ATHENS, Ga. -- University of Georgia junior linebacker Orantes Grant said it's going to seem a bit strange -- come Georgia's Sept. 5th season-opener against Kent State -- to look over and not see teammates Greg Bright and Brandon Tolbert lined up beside him.
After all, the duo combined for 75 starts during their four seasons at Georgia, with Bright finishing his career as the second-leading tackler in Bulldogs' history (453).
Fortunately for Georgia coach Jim Donnan, there is no shortage of candidates to fill their shoes.
Grant, an All-SEC candidate, was the team's second-leading tackler in 1997 (91 tackles). Four other returning lettermen at the position played in 37 games last year, with junior Dustin Luckie (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) and sophomore Adrian Hollingshed (6-3, 230) currently penciled in to take over the starting jobs.
"They've done well this spring, and O.G.'s really been a good leader by example," Bulldogs' linebacker coach Brad Lambert said following practice this week. "He's the kind of guy who shows up every day and takes care of business."
"Adrian is a young player, but he has some experience and a good future. Dustin's played well stepping in for Tolbert, but he needs to continue having a good spring and be a player that we can count on in the fall."
Backup Mike Luckie, who was sidelined the final two weeks of the season with a cracked bone in his hand, is healthy and contributing, while former running back Robert Arnaud continues to make strides after begin switched over to defense late last year.
Redshirt freshmen Curt McGill (6-4, 243) and Bruce Adrine (6-4, 230) will also have opportunities to work into the mix.
Then of course, there are the freshmen.
Regarded by many recruiting experts as perhaps the best crop of incoming linebackers in the nation, look for at least a couple to make an impact their freshman year.
"(Boss) Bailey, we still don't know about his knee. But all of them -- (Jessie) Miller, (Tony) Gilbert, (Kawika) Mitchell, (William) Witherspoon -- all have the ability," Donnan said.
Speed is a trait shared by all five, particularly Witherspoon, who Donnan said recently posted a 10.7 in the 100-meter dash.
Bailey, who missed much of his senior year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, reached the 1996 Class A State Championship in the 110-meter hurdles.
"Which ones step to the forefront and compete, that's what we'll see in August," Lambert said. "All those guys have what you're looking for at linebacker in speed, quickness, plus they're intelligent youngsters. It's a good class and it's going to be important for those guys to step up."
But Grant cautions not to expect too much from the newcomers too soon.
"They're going to have a lot to learn, but I think they're coming into a good situation," he said. "I think they'll be able to help the team out pretty quick."
UGA NOTES: Donnan announced Thursday that today's scrimmage at Sanford Stadium has been moved to 10:30 a.m. in order to allow players to spend Easter with their families.
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