Clemons surprise entry for NFL Draft

Chris Clemons surprised Georgia coaches and draft experts Thursday by becoming the third junior on the team to leave school and enter the NFL draft.

  Chris Clemons was a solid starting linebacker but was not an all-star player and could have boosted his draft status with a solid senior season.

 Clemons (6-3, 223) must depend on a strong showing in personal workouts for NFL scouts and in the NFL combine to boost his draft standing.

"I'm somewhat disappointed and I'm not sure it was the wisest decision in this case, but time will tell,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt.  "Certainly, he's still a member of the Bulldog family and we'll support him in his decision in any way we can.  Like the others, we hope we can assist him with a plan for finishing his degree.''  

In his first season as a regular starter at outside linebacker, Clemons recorded 49 tackles with one sack. His set a season high with eight tackles against South Carolina.

  Georgia also loses its other two starting linebackers, Boss Bailey and Tony Gilbert.  Gilbert and Bailey were the only starting seniors on defense, but the list of departing starters has doubled with Clemons and junior defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan entering the draft.

 A third Georgia player, tailback Musa Smith, told coaches Wednesday that he is leaving for the NFL.  The decisions from Sullivan and Smith, each expected to be picked in the first two rounds of the draft, were not surprises.   Clemons, however, had not even been mentioned in most speculation about juniors who might enter the draft.

 "I'm surprised he came out, boy am I surprised,'' said Todd McShea of The War Room, which covers NFL scouting and the draft for The Sporting News.  "We rated basically the top 10 underclassmen at linebacker who might come out, guys like Karlos Dansby at Auburn, Michael Boulware at Florida State and even Daryl Smith at Georgia Tech, and Clemons wasn't on our list.''  Added McShea: "I saw him play twice this year. He's a good athlete, he's a solid linebacker, but the one thing I remember is he's pretty raw. A guy like that you thought for sure would come back to try to learn the position better.''

 Georgia has lost every starter from its offensive line and at linebacker from its Southeastern Conference championship team. Overall, Georgia has lost eight starters on offense, four on defense, plus punter Jonathan Kilgo and kickoff specialist Brett Kirouac.

 Freshman Tony Taylor made a fill-in start for Clemons against Georgia Tech and will have a chance to land a full-time job for 2003.  Thomas Davis, who also played safety, made two starts at outside linebacker as a redshirt freshman.

 Other returning linebackers include redshirt freshman Derrick White, sophomores Arnold Harrison and Derrick Holloway and freshman Jamario Smith.  Marquis Elmore, who was redshirted this year, could play linebacker or defensive end. Odell Thurman re-enrolled at Georgia for spring semester and will have an opportunity to compete for a spot in spring practice.  

Georgia has verbal commitments from three high school linebackers: Des Williams of Dacula, Danny Verdun of Thomson and Danny Ware of Rockmart.  

NOTES: Linebacker Tony Gilbert and offensive guard Kevin Breedlove will play in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco. The 2 p.m. ET game will be televised by ESPN.

Gilbert and Breedlove are two of six seniors selected to play in postseason all-star games. Offensive tackles Jon Stinchcomb and George Foster and receiver Terrence Edwards will play in the Jan. 18 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. That game, also set for a 2 p.m. kickoff, will be televised by ESPN2.  

Center Ian Knight will compete in the Jan. 25 Rotary Gridiron Classic in Orlando. That 2 p.m. kickoff will be televised by ESPN2.

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