Help wanted: Plenty of starting positions up for grabs as UGA spring practice starts

dhale@macon.comMarch 17, 2009 

ATHENS — For the first time in four years, Georgia will open spring practice today without Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Star running back Knowshon Moreno is gone, too, as are cornerback Asher Allen, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and a number of other key contributors to last year’s team.

The departures leave plenty of jobs open for the Bulldogs who remain in Athens, but head coach Mark Richt and his staff aren’t likely to nail down the answers to all of the offseason’s questions before Georgia’s annual G-Day game on April 11.

Nearly two dozen players will miss part or all of spring practice thanks to the rash of injuries the Bulldogs suffered last season, meaning several potential contributors in 2009 will be sidelined, and Richt’s coaches will have to tone down the work a bit this spring.

“We’re going to be much more conscious of counting repetitions,” Richt said. “We’re going to decide beforehand how many reps each young man should get in any given drill, and if we’re seven-and-a-half minutes into it and we feel everyone got enough, we’ll just stop the drill and move on to the next period.”

Two positions hit particularly hard by injuries might be the two Georgia is most concerned with as it prepares for the 2009 season.

At defensive end, the Bulldogs will have just four healthy scholarship players, only two of which have previously played a down at the position. Justin Houston and Demarcus Dobbs will be the early leaders to secure starting jobs, while freshman Jeremy Longo, who redshirted last season, and Kiante Tripp, who recently moved to defensive end after a year on the offensive line, will add a minor amount of depth.

At running back, the battle to replace Moreno may have to wait until the summer, as freshman Richard Samuel heals from a wrist injury that will keep him out of spring practice. Fellow freshman Dontavius Jackson will be a limited participant, leaving just Caleb King and Carlton Thomas, who redshirted last season, to handle the load.

“It’s a gift and a curse,” King said. “I know I’m going to get beat on and get tired, but I’m going to get a lot of reps and a lot of time to shine.”

Starting roles at wide receiver, linebacker, safety, cornerback and on the offensive line are also up for grabs, and what happens this spring could go a long way toward identifying who will land the jobs.

Of course, the biggest change to the new-look Bulldogs will be the man under center.

Stafford, who has been Georgia’s starting quarterback for most of the past three seasons, will be in Athens this week to prepare for his Pro Day workout Thursday, but that will be all the Bulldogs see of their former teammate.

In his place will be Joe Cox, a fifth-year senior with just one career start under his belt, but the change doesn’t have Richt worried.

“Everybody will probably say, ‘Well, you lost Stafford,’ and that is a big deal, no doubt about it,” he said. “But I think there’s a peace around our program knowing that Joe is at the helm right now because of his leadership and his knowledge and his ability to play the game.”

RICHT RELEASES MOODY

Emanuel County Institute linebacker Dexter Moody, who signed a letter of intent to play at Georgia in 2009, was released from his scholarship by head coach Mark Richt, the university confirmed Monday. Moody told several media outlets that an argument he had with a teacher at ECI led to Georgia’s decision. Moody was one of three linebackers in Georgia’s 2009 recruiting class, which also includes his ECI teammate, running back Washaun Ealey.

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