No Secondary Concern

ATHENS – The standards for Georgia's safeties have gotten very high recently, but that's not going bother Tra Battle.

Tra Battle will be the only returning starter in the No. 8 Bulldogs' secondary going into next season. Secondary and defensive line will be the biggest concerns for defensive coordinator Willie Martinez beginning in spring practice, but secondary will get the most attention because Georgia has had three straight All-Americans at safety.

"I don't really feel any pressure (in that regard)," said Battle, who came to Georgia as a walk-on. "I feel like if you prepare like you're supposed to and you play like your coaches expect, everything else will fall into place."

It will need to since Georgia is losing All-America safety Greg Blue and first-team All-SEC cornerbacks DeMario Minter and Tim Jennings after Monday's Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs (10-2) take on No. 11 West Virginia (10-1) at 8:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.

"From a leadership standpoint, I feel more pressure," said Battle, who is third on the team with 66 tackles this season and will be a senior next year.

Kelin Johnson is the frontrunner to take Blue's place at free safety, but Martinez said he likes the potential of Antonio Sims, CJ Byrd and Antavious Coates (a freshman who sat out this season while rehabilitating a knee injury).

"They love to run and hit, and that's really what we've had here," Martinez said.

At cornerback, Paul Oliver is ready for a starting job and maybe more. His play took a major leap this season, as he had three interceptions and several key plays.

"I think Paul had a breakout year this year," Battle said. "He only started two games, and yet he's one of the leaders in picks and production stats. I expect him to do as any player does, become better." Standout punt returner Thomas Flowers has the inside track on the other starting spot at cornerback, but incoming freshman Asher Allen could compete for that spot.

Defensive line

If Quentin Moses goes pro, Georgia will have to replace every stater across the front next year. Stalwarts Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson at tackle and Will Thompson at end will be gone for sure, leaving plenty of opportunity for young players. The problem, line coach Rodney Garner said, is there aren't enough young players to chose from. Charles Johnson appears a lock to take one of the starting defensive end spots, but, if Moses leaves, there's no obvious successor at the other end. Ray Gant's an option, but he may be needed to start inside. Sophomore Marcus Howard and freshman Rod Battle, who redshirted this year, will be in the race during spring practice.

Jeff Owens, a second-team freshman All-American this year, probably will take one of the inside spots, and Garner is expecting big things from 6-foot-5, 316-pound freshman Kade Weston, who was one of the jewels of last year's recruiting class but redshirted this year.

"Kade has to step up," Garner said. "He needs to understand there is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on him this spring, more than he ever dreamed of."

Depth will again be an issue as the Bulldogs will have just six defensive tackles this spring.


The good news for Georgia is that all its linebackers will be coming back next season, and they're bound to be healthier than they were this season. The bad news is that none of them was a playmaker in the mold of Odell Thurman or Tony Gilbert this season. There are plenty of players who could develop into that role as all three starters will be back.

Tony Taylor will be on his second season off reconstructive knee surgery, so he should be close to his stellar 2003 form. Brandon Miller, who will be nursing a sprained knee during the Sugar Bowl, is another candidate. And Dannell Ellerbe remains the most athletic player in the group, but he has been unable to earn regular playing time due to minor injuries and inconsistent play.

A Tradition of Excellence

Georgia's All-American Safeties

2003 Sean Jones
2004 Thomas Davis
2005 Greg Blue
2006 ??????

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