- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- With roughly a week left before Georgia opens the season against Buffalo, the Bulldogs’ coaching staff is still sorting through its final starting personnel decisions.
Coach Mark Richt said Friday evening that the staff has essentially nailed down the lineup for the Sept. 1 Buffalo game, but that some positions on the special-teams units might still be up for grabs.
“I think we know who’s starting at every position. Some of that on defense just depends on what personnel group jumps out first. But I’m pretty sure," Richt said. "Now in the kicking [game], I wouldn’t say that’s etched in stone. I wouldn’t say even the return men. The names we’ve been talking about are the guys that are going to be doing it, but just to say who’s going to be the first one, I wouldn’t say we know that 100 percent.”
Richt said multiple players might get an opportunity to return kicks early in the season.
“When we get into the first couple games, we may want to see more than one guy,” he said. “Only one guy can go first, but there’s a couple of positions -- really both the punt and kick return -- there’s two or three guys … that I’d really like to see maybe all of them in a game just to see how it goes.”
The same rationale might even apply to the kicking and punting jobs. Although Richt has maintained throughout the preseason that freshmen Marshall Morgan and Collin Barber were the players to beat, he said “it’s possible” that punter Adam Erickson and kicker Jamie Lindley could also get a chance to kick at some point.
“The freshmen are still in the lead, but I like what Adam Erickson’s been doing as a punter and I like what Lindley’s been doing as a kicker. They’re still competing. I don’t know if anybody can separate themselves until they start doing it in a ballgame.”
Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo offered a few other updates and observations on other positions Friday, including:
* Left tackle: Richt did not want to have to consider what the Bulldogs would do if starting left tackle Kenarious Gates were to suffer an injury. Perhaps because he doesn’t know what they would do.
“If God forbid it was an injury where Gates couldn’t play anymore, we might move [true freshman John] Theus over there. I don’t know what we’d do. Could be [Austin] Long or it could be Theus, I don’t know what we’d do. That’s a good question. I don’t want to think about it.”
Long opened the preseason as the second-team left tackle, but he has worked at guard lately. Richt said he has fared well at the new position, too, after he had been critical of Long’s play earlier this month.
“We threw him in there at guard a little bit and I think that helped him a little bit, a little tighter space was good for him, although I think he still improved as a tackle, as well,” Richt said. “And maybe he saw the ship leaving without him and he’s like, ‘Man if I’m ever going to make it, I’d better get it done every day in practice.’ ”
* Receiver: Bobo said he feels comfortable with Georgia’s first five options at wideout: Tavarres King, Marlon Brown, Michael Bennett, Rantavious Wooten and Chris Conley, with redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley attempting to join that first five.
“I feel real good about the first five and I think Justin’s going to have a good year as the year goes on,” Bobo said.
Bobo compared freshman Blake Tibbs’ situation to that of then-freshman Conley a season ago. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff was on the fence over whether to play Conley last year until Wooten suffered a concussion a month into the season, motivating them to burn Conley’s redshirt.
“Blake, he’s still a freshman,” Bobo said. “He’s kind of in the same boat Chris Conley was last year. We’re trying to get him ready and don’t know where we’re at yet with him, but we’re preparing to play him. When, I don’t know yet.”
Although the coaching staff and Mason hope that he will redshirt this season to gain a year of class separation between himself and junior starter Aaron Murray, he will continue to practice as Murray’s top backup for the time being so he will be ready in case anything happens to the starter.
In simple mop-up duty, LeMay appears ready to take over for Murray.
“He’s doing a good job and continuing to get better,” Bobo said. “Like I’ve said and like Coach Richt said, Hutson Mason’s the No. 2 guy and Christian’s trying to get ready to play if called upon.”
* Tight end: Arthur Lynch was the clear-cut starting tight end even before redshirt freshman Jay Rome went down with a hamstring injury this week, Richt said. He said the coaches expect Rome to return to practice on Monday and that while he will still rank behind Lynch on the depth chart, both players will play significant roles.
“Artie’s a solid, very solid No. 1 starter right now. He was No. 1 when Jay pulled a muscle,” Richt said. “Jay was competing. The bottom line was both of those guys are going to play. Both of them have to play.”
5dAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
5dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
7dEdward Aschoff and Alex Scarborough