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Richt worries that DL is "a little shaky&quot

An area of top concern when Georgia's varsity practice begins tomorrow will be a defensive line, which suffers from a glaring lack of experience.

ATHENS, Ga. - An area of top concern when Georgia's varsity practice begins today will be a defensive line, which suffers from a glaring lack of experience. 

Georgia used six different combinations of starters on the 2001 defensive front. Of the 11 players listed on the depth chart at the four line positions, only Nic Clemons - a third-string defensive end - is a senior. The fact only three players with any starting experience return from last year had Coach Mark Richt admitting today that he is worried. "The more I think about it, that D line is a little shaky,'' Richt said, adding that Johnathan Sullivan is the only established starter on the unit. 


  David Pollack 
 Photo Dean Legge 

When practice opens tomorrow, the first-team defensive line may include junior ends Robert Geathers and David Pollack and sophomore tackle Ken Veal and the junior Sullivan. Geathers, the "Rush'' end is returning from foot surgery that kept him out of spring drills, but he played as a backup in all 11 games last year. Veal started three games late last season after being listed as the No. 3 nose tackle at the start of the season. "Kenny Veal has played some downs, but hasn't really proved that he can be a legitimate starter,'' Richt said at Georgia's press conference to preview the start of practice. "The guys behind him are so young.'' 

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder says Veal matured after learning he could compete for a starting job.  "He has become more committed and dedicated to what he's doing,'' VanGorder said. "He saw an opportunity, he knew it was important that he step up, and he responded very well.''

 Potential backup tackles include redshirt freshmen Gerald Anderson and Darrell Holmes and true freshmen Darrius Swain, Ray Gant and Kedric Golston. Swain was one of four signees who enrolled early for spring practice, so he may have a jump over the other freshmen. 

Pollack showed great promise as a true freshman last season, recording 37 tackles with two sacks at tackle, but he moved to end in spring practice and so is still adjusting to that position. Sullivan, who has played end and tackle in his first two seasons, could emerge as the star of the unit. At 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds, he was too big to play even the more physical "Buck'' end position, so tackle should be his permanent home. He recorded four sacks and 46 tackles last season. Since Geathers missed spring drills, sophomore Will Thompson may open practice as the first-team Rush end. Shedrick Wynn, Clemons and freshman Marcus Jackson will compete with Pollack for playing time.

 Among the losses from last year were ends Charles Grant, Bruce Adrine and Terin Smith and tackle David Jacobs, whose career ended prematurely due to a stroke he suffered during the season. Grant, who left school one year early to enter the NFL draft, and Jacobs would have been seniors this season. Instead, leadership must come from Sullivan and Veal. Even a sophomore, Pollack, will have more experience than almost any other player on the line.   "I'd say we all have to hustle and we all have to play hard,'' Pollack said Wednesday. "I don't see any reason we should not be a great defense.'' Pollack added about 15 pounds since last season and now is listed at 6-2 and 275. Even so, he says he is quicker - improving his 40-yard time from 4.9 to 4.7 seconds - but still was strong enough to bench press 415 pounds and set the team record at 665 pounds in the squat. Soon after, the 334-pound Anderson topped that record.  Despite the added weight, Pollack still looks lean, and the quickness he showed at tackle could lead to more sacks from his new end spot.

 
DT - Kedric Golston

One certainty on the line is that freshmen - including Swain and Golston - will have to play immediately. Golston has made a successful recovery from a broken leg suffered in a car accident last year and, according to VanGorder, "has the size and power'' to make an immediate impact. Asked about Swain, VanGorder said "We're counting on him flat-out playing.''   The addition of the freshmen only adds more youth to a unit already short on experience. Too much youth makes coaches like Richt nervous, but Pollack says the young players have talent.  "I think we might be a little younger (than last season),'' Pollack said, "but I think we've got a solid group.''

Charles Odum can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com


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