10 14 2004 Notebook - Verdun progressing

ATHENS -- Georgia's Danny Verdun Wheeler has quietly turned his season around.

After a disappointing season-opener against Georgia Southern's triple option offense, the sophomore linebacker has recorded more tackles in the last four games (19) than any Bulldog other than Thomas Davis.

"He's obviously shown now he can be productive at a high level," defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brian VanGorder said. "When we started the season, it was a big question whether he was ready to do that. He's learning the game. He's getting more and more comfortable."

Jarvis Jackson started the Georgia Southern game at weakside linebacker, but Danny Verdun Wheeler has started the last four games there.

"It was just a matter of getting the opportunity to show what I could do," he said.

Jackson made such an impression filling in at middle linebacker in the second and third games of the year, it seemed he would take over again on the weakside once Odell Thurman returned at middle linebacker. However, Jackson has just one tackle in the last two games and is doubtful for Saturday's game due to a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Verdun Wheeler had no tackles in the first game but is now fifth on the team in that category. He also has 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

"I feel good that I'm progressing," he said. "I've seen my progression in every game."

INJURY UPDATE: Tight end Martrez Milner (back) looked good enough in Thursday's practice to be bumped from doubtful to probable on the injury list. Offensive tackle Dennis Roland (ankle) also practiced Thursday, but he will only be used in an emergency situation against Vanderbilt, Coach Mark Richt said.

Thurman didn't practice due a staph infection in his knee, but he will play in Saturday's game. Thurman has been bothered by the infection for more than a week.

UP FOR GRABS: The battle for the starting fullback job is ongoing, Richt said. Either Jeremy Thomas or Des Williams will start Saturday. Williams has started two games this year, and Thomas has started one. Richt said he is pleased with the progress of both. Each had "five or six decleater" blocks against Tennessee, Richt said.

"They're a good complement to each other," he said.

QUICK WORK: It took Thurman just two games this season to be earn a spot on the 2004 Butkus Award semifinalist list. Thurman was announced Thursday as one of the 12 semifinalists for the award, which goes to the nation's top linebacker.

The Monticello native missed the first three games of the year due to suspension. He returned to record eight tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss against LSU two weeks ago. Last week, he had six tackles against Tennessee.

BAD OMEN: The only time in history that Georgia has lost a home game and still won the SEC Championship was in 1948.

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