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Bryant ‘stuffing' receivers with strong play at CB

Richt: Bryant the most dominating player in practice

Complete the rest of this sentence for Georgia coach Mark Richt:

"The most dominating guy in practice right now is ...''

Tony Gilbert? Boss Bailey? Johnathan Sullivan? Fred Gibson? Jon Stinchcomb? Instead, Richt picked a player - cornerback Decory Bryant - who has only three career starts.

"He's stuffing everybody pretty good,'' Richt said. "And if anybody does get a catch on him, it's tight (coverage).''

For Bryant, a junior from Orlando, Fla., to continue his emergence from late last season is a very good sign for a Georgia secondary in need of new leadership.

Cornerback Tim Wansley and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Terreal Bierria all are gone as veteran starters from the 2001 defense. Those were three of the team's top four leaders in tackles. Phillips (three) and Wansley (two) led the team in interceptions.

Cornerback Bruce Thornton is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield, and even Thornton briefly lost his starting job as he continued to adjust to his move from tailback.

Bryant came off the bench to impress coaches with eight tackles against Mississippi last season, leading to starts against Georgia Tech and Houston. Bryant caused a fumble, broke up two passes and recorded 12 tackles. He held on to his starting job in spring but did not take anything for granted entering preseason drills.

"I think I'm solidifying my stance as a starter just by going out and working hard every day, working on the small things to get better,'' Bryant said. "I still have a long way to go before I meet my full potential. That's why I work hard every day.''

Added Bryant: "I may be doing good against the receivers, but I still have to keep it up. Game time will be coming around real soon.''

Secondary coach Willie Martinez cringed when asked about Bryant's strong showing in practice. Martinez believes Bryant - a big hitter with who also has enough speed to be a possible threat as a return specialist - has to improve in the basics of the position.

While Martinez is glad Bryant has enough skills to recover from some mistakes, he wants to see the junior sharpen his skills.

"He's still got a long way to go,'' Martinez said. "His fundamentals are not where they need to be. The thing that he did last year was he worked hard and prepared himself so that when he had the opportunity, he took advantage of it.''

Added Martinez: "Obviously, that's what we'd like to see this year, but he's still learning and he's still a young player in terms of game experience and the number of games he as played.''

Bryant may be young in experience, but he made such an immediate impact when given the chance that it was fair to ask why he had not been playing all season. Bryant actually started the season opener against Arkansas State when Wansley was serving a one-game suspension, but after that he all but disappeared until the Ole Miss game.

If Thornton makes the progress in his second year as a starter that coaches expect, and if such players as Kenny Bailey and Ryan Davis provide quality play in nickel and dime packages, then Georgia may be able to withstand the barrage of passes that will be coming from such quarterbacks as Eli Manning of Ole Miss, Casey Clausen of Tennessee and Rex Grossman of Florida - all potential Heisman Trophy candidates.

The encouraging news is that if Bryant can provide tight coverage against Georgia receivers Damien Gary, Reggie Brown, Terrence Edwards and Gibson, he should be ready for the rest of the best in the Southeastern Conference.

"I felt that way last year when they gave me the start against Tech,'' Bryant said. "A lot of people were worried about whether or not I was going to be able to cover Tech's receivers. My answer was I go against better receivers every day in practice. They're all good; they all bring something different to the table. I get a good look from all of the guys.''

When pressed, Bryant tells of a play last week when he made up ground on Gibson to break up what appeared to be a sure catch. He says Gary "almost had a couple passes on me and I knocked them away.''

Said Bryant: "(Receivers) like the competition so they can step up.'' Apparently, the head coach also likes the competition.

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

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