Odum grades the Dawgs

Charles Odum grades the Georgia Bulldogs for the upcoming season.

Rushing offense

Grade: C-

Tony Milton should be a solid starter, but he is more of a workmanlike back than a flashy big-play back. Freshman Kregg Lumpkin suffered a pulled hamstring on the first day of full-contact drills. Ronnie Powell and Michael Cooper have a chance to earn significant time. Fullback Jeremy Thomas is a big blocker with surprising skills as a runner. A big concern is a completely new offensive line, though tackle Max Jean-Gilles, guard Josh Brock and others should develop into solid run-blockers.

Rushing defense

Grade: B-

New middle linebacker Odell Thurman enjoyed an outstanding G-Day spring game, but still he may experience some growing pains in his first season as a starter. Like Thurman, the other new starters at linebacker, Tony Taylor and Thomas Davis, are fast but not very big. The defensive front lost tackle Johnathan Sullivan but Ken Veal, Darrius Swain, Gerald Anderson and Kedric Golston are big run-stoppers. Swain may be the rising star of the tackles. Better known for his sacks, end David Pollack is an aggressive tackler who led the conference in stops behind the line of scrimmage last year.

Passing offense

Grade: A

There are legitimate concerns about the pass-blocking of a rebuilt line, but junior quarterback David Greene won first-team All-SEC honors and as a two-year starter has the experience to make quick reads if the protection breaks down. Sophomore D.J. Shockley's running skills could be especially useful this year as the complement to Greene at quarterback. Despite losing Terrence Edwards, Georgia may have the best depth at receiver in the league, led by preseason All-SEC pick Fred Gibson, Damien Gary, Michael Johnson, Reggie Brown and freshmen T.J. Gartrell and Sean Bailey. The surprise of the group could be Cedric Haywood, who won praise from the coaching staff in spring and preseason practice.

Passing defense

Grade: A

The combination of a devastating pass rush led by David Pollack and Will Thompson, who combined for 20 sacks last season, and an experienced secondary with four returning starters makes this an obvious strength. Georgia will open the season without starting rover Kentrell Curry, who is recovering from a stress fracture in his right leg, and three backup cornerbacks, who are serving suspensions imposed by Coach Mark Richt. The lack of depth at cornerback is a concern against Clemson, but Greg Blue should be a capable fill-in for Curry and Georgia still has senior starting cornerbacks with Decory Bryant and Bruce Thornton.

Special teams

Grade: B+

Senior kicker Billy Bennett made 26 of 33 field goal attempts and each of his 52 extra-point kicks last season, and is as solid as any specialist in the league. Bennett's longest field goal last season came from 47 yards, but he nailed a 55-yarder as a sophomore in 2001. The team must find a new punter and kickoff specialist. Freshman Andy Bailey probably will handle kickoff duties, and he is competing with Gordon Ely-Kelso for the punting job. Damien Gary is a trustworthy punt return specialist, and Fred Gibson and Tim Jennings lead a list of options on kickoff returns. Gibson averaged 24.2 yards per return last year, including a 91-yarder for a touchdown against Clemson.

Coaching

Grade: A

Mark Richt has signed a new contract that will make it extremely difficult and expensive for him to be hired away by another school. The promise of stability at the top of the program with Richt thus far has carried on through his staff of assistants. The only change came with veteran Ken Rucker taking over the running backs before spring practice. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, a virtual unknown three years ago, now is regarded as one of the top assistants in the nation. Quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo provides excellent recruiting help for defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner.

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