Greene feels 'a little old' on young offense

ATHENS, Ga. - No one cheered louder than <b>David Greene</b> when tight end <b>Ben Watson</b> announced last month he was coming back for his senior season. It's true that Greene wanted Watson back to give the 2003 Georgia offense its experienced starting tight end. There may have been another reason Greene was especially happy with Watson's decision.

With Ben Watson back, David Greene won't be the oldest player on the offense. With the start of spring practice only a week away, Greene, who will be a junior next season, suddenly is starting to feel like a veteran on what will be a much younger Georgia team.

"It is a little different,'' Greene said. "You almost start to feel a little old. My roommate (2002 senior offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb) is gone. I redshirted my first year, so I will actually be a senior in school. Musa (Smith) was in my signing class.''

Smith, fullback J.T. Wall, receiver Terrence Edwards and every starting offensive lineman from the 2002 team is gone. That leaves Greene, Watson and receivers Fred Gibson and Damien Gary as the most experienced returning players on the 2003 offense. Gibson and Gary shared a starting job, so officially the count is three returning starters. It may seem like only a short time has passed since Greene was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year in 2001, but his big, new SEC championship ring serves as a reminder that he enjoyed even more success as a sophomore.

  After passing for 17 touchdowns and 2,789 yards as a freshman, Greene enjoyed one of the best years in school history last season. Passing for 2,924 yards and 22 touchdowns - each the third-best total in Georgia history - Greene was named first-team All-SEC quarterback by SEC coaches and The Associated Press and he also was named MVP of the SEC championship game. Greene says the time to bask in the glory of Georgia's long-awaited championship has passed. Spring drills begin Saturday, but the focus turned to the 2003 season with the start of mat drills.

"The celebration has definitely stopped,'' Greene said. "We want to keep getting better and use last year as a building block. We had a great season last year but by no means was it an easy season, blowing teams out. We had to fight it out and it's going to be the same this year.'' Considering that he lost his entire starting offensive line, his leading receiver and leading rusher, Greene's fight for more success actually may be far more difficult.

Coach Mark Richt says rebuilding the offensive line will be a top priority this spring. There will be no seniors or juniors on the new line, but there will be great talent with such young players as Max Jean-Gilles, Josh Brock, Bartley Miller, Daniel Inman and Randall Swoopes. If the new unit struggles, Greene will pay the price.

"To be honest with you, I'm confident, especially after watching last year as they progressed,'' Greene said, noting that as members of the second-team offensive line last season the young players had to practice against Georgia's starting defensive line.

  "They've been up against some of the best,'' Greene said. "(Johnathan) Sullivan was one of the best in the country. They know what the competition is going to be like.'' Added Greene: "They're young, but I think they're going to be good.'' With Watson, Gibson, Gary, Michael Johnson and Reggie Brown, Gibson will have no shortage of experienced receivers. And with D.J. Shockley and now Joe Tereshinski behind him on the depth chart at quarterback, Greene also will have no shortage of competition in practice.

Despite Greene's accomplishments, Shockley again will share time in Richt's two-quarterback system. Greene's hope is that the 2002 proved the two quarterbacks can co-exist in harmony, despite an expectation or fear last summer that the two-quarterback system would cause problems.

"I think the success we had with the season, I think it proved it could work,'' Greene said. "It wasn't a damper on the team. We knew it wasn't, but when you prove it, it makes a difference.''

With the loss of Smith, Georgia's first 1,000-yard rusher in 10 years, there could be more emphasis on Greene and the passing game to carry the load, at least early in the 2003 season. Already, Greene has 20 career games with more than 200 yards passing, including five 300-yard games.

In scrimmage situations this spring, including the April 5 G-Day game, Greene may do more watching than playing as Richt says he wants to focus on the young players.

"I'm not too concerned about getting a lot of work from the guys we know that are game-ready,'' Richt said.

Greene qualifies as game-ready. For proof, check out his new ring.

Said a smiling Greene, holding up the ring: "It's nice, isn't it? The thing is heavy. I like it, though.''

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