By Charles Odum
ATHENS, Ga. — One year later, Georgia still is looking for a few good running backs.
As was the case last spring, a shortage at tailback threatens to handcuff the offense when spring practice opens Monday. This time, however, there is no Verron Haynes to move over from fullback and save the spring.
With Musa Smith still slowed by a groin injury — a development that both worries and frustrates Coach Mark Richt — and Tony Milton out after shoulder surgery, Georgia may be left with Mike Gilliam and Ronnie Powell as its only two scholarship tailbacks.
Kenny Bailey has moved to cornerback, Bruce Thornton is staying at cornerback and Albert Hollis II is still recovering from last year's severe knee injury.
Help is coming when freshmen report in the summer, but for the 15 days of spring drills, including the April 6 G-Day game, Richt has to make do with two or three backs and hope there is no repeat of last spring's run on injuries at the position.
Richt hopes Smith, who had only one carry for five yards in the Music City Bowl loss to Boston College, will be able to practice. Seeing Smith come out in his No. 32 jersey Monday would be a big morale boost for the entire offense.
Meanwhile, here are four other keys to a successful spring practice for Richt and Georgia:
Piece together a new starting defensive line.
There has been a somewhat surprising position change. David Pollack is moving from tackle to end, while Johnathan Sullivan returns to his natural tackle spot after spending the end of last season at end.
Pollack's quickness at tackle convinced coaches he can be productive as the "Buck'' defensive end. Nic Clemons will work behind Pollack. Robert Geathers opens spring as the No. 1 "Rush'' end, while Ken Veal will be the player to beat at nose tackle.
Shedrick Wynn and Gerald Anderson are the top backups at tackle — at least until the freshman class arrives.
"Sullivan is more comfortable inside and needs to be inside,'' Richt said. "Pollack can trim his body a little easier and will do better out there.''
Settle on a starting center.
Senior Ian Knight returns after working at both guard and center last year, and he is the top candidate to replace 2001 senior Curt McGill.
Redshirt freshman Russ Tanner and possibly true freshman Josh Brock will compete with Knight, who also is listed as the top backup to Alex Jackson at split guard. If Tanner wins the starting job at center, Knight may become a full-time guard.
"Of all the line positions, center is the most wide-open,'' Richt said.
"Those three tackles (Jon Stinchcomb, George Foster and Kareem Marshall) you can imagine are going to hold down the fort pretty good. Our guards have a pretty good shot of holding off some battles, but there will be some battles there. But center, there really is no one in the lead, I would say.''
Find two new starting safeties.
The unexpected exit of junior free safety Terreal Bierria to the NFL draft provides an opportunity for Kentrell Curry, but linebacker Thomas Davis could be a surprise this spring. The redshirt freshman (6-3, 205) is listed at free safety on the spring depth chart.
Former starter Cap Burnett, held out last season due to concussions, is participating in offseason conditioning drills with the intent to play his senior season. Burnett could be the comeback story of the year if he can play. Another name to watch is Burt Jones, a walk-on.
Meanwhile, former quarterback Sean Jones is the top candidate to replace Jermaine Phillips at rover. Jones recorded 38 tackles while playing in all 11 games last year. Phillips will be difficult to replace.
Develop a way to make redshirt freshman quarterback D.J. Shockley part of the offense without breaking the spirit of 2001 SEC Freshman of the Year David Greene.
Few teams face the idea of a quarterback controversy the year after a freshman completes 59.3 percent of his passes for 2,789 yards and 17 touchdowns. Greene struggled a bit late in the season, opening the door for Shockley to win playing time with a strong spring.
Richt thinks both quarterbacks can be stars, but he admits he doesn't know the best way to work out a two-quarterback system. Attempting such a maneuver can be an invitation for chaos and bad feelings. Because each quarterback has such distinct skills, Richt thinks there is a way both can prosper.
Greene weathered one mini-quarterback controversy with Cory Phillips at the start of last season, and he probably is humble and mature enough to accept a new challenge this year.
Greene is all but guaranteed of entering the 2002 season with the starting job; what happens after that is more difficult to predict.