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Georgia pass defense braces for challenge

ATHENS, Ga. - If Georgia defensive backs could choose Tennessee's quarterback for Saturday's game, they might suggest that the player who calls himself The Future goes back to his past.

Tennessee receiver Kelley Washington has given himself the nickname because he says he is the future of the wide receiver position in the NFL. That professional future proxbably will arrive next year, but for this week the sophomore has gone back to his high school past to spend time at quarterback.

 Vols starting quarterback Casey Clausen's status is uncertain due to a shoulder injury as No. 10 Tennessee prepares to visit No. 6 Georgia Saturday at 3:30 p.m. According to news reports that have been denied by Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer, Clausen has a broken left collarbone.

 Wake Forest transfer C.J. Leak is the probable fill-in starter if Clausen can't play, but Washington also could see time at quarterback.

 Every snap spent behind center is a play Washington can't line up at wide receiver - where he is one of the most dangerous impact players in the nation. For that reason, Georgia cornerbacks Bruce Thornton and Decory Bryant might not mind seeing Washington play quarterback.

 The more probable scenario - and the one Georgia must prepare for - is that Washington will line up at receiver almost every snap. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Washington, who will carry a string of three straight 100-yard games to Athens, is a huge challenge because he is big, strong and fast.

 The dilemma for Georgia's defense this week has been determining whether it is possible to always leave two defensive backs on Washington - and thereby leave receiver Tony Brown or tight end Jason Witten in man coverage.

 "Washington is such a good player that you double him up and that leaves single coverage somewhere else, and they have good enough players that can beat you,'' said Georgia secondary coach Willie Martinez. "We've got to be smart. We can't just play man to man on him and get away  with it.''

 Last year, Tim Wansley - who as a senior was Georgia's best cornerback in man coverage - drew the primary assignment on Washington, and Washington caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

 Tennessee also had Travis Stephens rush for 176 yards last year in Knoxville, but still Georgia won 26-24 as David Greene passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns and Damien Gary returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown.

 Lining up in the middle of the secondary are two new starters  - free safety Sean Jones and rover Kentrell Curry. Jones and Curry may have a slight edge in quickness over 2001 senior safeties Terreal Bierria and Jermaine Phillips.  Even though they are first-year starters, Jones, Curry and Bryant have the advantage of learning the defense for two years, so Thornton says this year's secondary is better prepared for the big challenge of containing Washington.

 "Last year, at times were were just playing on instinct,'' Thornton said. "Now the young guys really understand the defense.  "Everybody knows where everybody is going to be, so you can count on your teammate to be there. Last year we had some missed calls, some missed communication.''

 Georgia ranks only seventh in the SEC in pass defense, but it has given up only four touchdowns through the air while picking off six passes.  Curry leads the secondary with two interceptions, including one he returned 78 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago against New Mexico State. Bryant and redshirt freshman Thomas Davis, a backup safety, also have interceptions.

 "(The secondary) has played well, considering a lot of them are first-time starters,'' said Coach Mark Richt. "Thornton, he's had his ups and downs in his career, but I think he's holding up pretty good.''  Added Richt of the safeties: "The young guys are getting better, but are they ready for Washington? I don't think so.''  

NOTES: Tailback Tony Milton is wearing a new helmet with a clear shield over his eyes after taking a hit in last week's game that left him temporarily dazed. Richt said Milton saw some specialists this week "just to make sure he's fine. They're confident he's fine.'' Milton, who participated in all parts of practice Thursday, will continue in his role as the top backup to starter Musa Smith.

 BJ Albert, a third-year sophomore running back from Coosa High in Rome, has the distinction of being the scout team offense player chosen to play the role of Washington. Because Washington is as physical as a running back or linebacker, Albert was the pick, instead of a scout team receiver, to wear Washington's No. 15 in work this week against Georgia's first-team defense.


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