Shockley Could Play This Season

<p>ATHENS, Ga. — It's decision time for some true freshmen at Georgia.</p> <p>An extra week off for Georgia could prove crucial to the chances of some freshmen — including quarterback <b>D.J. Shockley</b> — to avoid redshirt seasons.</p>

Georgia's true freshmen who have played
Name Position Comment
Fred Gibson WR Skills merit increased playing time
Gerald Anderson NG At 326 pounds, adds needed bulk to defensive front
David Pollack DT Small (6-2, 265) but productive (3 tackles, 1 QB pressure) in opener
Robert Geathers DE Could contend for starting job in 2002

With last week's postponement of the Houston game until Dec. 1, followed by this off week, Georgia has an unusually long layoff between its Sept. 8 loss to South Carolina and its Sept. 29 home game against Arkansas.

That leaves enough time to fit in the same practice time as allowed in spring drills. With that opportunity, such freshmen as Shockley, tailbacks Tony Milton and Mike Gilliam and center Russ Tanner can gain valuable experience that could be the difference between playing or being redshirted.

Before last week's postponement of the Houston game, Coach Mark Richt was again considering the question of whether to play Shockley, who has been competing with junior Cory Phillips for the No. 2 job behind starting quarterback David Greene.

Richt said this week that the unexpected extra week off could make a difference with the decision on Shockley.

"It could affect it,'' Richt said. "I still feel like we need to make a call here pretty quick. This (Arkansas) game is the one; we're getting close to that point of no return. We're either going to play him or we're not pretty quick.''

If Phillips had appeared more comfortable in relief duty behind Greene in the first two games for Georgia (1-1 overall, 0-1 in the Southeastern Conference), then Richt might be more comfortable in letting Shockley use 2001 as a redshirt season. Instead, Phillips has struggled, giving Richt more reason to consider Shockley as an option for the remaining nine games.

"I'm in the mindset that each and every day I could be a step closer,'' Shockley said, adding that he has increased confidence in his knowledge of Richt's offense.

"I believe I've learned the system so dramatically I'm quick with my reads,'' Shockley said. "... This is another week to get better. If I'm able to, yes, it could be a little closer to me being ready.''

So far, four true freshmen have played this season: receiver Fred Gibson, defensive end Robert Geathers and defensive linemen Gerald Anderson and David Pollack.

Geathers, somewhat of a surprise in the class, has five tackles and one quarterback pressure while playing in both games. Anderson and Pollack, pressed into duty by a lack of depth on the defensive line, played only in the opener against Arkansas State.

Georgia's true freshmen on the bubble
Name Position Comment
D.J. Shockley QB Probably will be redshirted if he does not play against Arkansas
Russ Tanner C Even limited experience in 2001 could be crucial for Tanner in 2002
Tony Milton TB Has had hamstring, thigh, ankle injuries
Mike Gilliam TB Rushed for 275 yards against Valdosta High last year

Gibson, who played with Anderson at Ware County High School, was one of the most highly recruited members of the freshman class.

Gibson does not yet have a reception, but Richt was not happy with the lack of substitutions at receiver and other positions in the loss to South Carolina. Richt said Gibson and others will have more opportunities in future games.

Other than Shockley, perhaps the freshman most likely to earn his first playing time against Arkansas is Tanner. The former Johnson County standout has recovered from a preseason foot injury to claim the No. 2 job at center, but Ian Knight — a co-starter with Alex Jackson at split guard — also can play behind starting center Curt McGill.

Offensive line coach Neil Callaway says Jackson "is ahead right now'' at split guard, perhaps leaving more time for Knight at center. But Callaway says the decision on Tanner will not be based on the competition at split guard.

"If we feel Russ is ready as the No. 2 center, then we're going to play him,'' Callaway said.

Tanner appears comfortable with the idea of taking a redshirt year.

"If I could get significant playing time, I'd like to play,'' Tanner said.

"Right now, as long as Curt is healthy and playing, I don't know how much playing time I would get because I still have a lot to learn.''

Meanwhile, backup tailback Kenny Bailey has been slowed by a shoulder injury that would have kept him out if Georgia had played last week. Jasper Sanks has been the No. 2 tailback behind Musa Smith, but Milton and Gilliam still could enter plans for this season.

Milton's progress has been slowed by a variety of injuries, beginning with a hamstring injury, and the fact he has not played since his 1998 senior season at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Fla.

"Right now if any (freshman tailback) gets on the field, and we're not sure about that, it's going to be Mike,'' said running backs coach Tony Pierce.

"Tony, with his layoff the last couple of years, we're trying to get him back physically and also mentally in school and classes and everything.''

Said Milton: "I'm still in awe that I've made it this far. If I don't play, that's the coaches decision. It's just unfortunate I had injuries and I couldn't show them what I've got.''

Pierce said the small (5-9, 176) Pierce, from Lincoln High in Tallahassee, would provide a different look for defenses.

"He's a scatback,'' Pierce said. "I'm pleased that he's here and he gives us a little different touch than the larger back. I know he's going to be explosive when he does touch the ball. He's quick.''

With the extra time off, Bailey is expected to be able to join Sanks in providing depth at tailback against Arkansas.

Even if Bailey were not able to return, Richt said the versatility of starting fullback Verron Haynes provides another reason not to play Milton or Gilliam this year. If needed, Haynes could fill in at tailback, with J.T. Wall moving up at fullback.

"Verron is a better tailback right now than those young kids are,'' Richt said. "He knows what he's doing.''

Charles Odum can be reached via e-mail at CEOdum@aol.com.


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