ATHENS, Ga. -- There is a sudden appearance of clarity on Georgia's depth chart at tailback this spring.
After a 2003 season in which several backs shared playing time but no back took a firm hold on the lead role, sophomore Kregg Lumpkin is number one on the depth chart and taking advantage of injuries to other players to solidify that position.
Coach Mark Richt called Lumpkin "the highlight of the day" after Friday's first scrimmage of spring practice. Richt had more praise for the sophomore from Stephenson High School after Tuesday's session in full pads.
"Lumpkin had a good day today," Richt said. "He had a hip flexor bothering him a little bit. He very easily could have taken the day off, but he didn't. There are some good signs there."
While freshman Danny Ware is out with a leg injury, junior Tony Milton is out for the spring while recovering from surgery on his leg, and sophomore Michael Cooper has been held out with migraine headaches, Lumpkin has had more chances to impress Richt and running backs coach Ken Rucker this spring.
"I'm trying to hang in there as long as I can," Lumpkin said. "I'm trying to get better each day."
The 6-foot-1 Lumpkin focused on improving his blocking in the offseason, and he gained about 10 pounds, up to 220.
Lumpkin led Georgia in rushing against Alabama, Auburn, Georgia Tech and LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game, and he capped his season with a team-best and season-high 90 yards rushing in Georgia's Capital One Bowl win over Purdue.
"I was really pleased with Kregg last year," Rucker said. "That's a lot to put on a freshman. He really embraced his role. He was patient with us and we were patient with him."
For the first time since 1972, no Georgia player rushed for 100 yards in a game last season. At various times, Milton, Cooper and Lumpkin appeared to be on the verge of winning the role of lead back. Tyson Browning and Ronnie Powell also enjoyed some highlights.
All but Powell are back for 2004, though Browning is working at wide receiver this spring.
Cooper finished the year as the leading rusher, with 154 carries for 672 yards. Lumpkin started only one game but was second with 566 yards rushing on 112 carries after missing the first two games with a hamstring injury.
Richt said he would like for one tailback to take a firm hold on the starting job "if he's the best," but he said he wants to have good depth at the position.
"If you have two highly productive guys, you're going to be better off," Richt said.
Lumpkin appears poised to be at least one of the top two.
"Right now, I'm confident, but anything can happen," Lumpkin said.
Notes: Georgia's offense took two hits to its depth chart Tuesday when Richt announced backup center Randall Swoopes had left the team and backup fullback Chris Hickman has been dismissed for disciplinary reasons.
Swoopes, a sophomore from Athens, spent last fall at Georgia Military College before returning to Georgia. He was expected to push starter Russ Tanner. Instead, Swoopes did not show up for practices last week. "When he didn't show up today, I knew he didn't want to be here," Richt said after Tuesday's practice. "I think he was debating what he wanted to do." Richt said Swoopes "had a clean slate coming in and really had a very good attitude, I thought."
Richt said Hickman, a sophomore from Marietta, "broke a rule he couldn't break." Hickman and Des Williams were listed behind starter Jeremy Thomas at fullback. ... Browning suffered a thumb injury Tuesday and his status for the rest of the spring is uncertain.
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