Pope could be security blanket

ATHENS – D.J. Shockley will have plenty of challenges this season, his first and only as Georgia's starting quarterback, but he'll also have a 6-foot-7 security blanket almost every time he's on the field.

Tight end Leonard Pope, who had a breakout season last year with 25 catches and six touchdowns, is the kind of player who can make up for a lot of mistakes.

"He's fun to watch," Coach Mark Richt said. "He's a very talented player. I think he's a special talent, and he's definitely a guy who can help any quarterback."

Pope says he'll be happy to be provide Shockley with a safety valve.

"We kind of grew up together with the (No. 2 offense)," Pope said. "We're going to try to make a connection. I'm trying to bring my confidence from last season to this season."

He should have plenty of confidence from a year ago. Fred Gibson was the only Bulldog who had more touchdown catches, and Pope's 19.3 yards per catch were the best on the team. He's the only returning Bulldog who caught more than 16 passes last season.

That's the good news and the bad news. As Georgia's only proven pass-catcher, he's bound to see a lot of attention from defenses. If Pope was an opposing defensive coordinator, he'd double-team him, he said.

Asked if he thought one person could cover him, he said, "Not really, but then again, I don't take it for granted."

"Now that I have a lot of attention on me," he said, "I know I'm going to get a lot of double-teams and stuff."

Neither Pope nor Georgia's staff have set any specific individual goals this season for a player who is sure to be a preseason All-SEC first-team selection this fall. Instead, the Bulldogs and Pope are focusing this spring on the little things, tight end coach David Johnson said.

"I just want him to perform like he's capable for performing." Johnson said. "We talk more about just fulfilling the fundamentals and tasks of teaching. Everything else will take care of itself."

None of Georgia's coaches worry about Pope's ego getting out of hand after his 2004 season. Not after the trouble he had getting to Athens. Pope signed with the Bulldogs in 2002 but failed to qualify academically. In 2003, he played in 12 games but caught just one pass.

"He's one of those guys who sort of took the long route," Richt said. "He's just fired up to be at Georgia, and he's a great guy to coach. He's a very low maintenance guy who is highly productive, and every day he shows up the same way."


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