Bulldogs Eager To Defend SEC Football Title

Head Coach Mark Richt talks about his University of Georgia football team and its chances to repeat as SEC Champions.

Hoover, Ala.--The final day of SEC Media Days was a hectic one with Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi State all in town for their chance to be in front of the microphones and television cameras. While Auburn and LSU garnered a good bit of the attention, the Georgia Bulldogs of Coach Mark Richt return as the reigning SEC Champions.

With just 10 starters returning, including just three on offense, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them this season against a tough schedule that features road games against Clemson, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech and home games against Alabama and Auburn. While it will be tough, Richt said that they have one advantage in that they have experience returning at quarterback.

"Our quarterback situation, I believe, is as good as any in the nation," Richt said. "I feel like David Greene is one of the best players in the country today. I think D.J. Shockley has the potential to be just as good. We're real excited about that situation and we have enough receivers that have made enough catches in big games that we should be all right there."

Mark Richt UGA football coach

Georgia coach Mark Richt will try to stop the Tigers' successful run in Athens vs. UGA when Auburn visits Sanford Stadium this year.

Replacing standout running back Musa Smith and all five offensive line starters will be the main point of emphasis this preseason. Expected to take over the duties in the backfield is Tony Milton, a player described by Richt as "solid" on Thursday. Not the explosive player and workhorse Smith was, Milton will be more of a slasher. That leaves much of the offensive output to the passing game with returners Fred Gibson, Damien Gary, Bryan McClendon, Michael Johnson and Reggie Brown expected to pick up the slack. Also in that group is one of the top tight ends in the country heading into the 2003 season.

"Offensively, we are very excited about Ben Watson deciding to stay with us," Richt said. "At one time he was going to go to the league (NFL), but he decided to stick around. That says a lot for him as a person and it says a lot for us as a program that he chose to stay for his senior year. We'll need his leadership."

Defensively, the Bulldogs return seven starters, including the SEC Player of the Year David Pollack at defensive end, but they have some big holes to fill as well. The biggest will be up front where NFL first round draft choice Jonathan Sullivan must be replaced. While there are several available candidates, Richt said it remains to be seen how they will do when counted on heavily this season.

"You have a couple of people that I think will get the job done on substitutions," Richt said. "Are there any dominating players there? Only time will tell if someone can play like Jonathan Sullivan did for us last year."

Although the Bulldogs have just 11 seniors this season, Richt said the group is a strong one and should be good leaders for his team. With names like Watson, Ken Veal, Bruce Thornton, Kentrell Curry and Decory Bryant among the seniors, it's no wonder that Richt is excited about his upcoming team.

"Maybe the most underrated thing in football is the leadership of your seniors," Richt said. "I think these guys are taking on that responsibility."

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