08 27 2004 Notebook

ATHENS -- Former tight end Ben Watson was a constant voice in Coach Mark Richt's ear last season. The now-New England Patriot wondered privately and publicly why he would catch five passes one game, one the next, four two weeks later and then none.

Sophomore Martrez Milner said this week he's "praying" that all Watson's pestering pays off for him and Leonard Pope this season. Milner is slightly ahead of Pope, an Americus graduate, for the starting tight end job, but both will play.

"We're still competing for the first position," Milner said.

Watson caught 23 passes last year and all the Bulldogs' tight ends caught just 30. Milner is optimistic that last number will go up this year.

"I like (the offense) a lot," he said. "It's improving."

Richt said both players are "exceptional threats" in the passing game. Milner, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, hasn't caught many balls lately, though. He had 22 catches for 374 yards as a senior at West Hall High School in 2001. Last season, he played in 13 games but caught just one pass for 15 yards.

Still, he feels confident in his route-running and receiving abilities although he does have "some kinks to work out" with his blocking he said.

Richt is encouraged by both his young tight ends' attitudes this fall.

"Their blocking skills are improving daily," he said. "They really want to be great players."

ON THE MEND: Wide receiver A.J. Bryant missed his fifth practice Friday due to a bruised femur. It happened early this week when he suffered a minor hyperextension of his right knee.

"I could play on it, but they're trying to make sure I get it right," he said.

Despite the injury, Bryant is still expected to play this year and could be as high as No. 4 on the team's depth chart.

DROPPING BACK: Freshman linebacker Josh Johnson is splitting time now between being a second-team linebacker and a scout teamer, but he doesn't think it has anything to do with the fact that he missed several team meetings early in the season because he overslept.

"I already ran for that," he said. "That's been taken care of. That was a long time ago."

Mary Persons graduate Jamario Smith is taking some of the snaps Johnson was taking at second-team middle linebacker, but Johnson still expects to get on the field this year.

PRACTICE REPORT: Defensive end Quentin Moses returned after missing time due to an ankle sprain, but running back Tyson Browning is still out due to a hyperextended knee. Browning could return as early as Monday. The Bulldogs will hold a morning workout today before breaking for the weekend.

THE BOSS: SEC commissioner Mike Slive was in town Friday as part of a regular tour of all the league's schools. He had lunch with the Bulldogs' senior staff.

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