ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt had the same questions on his mind as Bulldog football fans during the annual G-Day spring football game Saturday at Sanford Stadium: Who’s going to step up for last year’s seniors who are gone from the program? In particular, the Bulldogs’ coach was looking for some clarity to the depth chart to see who could emerge as a contender for a starting position for the 2008 season with a roster chocked full of returning players from last year’s Sugar Bowl champions.
While no contested starting jobs for the fall were hammered down during the spring game in front of 19,874 fans, plenty of players gave quality performances for Richt to take into account.
"I really enjoyed today’s game," Richt said after the Red beat the White squad 17-3. "It looks like we have some well-conditioned, good-looking athletes...all around it was a good day."
The main question on the mind of fans, who is going to be the No. 2 running back for the fall?
After Saturday’s game it looks more and more apparent that red-shirt freshman Caleb King has the inside track for that position, as sophomore Knowshon Moreno ascends to the No. 1 spot in the back field.
King didn’t hurt his chances any during the spring game as he finished with six carries for 31 yards, and a pair of catches out of the back field for 17 yards. His longest run of the game came on a 17-yard sweep on the second offensive drive of the game.
"It was really exciting to get out there and play," King said. "I felt I carried the ball well and produced on the field."
Freshman Richard Samuel (seven carries, 13 yards) and freshman Dontavious Jackson (two carries, 5 yards) are the other running backs legitimately fighting for the No. 2 spot.
"Caleb looked pretty darn good today," Richt said. "He picked up a couple of blitzes and had some nice runs."
Playing time at wide receiver is also another hotly contested position fans got the chance to see players battle for during the spring game.
Senior Mohamed Massaquoi was held out of the spring game with a neck injury.
Georgia made the most noise with the passing game on the first drive of the game. Junior quarterback Matthew Stafford hit junior receiver Kris Durham for a 31-yard pass on the first play of the game and finished the drive with a 30 yard touchdown catch by Michael Moore in traffic.
"As receivers we just wanted to show we could make plays and catch the ball," Moore said. "We just have to get after it, compete and get better."
Moore (three catches, 53 yards), Israel Troupe (two catches, 39 yards) and Durham (31 yards) led the receivers during the spring game.
Stafford finished the game 6-for-10 passing for 79 yards and a touchdown.
"We had a good time out there today," Stafford said. "We really made some big plays out there early and executed well."
Habersham Central’s Tavarres King, the Times 2007 Football Player of the Year, missed the game with a knee infection.
East Hall High graduate Walter Hill saw significant playing time, although he didn’t have any catches. Still it was a successful spring for Hill who caught six passes and a touchdown in the Bulldogs second scrimmage game leading into G-Day.
Hill was used primarily as a blocker during G-Day.
"If I had to grade myself on my performance I would give myself a B- because I didn’t have any catches," Hill said. "But it was very exciting to finally get to play in front of all the fans…I can’t wait for the season to begin."
Richt isn’t just watching the skill positions closely. He’s also got a close eye on the progression of the offensive line.
Sophomore left tackle Trinton Sturdivant and right guard Chris Davis, a Jefferson High graduate, are already locked into starting jobs.
Richt, however, is still looking to see who emerges from the group of Justin Anderson, Vince Vance, Tanner Strickland, Clint Boling, Kiante Tripp and freshman Ben Jones to get a rotation of at least, "Eight or nine that can play consistently.
"Our offensive line protected better (Saturday) than other times in the spring," Richt said. "But as a group, the offensive line just isn’t in sync yet.
"It’s going to take some time until we’re certain about our top five players on the offensive line."
Richt said that with Jones’ progression he is the least likely of any freshman to be red-shirted in 2008.
"We have a little more depth at other positions," Richt said. "But on the offensive line we’re going to need Ben (Jones) ready to play."
Place kicker is another position that is heating up. Andrew Jensen made a case for his kicking ability with a 47 yards field goal during the spring game. Brian Behr took it back a little further and nailed a 52 yarder as time expired in the first half.
Also in the running for the place kicking job are Brian Mimbs, Drew Butler and Blair Walsh.
"Normally you wouldn’t carry five or six place kickers on the roster," Richt said. "But maybe we’ll need more than the three you normally carry."
Defensively, freshman safety John Knox made a big impression with a slew of hard hits and an interception in the final minute of the game. Richt previously worried whether Knox still had the frame to play safety in college or was more suited for linebacker.
"Knox certainly was impressive today," Richt added. "He’s come a long way."
Speaking of coming a long way, red-shirt sophomore linebacker Akeem Hebron worked his way back onto the Bulldogs team after being booted last season, and came up with a fumble recovery that he returned 42 yards during the G-Day game.
Hebron had the most tackles on the day with five.
Overall Richt said he was satisfied with the spring session and understands the expectations that rest on this team entering 2008.
"It’s obvious that people expect big things out of our team," Richt said. "But I feel like our team is right where we need to be at the end of spring … now it’s up to the players at this point whether we progress or regress."