Dawgs start focus on 2005

ATHENS — The remaking of Georgia's football team for the 2005 season was already under way Monday, as Coach Mark Richt took time from an in-home recruiting visit to speak with reporters about the just-completed 2004 season.

Recruiting is the first order of the business for the No. 8 Bulldogs' staff. The team has verbal commitments from 16 players. The most recent is 6-foot-2, 275-pound Jeffrey Owens of Plantation High School in Florida. He is considered the country's 19th-best defensive tackle by Scout.com and picked Georgia over Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech.

"We feel very good (about recruiting) right now," Richt said Monday. "We're excited about the interest that we're getting. We're really close to the end. There's just a few more things out there that we'd like to get done. I say we're close to the end, but recruiting doesn't end until they sign because so many things can change midstream."

National Signing Day is the first week in February. As soon as that's over, Richt will turn his attention to remaking a team that will look much different than the one that ended its season with a 24-21 win over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl on Saturday.

The biggest difference will be behind center, where D.J. Shockley finally will take over for David Greene at quarterback.

"We already have things in our offense that D.J. does better than David," Richt said. "We'll just put more of an emphasis on that, but we'll also look into doing things we haven't done much at all if that'll help us."

With wide receivers Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown leaving, the Bulldogs also will put more emphasis on young running backs Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware, all of whom will be sophomores next year.

"We'll definitely be looking at the ability to keep two of those backs in the backfield at the same time," Richt said.

Tight end Leonard Pope will see his role grow next year as well. He caught 25 passes for 482 yards and six touchdowns this year.

"I think he's got to be a matchup nightmare for most people," Richt said. "I doubt that one guy can cover him all by himself on a consistent basis."

The spotlight on the running game and the tight end should help the Bulldogs' young receivers, Richt said.

"I imagine they'll be getting a lot more one-on-one coverage than Fred and Reggie were getting," he said.

The offense still will be run by Richt, he said. The Bulldogs' head coach serves as his own offensive coordinator and calls more than 95 percent of the team's plays. It's a dual role he has received some outside criticism for, but it's not going to change, he said.

"It has gotten better because I'm better at delegating other jobs and duties," he said. "It's becoming cleaner and cleaner for me."

Defensively, Georgia won't know how much its team will change for a couple weeks. Safety Thomas Davis and linebacker Odell Thurman, two of the team's three leading tacklers and potential All-Americans next year,are considering leaving early for the NFL Draft. (Offensive guard Max Jean-Gilles also is considered a strong possibility for an early departure.) Juniors must declare for the draft by Jan. 15. "I haven't talked to any of them since the game, but that'll probably come up pretty quick," Richt said.

Safety Greg Blue, Georgia's second-leading tackler this year, plans to return next year, but he must graduate this summer in order to earn another year of eligibility because he entered school as a partial qualifier.

"He's on track to do that," Richt said. "He should be able to do that this summer."

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