ATHENS, Ga. — Offensive line is supposed to be a strength on Georgia's 2002 football team.
That expectation doesn't come with a guarantee.
"The biggest mistake we can make would be to assume we're going to be a good offensive line,'' said offensive line coach Neil Callaway.
"We've got to work to make sure we do that and don't assume anything. People talk about all the seniors, but that does not matter. You've got to play.''
Center Curt McGill was the only senior starter on the 2001 line. That is the only position without a set starter in spring practice, and if Ian Knight holds off Russ Tanner for the No. 1 spot, then Georgia will boast five senior starters on the line.
A sixth senior is tackle Kareem Marshall, a part-time starter last year. That is a lot of senior experience.
"I feel like a dinosaur,'' said George Foster of Macon, one of the returning starters at tackle. Foster and tackle Jon Stinchcomb are the only fifth-year seniors in the group from the 1998 freshman class.
"It has been a long time,'' Foster said. "The only thing I can do now is just get better.''
Stinchcomb is the best known of the starters. He won second-team All-America honors from Football News last year and was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference pick by The Associated Press.
Stinchcomb has made a successful comeback from a knee injury he suffered against Georgia Tech last year. That kept him out of Georgia's bowl game, but now he is back in contact and working to make sure the line takes a lead role on the team.
Asked what comes with having so many seniors atop the depth chart, Stinchcomb said "Comfort and accountability.''
Said Stinchcomb: "There comes a time where you've got to stand up and be accountable. To be successful, we're really going to need the offensive line to step up and fulfill our capabilities.
"You want the offensive line to be the central core. With six seniors, that's a great place to start. We have to take advantage of that.''
Foster (6-6, 322) and junior college transfer Kareem Marshall (6-6, 325) are rotating with Stinchcomb at the two guard positions. Redshirt freshman Dennis Roland (6-7, 287) is next on the depth chart.
Kevin Breedlove is being held out this spring after surgery on his hand, but he will be a starting guard. Alex Jackson and Knight are competing at the other guard position. Despite a hand injury that will require minor surgery after spring drills, Knight continues to shuffle between guard and center.
Some depth will have to come from freshmen Max Jena-Gilles, Daniel Inman, Bartley Miller, Antonio Mercier and Randall Swoopes. One 2002 signee, Josh Brock, enrolled early and is working at guard and center.
"Last year we were able to play with seven (offensive linemen),'' Callaway said. "Hopefully we'll have more than seven this year, but we're not going to take anything for granted or rest on what we did last year. We're going to have to go and earn our spots just like we did last year.''
NOTES: Richt said it is possible redshirt freshman linebacker Odell Thurman, dismissed from the team earlier this month for a violation of team rules, will be able to return to the team for the 2003 season.
"There's an opportunity,'' Richt said. "I'm leaving the door open for Odell if he can take care of some of the responsibilities. He's in school. He's going to finish this semester. He won't be with us next season. If after that point he takes care of his business, the door would be open. ... I hope he does come back. I think he wants to come back.''
Charles can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com