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For three seasons, D.J. Shockley backed up David Greene on a Georgia football team with answers at almost every position. Now that Shockley is getting his one and only shot to run the team, it seems that all anybody has for him and the Bulldogs are questions.
Georgia lost just eight scholarship players from its 2004 team -- Greene, wide receivers Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown, fullback Jeremy Thomas, linebackers Arnold Harrison and Odell Thurman, safety Thomas Davis and defensive end David Pollack -- but those losses were significant enough to turn the Bulldogs from frontrunner into darkhorse in the SEC. One spring prediction went so far as to suggest the Bulldogs would finish fourth in their division this season. That didn't escape coach Mark Richt's notice.
"I said, 'Some people think we're going to be fourth in the East,'" Richt said. "'What are you going to do about it?'"
Shockley, a former Parade All-America, showed some good and some bad in three seasons as a backup. His athleticism will allow the coaches to add a few wrinkles to the Bulldog offense.
Shockley's safety blanket will be standing behind him. The Bulldogs have three tailbacks -- Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin -- with All-SEC potential. All three are sophomores and all three have averaged 4.7 or more yards per carry in their careers. Georgia has installed some two-tailback sets for the first time under Richt in order to maximize the chances for their talented backs.
Shockley also has the luxury of an offensive line with 105 combined starts and a 6-foot-8 tight end, Leonard Pope, with All-America ability. The problem for Georgia's offense will be inexperienced wide receivers who did nothing during spring practice to make anyone feel better.
The defense is led by a line with vast potential. Seniors Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson return to give Georgia a solid foundation in the middle of the line. The oft-troubled Darrius Swain will be a valuable backup if he can stay away from the off-field problems that have plagued him.
The Bulldogs have more talent at defensive end this year than they did last despite losing Pollack. Quentin Moses will take Pollack's place, and sophomore Charles Johnson may unseat starter Will Thompson. That group will play in front of a linebacking corps that could feature as many as six SEC-ready players. Georgia has plenty of athleticism at that spot but no true leader. Tony Taylor is the favorite to assume that position.
Starting cornerbacks Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter have been solid throughout their career but need to make more plays. They picked off just two passes combined last year.
Andy Bailey and Brandon Coutu are competing for the starting placekicking job, and Georgia fans will be nervous regardless of which one wins it. Punter Gordon Ely-Kelso is a junior who's never going to lead the SEC in average but kicks the ball high and where his coaches want it to go.
The Bulldogs won't be the favorites to play in the SEC title game, but that doesn't mean they can't get there. They lost some marquee names but still have a very solid nucleus. In order to capitalize on that, Shockley has to play a smart, controlled game and move the offense consistently. To do that, he'll need help from a wide receiving corps that insists it has potential but has done nothing to prove it.
A talented group of running backs will take some pressure off both Shockley and the receivers if Brown, Ware and Lumpkin can stay happy sharing carries.
Georgia's defense has to prove it can be as effective without former coordinator Brian VanGorder as it was with him. Secondary coach Willie Martinez, a longtime co-worker of VanGorder's, has taken over. He has the same amount of knowledge but a less fiery personality than VanGorder. The Oct. 8 game against Tennessee in Knoxville will tell Bulldog fans all they need to know.