Spring practice opens on spirited note

ATHENS, Ga. - If it didn't look or feel like spring, at least Georgia players showed the enthusiasm Saturday that normally accompanies the opening day of spring practice.

"I thought it was spirited, but a little cold, a little rainy,'' Coach Mark Richt said after the first of 15 spring football practices, including the April 5 G-Day spring game.

Because its practice fields were saturated by the rain, Georgia worked for about two hours at Sanford Stadium.  As Richt predicted, the focus was on young players as Georgia begins its defense of its 2002 Southeastern Conference championship.

"A lot of young guys got a lot of work,'' Richt said.

Spring practice is an especially important time for players who were redshirted as true freshmen last season and now can begin to compete for playing time.

There is an opening for young players to make an impact at receiver. Terrence Edwards, the leading receiver last season, was a senior. Fred Gibson, the second-leading receiver, is playing basketball. Michael Johnson, the star of the crucial win at Auburn, is out for the spring following shoulder surgery.

Right off the bat, a redshirt freshman from Macon took advantage of the opportunity at receiver.

"Cedric Haywood caught my eye today and made a lot of nice catches,'' Richt said, adding that sophomores Mario Raley and Bryan McClendon also performed well. "They did a nice job today and I was encouraged by that,'' Richt said.

Saturday was the first practice at Georgia for sophomore middle linebacker Odell Thurman, who spent 2002 at Georgia Military Academy. Thurman, who will compete with Derrick White for a starting job, said he has grown two inches and added 30 pounds since signing with Georgia. He says he now is 6-foot-1 and 232 pounds. Redshirted in 2001 and then kicked off the team by Richt for a year, Thurman was allowed to return for spring semester.

"Once you lose it, you appreciate it more,'' Thurman said of his status on the team. "I appreciate everything now. To tell you the truth, a year ago I didn't think I'd be back.'' Added Thurman: "It feels good. You've got to love the atmosphere, coming back to the SEC champions.''

Thurman entered spring drills as the second-team middle linebacker behind White, who played in every game as a backup last season.

Similarly, redshirt freshman Olaolu Sanni-Osomo of LaGrange High was eager for Saturday's practice as his first real chance to make an impression with the coaches.

Sanni-Osomo had surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee before his freshman season. He has not yet been cleared for full contact, but Richt said that could come before the end of spring drills.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now,'' said Sanni-Osomo, who will compete behind starter Sean Jones at free safety. There had been some talk about Sanni-Osomo playing linebacker.

"It doesn't really matter to me, as long as I play defense,'' he said. "I felt my size (6-1, 195) was better to play safety.''

Other notable news from Saturday's practice:

Senior Robert Brannon, listed as the top backup at tight end, instead opened spring drills at outside linebacker. He asked to be moved and will work at the strongside linebacker spot, where Thomas Davis is listed as the starter.

"Me and Coach Richt and (defensive coordinator Brian) VanGorder will re-evaluate (the move) at the end of spring,'' Brannon said, adding he was "very excited'' about his chance to make an impact at his new position.

Kicker Billy Bennett (mononucleosis), receiver Jarrett Berry (recovering from knee surgery), linebacker Jamario Smith (various injuries) and defensive tackle Kedric Golston (leg) did not participate.

Smith probably will be held out all spring due to ankle, turf toe and groin injuries. Golston is recovering well from his procedure, which was planned after he hurt his leg as a high school senior, and should be full speed for preseason drills. As first reported last month, Golston also will be held out of spring drills. Bennett said he has been told he will be out two more weeks. Meanwhile, Richt said Johnson's shoulder surgery was a success. Johnson is expected to be ready for preseason practice in August, though he may be held out of contact early in two-a-days.

Practices tentatively are planned for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday next week.

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