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Up for grabs: Richt's Bulldogs have starting roles to fill

Associated Press • Apr 13, 2013 at 3:15 AM

ATHENS, Ga. — Now that spring practice is complete, Georgia football coach Mark Richt can confirm his starters for 2013, and the list is pretty short.

There's fourth-year quarterback Aaron Murray, tailback Todd Gurley, center David Andrews and safety Damian Swann. Richt considers outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins nearly a lock, too.

Looking at the other 17 jobs, Richt is pleased that the Bulldogs have depth at each position, but he said the coaching staff might wait until late August to decide on the starters.

It's a rare circumstance for Richt, who's now preparing for his 13th year and accustomed to having roles more defined at the end of spring.

"I can't think of a year where I've had more uncertainty as far as who's going to start," he said. "But I feel like we've got the right ingredients. I feel like we've got the right talent base. It's just a matter of who's going to win it and are they going to be mature enough to play well especially early with how the season is."

That's because the Bulldogs have so many young players who have been in the program a year or two and are pushing the front-runners.

Georgia reconvenes for summer practice in early August. The team will have 29 sessions, and after the first 20, Richt hopes everything is in place.

One of Richt's motivation tactics for unsettled positions is to tell his players that nothing is guaranteed.

Even the offensive line, which returns all five starters, has been given notice.

"I think it's really good," Richt said. "If you're working out this summer and thinking you've got something nailed down, you better be sure. You better recheck your thinking. There's going to be a lot of competition."

Last year's starting offensive linemen — Andrews, guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette and tackles John Theus and Kenarious Gates — helped Murray, Gurley and Georgia's other offensive stars set a single-season school record with 529 points scored.

The Bulldogs won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, finished 12-2 and ranked No. 5.

But with Burnett and Theus undergoing offseason surgeries, offensive line Coach Will Friend had a chance to take a longer look at younger players like Xzavier Ward and Greg Pyke and established reserves like Watts Dantzler and Austin Long.

Richt considers their situations part of a natural progression in spring practice to give a fair chance to established backups who work hard and deserve a chance to compete.

"I'm not disappointed in the offensive line, but I see some guys that weren't starters or (role) players last year who are getting better or getting healthier or starting to show coach Friend that they deserve to play or they deserve to start," Richt said. "I think the competition of the guys that were a little bit farther behind (is) catching up."

On defense, new line coach Chris Wilson is trying to build a rotation of starters and key reserves that's able to withstand the rigors of a long season. That wasn't so much the case last year. Georgia had established starters like John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington.

But when Jones' season ended in October with an ankle injury, Richt said, "It's not like we threw another guy into the rotation ... but the end we probably didn't have enough guys that we felt comfortable putting in there."

Richt doesn't want that to be the case this season, particularly after Alabama beat Georgia in the SEC title game, in part, by gouging the Bulldogs with 350 yards rushing.

"We're talking about a lot of guys playing, but I'm not sure who's going to start, and that's up for grabs," he said. "Just about all of those positions are up for grabs as far as the D line."

Georgia opens the season Aug. 31 at Clemson. The Tigers went 11-2 and finished the year ranked 11th.

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