miss the entire 2001 season. Now the spotlight is once again on youngster Musa Smith. The 6-1, 212-pound sophomore is perhaps Georgia's best running back. He combines a rugged style with good speed, and has shown the talent to become a top-flight feature back in the SEC. Senior Jasper Sanks could see some action in the same backfield with Smith. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, his size is more like a Fullback's. The true Fullback, though, will be senior Verron Haynes. Since Bruce Thornton has been switched from Tailback to Cornerback, the opportunity exists for freshman Tony Milton to provide backup support for Smith and Sanks. The 5-11, 195-pounder sat out the last two years. 

Georgia is loaded at wide receiver. Junior Terrence Edwards, off a Most Valuable Player performance in the Jeep Oahu Bowl, is the Bulldogs' go-to player. This season he could become the Bulldogs all-time leading receiver. Sophomore Damien Gary, who actually made more touchdown receptions (five) than Edwards last season, will be on the other side, giving the Bulldogs a pair of standout wideouts. Sophomore Reggie Brown, who contributed 13 catches last year, provides a great deal of speed and big-play potential. The third option in the Bulldogs' pass offense will be blue-chip junior Tight End Randy McMichael. The 6-4, 230-pounder has the potential to develop into one of the SEC's finest at his position. 

While all five starters return in the offensive interior, there is no proven depth. The top player along the offensive line is junior Right Tackle Jon Stinchcomb, with junior Right Guard Kevin Breedlove also adding ample experience. Senior Center Curt McGill started every game for the Bulldogs last season. His strong effort in the Bulldogs' Jeep Oahu Bowl victory over Virginia was particularly impressive. The left side will be aptly anchored by Guard Alex Jackson (6-4, 337) and Tackle George Foster (6-6, 321).

DEFENSE
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The Georgia defense huddles during the G-Day game.Photo: Dean Legge/DawgPost.com
Georgia suffered heavy graduation losses at Defensive Tackle. Gone are standouts Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud. But the Bulldogs feel they have a star in the making in sophomore Jonathan Sullivan. The 6-4, 280-pounder worked in the rotation last year, so he's already battle tested. Junior David Jacobs, who started a few games at Defensive End in 1999 and worked as a backup to Stroud last season, takes over as the starter at Nose Guard. At Defensive End, the Bulldogs have plenty of depth and experience.. Junior Charles Grant is the marquee player, but Georgia has three other players, led by senior Josh Mallard, who have prior starting experience. Mallard may be the most underrated player in the SEC. He is a pass rush specialist.

At Linebacker, the Bulldogs must adequately replace standout Mike performer Kendrell Bell. To fill that void, Tony Gilbert, a starter last year at Outside Linebacker, shifts to the middle. A huge bonus for the Bulldogs will be the return of junior Boss Bailey, who missed last season with a knee injury. Veteran Will Witherspoon headlines the returnees on the weak side, while former starter Adrian Hollingshed will provide quality backup support to Gilbert in the middle. Two years ago, Hollingshed was the Bulldogs' third-leading tackler. 

Georgia should have a very good secondary. Talent abounds here. Three starters return. Not only did Thornton settle in at Cornerback, he won the starting job opposite big-time playmaker Tim Wansley. Perhaps the nation's best cover man, Wansley led the SEC last year with six interceptions. He should be a serious All-American candidate in this, his senior season.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Punter Jonathon Kilgo holds for kicker Billy Bennett during the G-Day game.Photo: Dean Legge/DawgPost.com
The Bulldogs should have a very potent kicking game. Punter Jonathan Kilgo and place-kicker Billy Bennett return along with snapper Andy Hogan and holder Dantra Clements. Kilgo averaged more than 42 yards per punt last season. He made 13 punts of over 50 yards. Bennett, a former walk-on, is coming off a con

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