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Georgia released its pregame depth chart for the game against Clemson Saturday, and to the surprise of some, freshman Tray Matthews was indeed listed as the starter at free safety.
The Newnan native has missed the better part of three weeks while recovering from a shoulder and hamstring injury, but Monday was able to return to the field and practice with the rest of the team.
"He practiced so that was good," said head coach Mark Richt, who despite the just-released depth chart, said he's still not ready to declare Matthews the starter against the Tigers (8 p.m., ABC).
"It's so hard to really gauge, it's mostly scout-team work and the tempo was not exactly blazing, but he got into some competitive drills and he looked fine," Richt added. "When a guy's coming off a hamstring injury, it's going to be a couple of days before you feel like he is over the hump, so hopefully, he will be and there will be no more setbacks."
Despite his injuries, Richt said Matthews has done his best to keep up with what's going on.
"He's been at practice and he's been at meetings, but unless you do it, it's tough," Richt said. "I don't know how much he's doing on his own but he's doing everything he can do to get ready."
Matthews wasn't the only true freshman listed in the starting lineup.
Former Kell standout Brendan Langley was listed as the starter at wide corner, ahead of sophomore Sheldon Dawson.
Five other freshmen were also among the two-deep. That list included middle linebackers Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough, safety Quincy Mauger, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Shaq Wiggins.
"Some guys are playing because of the lack of depth, but some guys are playing because they earned the right to move ahead of some vets," Richt said. "You'd like to have everyone have some experience, but sometimes guys jump in there and show the ability to learn and that they're ready to take on more responsibility than most freshmen. You've got to play them."
That's apparently the case with Langley.
In Georgia's last two scrimmages, Langley intercepted three passes and broke up another, apparently taking advantage of Dawson's recent bout with a couple of nagging injuries.
"I just described him (Langley). He's a guy who can learn, a guy who is dependable, a guy who is focused of wanting to come in as a freshman and play like a veteran," Richt said. "He took that approach in the off-season from what I hear. He was in great condition when he got here and he's done a good job of learning what to do and earning the trust of the coaches. That's what it all comes down to, will the guys gain the trust of his position coach and the coordinator to get him in the game and he's done that."
Georgia's offensive line apparently is also set.
Monday's depth chart had Kenarious Gates at left tackle, Dallas Lee at left guard, David Andrews at center, Chris Burnette at right guard and John Theus at right tackle. Kolton Houston is listed as the top backup at both right tackle and right guard.
Theus also continues to practice at right guard.
"I think he (Theus) looks fine in there. When you're practicing two positions it's tough to perfect one, but he's good enough to do both," Richt said. "Kolton can also do both, plus they work side by side a bunch, so the communication is the same in a lot of ways."
Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell are the starters at wide receiver, with Justin Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley the two top backups.
On defense, it appears James DeLoach hadsheld off Floyd for the starting spot at Sam linebacker, but the former Dodge County standout will certainly play, and also back up Jordan Jenkins at Will along with Josh Dawson.
Garrison Smith, Mike Thornton and Sterling Bailey hold down the three starting spots on the defensive line, with John Taylor, Chris Mayes[/d]b and [db]Ray Drew the top backups.
At inside linebacker, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson are the starters, and are backed up by Carter and Kimbrough.
In the secondary, Damian Swann and Langley are the starters, backed up by Wiggins and Dawson, respectively. Connor Norman is listed as the starter at strong safety in place of the suspended Josh Harvey-Clemons, with Corey Moore - still out nursing a sprained right knee - as his top backup. Mauger backs up Matthews at free safety.
While the suspended Harvey-Clemons was not listed on the depth chart, interestingly enough Marshall Morgan was.
The kicker was arrested for boating under the influence over a month ago and it's been speculated that he would have to miss the Clemson game for the infraction.
Mitchell was listed as the top kickoff and punt return man.
Dawgs will take "closer to 70"
Although Georgia is not obligated to limit itself to a certain number of players since Saturday's opener is a non-conference game, Richt said he won't go crazy.
"We don't have limitations, obviously, so we can take as many as we want. We'll take the number of guys that we need to compete and there may be a few guys we bring to reward some effort, but if we bring too many guys, even if they are all good guys, the more you have the harder it is to keep a team focused," Richt said. "Those guys will have a hard time helping the other guys get ready. I don't have a number yet."
When pressed further, Richt said he will probably take closer to 70 players than 100.
The Bulldogs will bus to Greenville, S.C. Friday afternoon.
"We will go up the night before. They'll get to sleep in, and the first meeting will be later in the morning, closer to noon, actually," Richt said. "I think one of the big features of that is just getting out of town, knowing where everybody is, knowing everybody is focused, going to be on time, plus we get to feed them good. All that works together."
Offensive line no longer a reason for concern
With perhaps as many as 10 offensive linemen ready to contribute, Richt says his depth at the position has resulted in some better nights of sleep.
"I'll say this, we don't sit up all night worrying what we're going to do if somebody gets banged up," Richt said. "We've got enough guys now where I feel we can still function. We don't feel there would be a liability on the field. We've got more guys we think can play now, that's the biggest difference."
Richt also had kind word for redshirt sophomore Zach DeBell and redshirt freshman Greg Pyke, two young members of the line still trying to earn their stripes.
"They're starting to get it," he said.
This and that
Georgia practiced in full pads for the final time this preseason on Monday afternoon. "The clock is ticking," Richt said. "We started off the day with a lot of energy, but as it went on, the enthusiasm and the energy waned, which is not good when you've got to play 60 minutes and beyond. It was a little warmer than it's been, but we've got to continue to push through that. Overall, everyone was trying to do what they are supposed to do and the way they're supposed to do it."
Sophomore fullback Quayvon Hicks did his best Jadeveon Clowney impressions by pushing over one of the team's two-man blocking sleds during Monday's practice.
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