SEC Roundup: Georgia

In our first installment in a series of SEC spring recaps, Irish Eyes looks at 2005 SEC champ, the Georgia Bulldogs.

Under Mark Richt, Georgia has established itself as one of the nation's premier programs. In 2005, the Bulldogs captured their third SEC East regular season title in the last four years and defeated LSU in the conference championship game. Having lost nine starters – seven of whom were selected in last month's NFL Draft – from last year's team, Richt and his staff have quite a few issues to iron out before the September 2 opener against Western Kentucky.

The bulk of the attention in Athens this spring was paid to the quarterback position. D.J. Shockley, Georgia's departed signal caller, was chosen by the Atlanta Falcons in the seventh round of the draft. Filling Shockley's shoes will not be an easy task.

Senior Joe Tereshinski entered and exited spring as the favorite to line up under center for Georgia in 2006. Tereshinski filled in for an injured Shockley against Arkansas and Florida in 2005 and performed well, particularly in a loss to the Gators. Tereshinski played well enough to remain atop the depth chart this spring, but disappointed in Georgia's spring game. Tereshinski completed just two of his seven pass attempts and threw two interceptions and zero touchdowns in the intrasquad contest. The senior remains the favorite heading into the fall, but his hold on the starting job is anything but tight.

Challenging Tereshinski for quarterback duties is Matthew Stafford, a highly touted early enrollee from Texas. Stafford wowed the coaching staff this spring with his strong arm, accuracy, and ability to pick up the offense. Stafford outperformed Tereshinski and the other quarterbacks in the spring game, connecting on five of his 12 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown, and no picks. The competition between Tereshinski and Stafford will continue through fall camp and very possibly into Georgia's first few games of the season.

Whoever lines up under center for the Bulldogs will be joined by some talented runners in the backfield. Georgia returns its top three rushers from 2005, headlined by starter Thomas Brown. The junior led the Bulldogs with 736 yards last season and garnered high praise from his coaches this spring. In Georgia's annual spring awards given out before the spring game each year, Brown was named Best All-Around Offensive Player and Most Consistent Running Back. Fellow junior tailbacks Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware will share carries with Brown to form a formidable trio of backs.

Brown, Lumpkin, and Ware will be running behind a very different offensive line in 2006. Georgia lost three starters off the line, but returns Daniel Inman, who will be a four-year starter at tackle. The other returning starter, senior Nick Jones, played guard in 2005, but was converted to center this spring. Senior Ken Shackleford will man the other tackle position, while the starting guards have yet to be determined. Coming out of spring, Chester Adams, Fernando Velasco, and Zeb McKinzey are the top contenders to nail down starting roles at guard. Perhaps the most concerning offensive problem, Georgia lacks any experienced depth on the offensive line – a problem Irish fans can surely sympathize with. Further complicating matters, on May 19, Richt issued a two-game suspension to Inman for violating team rules. Senior Michael Turner is the only scholarship tackle returning outside of starters Inman and Shackleford, but several talented freshmen offensive linemen will join the team this summer.

The Bulldogs also must replace their leading receiver from a year ago, tight end Leonard Pope, who was taken in the third round of the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Senior Martez Milner, who recorded 291 yards and two touchdowns in 2005, will attempt to replicate Pope's production.

Georgia returns its most productive wideout in sophomore Mohamed Massaquoi, who had 38 receptions for 505 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. Speedy senior Sean Bailey tore his ACL late in 2005 and is expected to miss the entire 2006 campaign. Junior Michael Henderson, a former cornerback moved to wide receiver this spring, emerged as one of the spring's biggest surprises and will compete for the other starting receiver spot.

On the other side of the ball, Georgia's defense will be anchored in 2006 by its two talented defensive ends. Senior Quentin Moses, one of the nation's top pass rushers, returns after posting 11.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in 2005. Charles Johnson, who added four sacks of his own a year ago, will team with Moses to form one of the top pass rushing duos in the country.

The Bulldogs lost both of their 2005 starting defensive tackles to graduation. Senior Ray Gant and sophomore Jeff Owens secured themselves starting spots in the trenches with their performances this spring.

The Bulldogs have talent and depth coming back at linebacker. Senior Jarvis Jackson, the team's leading returning tackler, has moved inside to middle linebacker. Tony Taylor, the 2005 starter in the middle, has shifted to weak side linebacker, while returning starter Brandon Miller will man the strong side for the second straight season.

Georgia's biggest question mark on defense lies in the defensive backfield, where strong safety Tra Battle is the only returning starter. Junior Kelin Johnson, a significant special teams contributor in 2005, looks to have won the starting job at free safety. Thomas Flowers entered spring as the number one cornerback and played well enough to solidify his spot in the lineup. Junior Paul Oliver had a terrific spring and will enter the season as the other starter. Early Enrollee Asher Allen, a name familiar to those who follow Notre Dame recruiting, will push the two starting corners for playing time. Allen won the Biggest Surprise of the Spring award and had a 100-yard interception return for the game winning touchdown in the spring game.

The Bulldogs will field one of the top special teams duo in the nation this season in kicker Brandon Coutu, who led the SEC in scoring in 2005, and second-team All-SEC punter Gordon Ely-Kelso. Thomas Brown and Ramarcus Brown will likely handle the kick return duties again in 2006, while Flowers will reprise his role as punt returner.

Thanks to the great recruiting efforts of Richt and his staff, Georgia is loaded with talent. The Bulldogs have several areas of concern, such as a severe lack of depth along the offensive line and inexperience in the secondary that could limit their success in 2006, however. Top Stories