RB Competition: Blue Chip vs. Blue Collar

ATHENS, Ga. - Kregg Lumpkin, the blue-chip addition to Georgia's depth chart at running back, is the player some expect to win the starting job. For now, however, the player to beat is Tony Milton, who describes himself as a blue-collar guy.

Kregg Lumpkin, TheInsiders.com All-America pick from Stephenson High School, has made a strong first impression on the Georgia coaching staff as practice has opened this week. The team has its first day in full pads Saturday, and that will be the time more will be known about Lumpkin and other first-year players.

Even though running backs are not yet having to run through tackles, Coach Mark Richt says Lumpkin already has shown good quickness with the ball. "He's a real natural in seeing the hole and getting to it, and he's got the ability to get there in a real smooth-looking way,'' Richt said.

Added Richt: "You could tell he seems to have good vision. It's one thing to see (the hole) and now you have to get there. Some guys have stutter steps and all. He kind of slashes up in there pretty nice. We'll see what happens when they really start hitting.''

Lumpkin is gaining confidence even as he is losing weight in the first week of drills. The 6-foot-1 back  checked in with the freshmen at 211 pounds and already is down to 206. He says he had been as heavy as 220 this summer. "I'm trying to keep on weight and not lose it,'' Lumpkin said.

Even closer to 200 pounds, Lumpkin still boasts the combination of size and speed Georgia has lacked with such recent power backs as 2002 starter Musa Smith and Verron Haynes.

The big key for Lumpkin is learning the offense in time to have a chance to contribute as early as the Aug. 30 season opener at Clemson.

"I'm catching up pretty fast,'' said Lumpkin, adding that he is working hard to learn the blocking responsibilities in pass-protection schemes. Lumpkin said that earning a starting job is a goal but added "right now I'm just trying to get my feet wet and trying to get accustomed to the offense and pick up the plays.''

Rated by TheInsiders.com as the second-best high school running back in the nation and by the same service as the top player in Georgia, Lumpkin likely will play immediately, if only in a backup role.

"He's going to get his chance to prove what he can do, along with (Michael) Cooper and (Ronnie) Powell,'' Richt said.

Still, Richt's starter is Tony Milton, who served last year as the top backup behind Smith and made one fill-in start.

Milton (5-10, 198), a third-year sophomore proved his toughness by playing through injuries - including a stress fracture in his leg. Despite the injuries, Milton played in every game last season.

"I've played through so much stuff it's not funny,'' Milton said. "That's how I am. I'm a blue-collar guy. I try to get the job done. It may not be as fancy as people like, but I'm going to do it.''

Milton has Richt's confidence as a strong blocker, and he finished spring practice with a firm hold on the starting job - even if he says no coach has told him that.

"I think I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing,'' Milton said. "I've worked hard since I've been here. I'm very nonchalant about stuff like that. It's not really a big deal to me as long as I get out there and I work hard.''

Cooper was last year's top signee at running back but was redshirted after a slow showing early in practice. Powell, a junior from Jacksonville, was listed behind Milton and Cooper at the end of spring drills.

Tyson Browning is suspended for the first three games and so will not compete for playing time before the Sept. 20 game at LSU. That helps to create an opening for Lumpkin, who says he does not feel the pressure of the expectations that accompany his billing as a top recruit.

"Not really,'' Lumpkin said. "I just want to get my feet wet and at least get a chance to get in the first game so I can see what it's like. From then on I can know what to to and what not to do when I'm out there.''

NOTES: Richt said Thursday he continues to be impressed by how hard the team is working. "If we can stay together when we cross some adversity, we're going to be all right,'' Richt said. "I don't have any question that they'll work hard. They're really trying to do what we say the way we say to do it. You can't ask for much more right now.'' ...

Offensive tackle Max Jean-Gilles returned to practice Thursday. He was held out Wednesday when he did not gain back enough weight lost in Tuesday's practice. Players are weighed before and after each practice.

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