The Forgotten Men

TAMPA, Fla. -- Bowl preparation is the most relaxed practice time of the season for college football teams. There's more than enough time to prepare for a game that can be as much as six weeks after the final regular season game, so most teams use at least some of the time to work their young and/or seldom-used players more than usual.

No. 8 Georgia (9-2) did it last week before leaving Athens, holding a scrimmage for its players who rarely, if ever, see the playing field and often don't even practice with the first or second units. The Bulldogs planned to do it two days in a row but had to call off the second day's work due to a scheduling conflict.

"I thought they'd be happy about it, but most of the guys were upset," Coach Mark Richt said.

For many of Bulldogs, that kind of practice time is as close as they've come to real competition in a while. Georgia brought its entire team here for Saturday's Outback Bowl against No. 16 Wisconsin (9-2). Counting walk-ons, that's around 120 players.

More than half of them won't even sniff the field against the Badgers. For reasons ranging from injury to redshirting to simple demotion, it has been a long season for many of the Bulldogs.

For tight end Martrez Milner, it was an injury. Milner, a sophomore, started the first game of the year and traded the spot back and forth with Leonard Pope for a couple weeks before chronic back spasms starting keeping him off the practice field and out of the lineup. In the Bulldogs' final eight games, he caught one pass for 6 yards.

"Of course, I've been frustrated," he said. "I'm missing playing with my guys, but my time is going to come. It's my plan to rest (my back) in the offseason, get some strength back and get back to where I was before I got injured."

That won't be easy. Like many injured players, Milner has watched someone else run off with his position. Pope caught 22 passes for 417 yards and six touchdowns on the way to an All-SEC season.

"I'm glad to see him excel," Milner said. "He's worked hard. I'm very proud of him."

The future is brighter for linebacker Josh Johnson, but the true freshman from Stephenson High School looked like he would play immediately. Three weeks before the season began, he seemed like a certainty to be in the rotation at linebacker. But the transition from high school to college suddenly overwhelmed him mentally, he said, and he never stepped on the field.

"It was a kind of my decision really (to redshirt)," he said.

The year has been good for him, he said, and Richt pointed out that Johnson made several big hits the one time Georgia's youngsters did get to scrimmage.

"I see myself improving, learning a lot more," Johnson said. "I'm starting to feel the game better."

Running back Michael Cooper already knows the game. The sophomore was Georgia's leading rusher last year and had 24 carries in the first three games this year. Then along came true freshmen Danny Ware and Thomas Brown.

Cooper didn't play in seven of the last eight games and had just five carries the one time he did play.

"All you can do is sit back and continue to work hard and, when the opportunity presents itself, show up big," he said. "There ain't no thoughts I'm going to transfer. I don't want that rumor to get started."

Cooper still has faith in his abilities, he said.

"When I'm out there, I've produced so there's not doubt I can still do it," he said. "You never know how things will go."

Wide receiver Bryan McClendon can attest to that. This was supposed to be his breakout year. After finishing the 2003 season well, the junior looked like a key third threat behind Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown.

Richt sang his praises throughout the preseason, but McClendon caught only five passes this year and none in the final four games.

"It was (hard)," he said. "Coming in I had a lot of talk. I had a good spring and had good camp."

But he came away with little to show for it.

"It is what it is," McClendon said. "I've accepted that."

For some guys, there's not much choice.

Dawg Post Top Stories