White gets his chance to start

ATHENS – Odell Thurman likes Derrick White – a lot. <p> "Ever since we met, we've been best of friends," Thurman said. "Anything I've got, he can get, and anything he's got, I can get."

That mantra ends on the football field, though, and Thurman insists his three-game suspension isn't a scheme to get his roommate of two years more playing time.

"No, no, no, it wasn't nothing like that," he said.

Derrick White, a junior from Union City, is expected to start at middle linebacker while Thurman, an All-America candidate, serves a suspension for the first three games of the season. White started three games last year, filling in for suspended or injured players, but he finished the year with just 36 tackles.

"Derrick just hasn't had his chance to shine," Thurman said. "I look at my suspension as a blessing for him."

White can play all three linebacker positions for the Bulldogs and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said he is confident that White knows what to do, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have something to prove to the coaches.

"He's a smart guy. From a mental standpoint, I think he'll be fine," Coach Mark Richt said. "From a leadership standpoint, it'll be different for him. He's not a guy that really enjoys being out front, but he's going to have to step up and fill that role."

As the middle linebacker, White will be responsible for relaying VanGorder's defensive calls to his teammates during games. It will be quite a change for a player who said he was comfortable entering the year as a backup and who seemed shell-shocked early on in the first week of practice.

"It's unbelievable right now," he said.

By the end of the week, White seemed to find his comfort zone. He had what several players described as the best hit of the day Saturday, in the team's first day of full contact practice, stuffing walk-on running back Jason Johnson in a goal-line drill.

"It ain't going to be too much missing from Odell," running back Tyson Browning said. "I think (White) a great fit there. He looks great. He's just as fast as Odell is."

But even White doesn't expect to take the place of Thurman, a ferocious hitter who might be the best linebacker in the SEC.

"He's more physical, he's more flamboyant," White said. "I'm more of a fundamental-type guy."

Thurman and White met four years ago on a recruiting trip to Middle Tennessee State and were drawn together by impoverished backgrounds, said Thurman, who expresses confidence in his friend's leadership ability.

"He has the personality that (makes it seem like) he doesn't care sometimes," Thurman said. "I know him better than some of his kin people, and I know he cares about football. He cares, but he just doesn't show he cares sometimes. I don't think he's going to do any more than he has to do, but I think he'll do a good job of his job."

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