Georgia reaching into depth chart

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Defensive end Montez Robinson and receiver Marlon Brown were viewed as potential impact freshmen from Georgia's 2009 recruiting class after being pegged as the top prospects from their states.

Linebacker Akeem Hebron came to Athens as a Parade All-American in 2006 along with Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Reshad Jones.

Running back Dontavius Jackson became a Bulldog over suitors like Clemson, LSU and Alabama.

All four are fighting for playing time on a roster filled with players just like them — those who were high school stars and recieved four- and five-star ratings by recruiting gurus.

"It's hard," said Hebron, a redshirt junior who has played only against Arkansas this season after having offseason ankle surgery. "It's hard waiting for your turn, but it's a big-time program. It's something some people have got to do."

The Bulldogs haven't had a schedule this year that has allowed them to go deep down their bench to give reserves like Hebron, Jackson, Brown and Robinson valuable snaps in games.

Georgia is the only team in the nation this season to have played its first eight games against teams from BCS conferences. The only other team to start with four straight squads from BCS conferences was Miami.

The Bulldogs have played three top-10 teams — Oklahoma State, LSU and Florida — and their opponents so far this season have a 31-21 overall record.

The schedule softens today with Football Championship Subdivision team Tennessee Tech coming to town.

SEC teams have won 43 games in a row against FCS opponents since Maine upset Mississippi State 9-7 on Sept. 18, 2004 — including 6-0 this year, winning by an average score of 48-7.

If Georgia can pull away in similar fashion today — players like Robinson — who is on the kickoff-return team, but has seen limited time on defense — could receive more of a chance in a game to show what he can do.

"That would be great," said Robinson, the No. 1-rated player out of Indiana by Rivals.com. "I'm just trying to work hard this week and maybe that's the opportunity I'd get to play. I'd love to play. ... I don't try to get too excited. I don't want to get my hopes up and they don't wind up happening."

For a Bulldogs team that has lost three of its last four games — and is staggering with a 4-4 record — working out the kinks and putting together a crisp performance is the only thing that has the coaches' attention.

"We need to get our players confidence, not necessarily developmental guys," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "We need to go out and play well as a team first for the whole football team, not necessarily down the road guys. We're looking at this as any other opponent, and we've got to go out and execute and stop turning the ball over and (having) penalties and hopefully play a complete game."

Other players that have been sometime contributors this season: running back Carlton Thomas, the Bulldogs' top rusher against Tennessee with 30 yards who has played in just two of the last five games at a position that has five scholarship players; and receiver Israel Troupe, who has not played in three games this season, "You want guys that have game experience doing things out there in the game," running backs coach Bryan McClendon said last month.

When the opportunity allows more players to get game action — usually when the game is all but decided — that can boost players' spirits.

"For them, I know they're chomping at the bit," linebacker Akeem Dent said.

"It not only gives you depth, but your team morale is always up because you're playing a lot of guys and a lot of guys know they're going to come in and ultimately that helps on the practice field, too," McClendon said.

The Bulldogs, and all Football Bowl Subdivision teams, can have 85 players on scholarship, but Georgia has used an average of 57 players a game. Only 53 played in the 45-19 loss at Tennessee.

Games in recent years against teams from the classification formerly known as I-AA have given players deep down the depth chart a chance to play on gameday.

Georgia used 70 players in its 45-21 win against Georgia Southern to open the 2008 season, 72 in a 45-16 rout of Western Carolina in 2007 and 65 in a 48-12 victory against Western Kentucky in 2007.

"Hopefully we will go out and play a complete game, which is something that we haven't put together this year," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "Hopefully we can put that together and hopefully we'll have some success and if you do, then you'd like to be able to get some guys probably more reps. ... You would love that opportunity.

"I would love to get Abry (Jones) an abundance of reps, DeAngelo (Tyson) an abundance of reps. Getting them that experience because there's no substitute for that experience."

SEC teams are loading up this weekend on games against FCS teams, which boost their athletic budgets by taking the money, and in most cases, the loss. Georgia is paying $475,000 to Tennessee Tech.

Besides the Georgia game, Eastern Kentucky plays at Kentucky, Furman goes to Auburn, and Northern Arizona heads to Ole Miss.

Two Ohio Valley Conference teams — the conference that Tennessee Tech plays in — have put scares into BCS conference teams this season. Indiana held off Eastern Kentucky 19-13, and Jacksonville State led Florida State 9-7 before Florida State had two scores in the final 35 seconds to escape with a 19-9 win.

Georgia coach Mark Richt is taking nothing for granted.

"I'm worried about victory, that's it," Richt said.

Georgia's top receiver, A.J. Green, won't play today because of a bruised lung and Justin Houston is also expected to be out with a hyper extended elbow. That pushes Brown and Robinson closer to playing time.

Brown, a 6-foot-5 Memphis native, has two catches for 15 yards this season — both against Tennessee.

"Marlon, we felt turned the corner a little bit in the Tennessee game and then he had a hip pointer that sidelined him and his development and just his work in practice for a couple of games," Bobo said.

Bobo would like to see more of Brown against Tennessee Tech.

"It's really, really important," Brown said. "I can prove myself to the coaches."

Jackson got his first carries as a Bulldog in the 34-10 win at Vanderbilt on Oct. 17. He rushed for 38 yards on three carries, including a 19-yard gain.

"It was fun, just being out there with my teammates," Jackson said. "Just not being on the field for a long time, I had a really great time. It boosted my confidence really good. I just know I've got to keep the work up and keep working in practice."

All the practice could produce results again for Bulldogs players who practice every week with no guarantee that it will pay off with getting into the game.

"Right now, what's important to me is getting on the field," Hebron said, "and getting better in all aspects of the game."

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