Linemen sign in big numbers for 2003

ATHENS, Ga. — Signing a combined total of 13 offensive linemen in two years, including seven Wednesday, makes Georgia assistant coach Neil Callaway feel a little better about losing seven seniors from his 2002 unit.

That doesn't mean the recruiting game of catch-up is complete.

"We'll have eight this spring and next fall we should have 15, so we're still short,'' Callaway said. "We still do need some numbers there.'' Added Coach Neil Callaway: "We've got to maintain every year, signing three or four guys a year, and make sure we get some good, quality people.''  

There will be no seniors or juniors on Callaway's depth chart at offensive line next season. The unit will be young when spring practice begins on March 1, and the youth factor will only increase when freshmen report in the summer.  

One of last year's signees, Antonio Mercier, has been medically disqualified. Mercier, diagnosed with diabetes during freshman testing last summer, will serve as a student assistant coach. Though Mercier will remain on scholarship, he will not count against Georgia's overall NCAA limit of 85 scholarships.

Despite the loss of Mercier, last year's signing class will produce the bulk of the 2003 starting line. Tackle Max Jean-Gilles looks like a future all-star and will be a lock to start. Josh Brock almost beat out senior split guard Alex Jackson last year, and Bartley Miller could be the other starting guard.  

Coaches are high on Randall Swoopes, who can play center and guard, and tackle Daniel Inman, who were redshirted. Two linemen who will be third-year sophomores, tackle Dennis Roland and center Russ Tanner, probably will begin the spring on the first-team offense.  

Coaches have not compiled a spring practice depth chart.  

Hollis comeback continues: Coach Mark Richt says he does not know if tailback Albert Hollis will be ready for full medical clearance this spring. Hollis, one of the top names in the 2000 signee class, continues to make progress from the severe knee injury he suffered in the 2001 spring.  

Hollis was at least as highly regarded as Musa Smith in the 2000 signing class. He will be a fourth-year junior in 2003 but, said Richt, "I don't know if he's ready for a full go yet.''  

Hollis has not been medically disqualifed "because he's making progress,'' Richt said.  

With the departure of Smith to the NFL draft, Tony Milton will enter spring as the starting tailback and will be joined by Tyson Browning, Ronnie Powell, Mike Gilliam and others. Freshman Kregg Lumpkin is expected to push Milton.

Added Content: Michael Cooper is definitely in the mix, and he greatly boosted his stock with a strong showing in bowl practice. Coach Garner, for one, called him the surprise of bowl practices. On Wednesday, Richt said moving Cooper to fullback is not a consideration this fall. Richt also noted that Cooper picked it up in practice the second half of the season, but after five games or so had passed, he didn't want to blow the redshirt year. Cooper definitely will be somebody to watch this spring. Milton will enter spring as the tailback to beat (while everyone awaits Lumpkin's summer arrival) but Cooper won't be far down the depth chart.  

Ringing in the new year: When addressing a crowd of about 250 fans Thursday morning, Richt drew a roar when he showed he was wearing his 2002 Southeastern Conference championship ring.  

Richt says he plans to wear the ring "probably until the start of two-a-days'' in fall practice.  

First 2004 commitment: Richt and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner couldn't talk about their first verbal commitment for next year's recruiting class, but the touching story of Peach County junior quarterback Alonzo Bryant Jr., still spread quickly this week.  

Because his father, Alonzo Bryant Sr., was gravely ill, "A.J.'' scheduled his announcement for Wednesday at Peach County High School — sort of a signing day ceremony one year early, without the official letter-of-intent.  

Because the news leaked, A.J. confirmed his plans to commit to Georgia Tuesday. It appeared that was what his father was waiting for, because the elder Bryant died early Wednesday morning at the age of 42, a victim of renal cancer.  

As a junior, A.J. Bryant passed for 1,605 yards and 11 touchdowns.  

Though he couldn't talk about Bryant, Richt said Wednesday that quarterback would be a top priority in recruiting for next year, because Georgia did not add a quarterback this year.  

"That may be the number one thing we have to make sure we get covered,'' Richt said.

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