Tanner steps into leadership role

According to coaches, Russ Tanner has developed into the center that they want, and need.

The number one concern going into the 2003 is Georgia's offensive line. A team that lost its whole starting line from the previous season, Georgia had only one true center heading into fall camp. But according to coaches, Russ Tanner has developed into the center that they want, and need.

The coaching staff wanted to get Tanner more experience last season, but an injury to his right hand prevented that. Before the beginning of last season the Wrightsville native missed the first five games of the season due to surgery that repaired torn tendons between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. The injury prevented Tanner to get the game experience that he needed for coaches to have full faith that he would be the starter for 2003.

In the spring it appeared that Tanner would have to battle Randall Swoopes for the starting center spot. Tanner was named the number one center coming out of the spring, but Swoopes transferred to Georgia Military after spring practices were complete. Suddenly Georgia was with only one center; and an inexperienced one at that.

But head coach Mark Richt says that last spring was important in Tanner's development.

"He had a good spring. He got a lot better in the spring," said Richt. "I don't know what it is, once a guy becomes a starter and has that position of responsibility, it seems like they step on in there and do it."

And that is just what Tanner did this summer. The sophomore said that he added weight and that he feels that he has a better understanding for the position now.

"I have gained a little weight since the spring," he said. "I also have a little more experience since then." Still, Tanner says that he can still get better, "I still have a long way to go to be where I need to be."

"It's the hardest thing in the world to train offensive linemen," said Richt of this season's predicament in the trenches. "When you have to train them and count on them, you add a level on anxiety. There is an extra level of stress."

Tanner agrees: "We have so much work to do and we are so young. Even our returning guys, we have a long way to go and a lot to learn to get ready to play."

Clemson's defensive line will provide a stiff challenge for Tanner and his fellow starting newcomers. The Tigers limited Georgia's offense to only 203 total yards last season, and that was against a group of linemen that were supposed to be one of the best units in the SEC.

"We are going to keep working hard and hopefully get where we are supposed to be," Tanner added. Apparently getting where Georgia needs to be will involve some youth backing up Tanner at center, a problem that Georgia knew would happen after Swoopes left.

"Nick Jones and Michael Turner have come along," said Tanner, who himself is having a great fall camp. "They are both going to be very good. Once they learn the system I think that they are going to be right there competing for every snap," he added. Jones is a true freshman that has been getting lots of praise from offensive line coach Neil Callaway and Turner was moved from tight end to center to add depth.

Injuries, one of the reasons that Georgia should be concerned about depth, are something that Tanner says is one of the most important things for this offensive line to aAvoid. Last spring the offensive line could hardly get through a practice together without dealing with a player being injured. "We are just trying to get everybody through injury-free and keep getting better," said Tanner of this fall's camp.

This spring Tanner was a question mark, but now, says Richt, he is one of two leaders on the offensive line.

"He has steadily improved and gotten better," said Richt of Tanner. "I think that Russ and Josh Brock are the leaders out there right now. The rest of them are just holding on baby, holding on for dear life."

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