January 31, 2008

Storyline No. 8

When it came to replacing key components of Georgia's 2006 defense, finding the right people to take over for defensive ends Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses were right near the top of the list.

After all, the two standouts made quite the reputation for themselves as one of the SEC's top duos at the position, combining for 14 of Georgia's 33 sacks.

Pickings appeared to be slim as the Bulldogs began preseason drills.

The two favorites to win the jobs - Marcus Howard and Roderick Battle - had played extensively, although neither had a started a game their entire career.

Behind them were a number of other untested, albeit talented youngsters, who like Howard and Battle, were anxious to prove their worth.

The Bulldog Nation should not have been concerned.

Battle provided a consistent presence for the Bulldogs on one side, while Howard exploded on the scene and turned in a season of all-conference proportions by recording a team-high 10.5 sacks, including a memorable effort in Georgia's 41-10 Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii which included a three-sack performance against Warrior quarterback Colt Brennan.

Howard, who didn't even weigh 200 pounds when he arrived at Georgia as a freshman, used one of his sacks to force a fumble which he recovered in the end zone for one of the Bulldogs' five touchdowns.

"It's now how you come in, but how you leave," said Howard, who was named the Sugar Bowl MVP. "Looking back, I'm very happy with my career and how it turned out."

Look for more of Howard on the next level.

The South Carolina native has secured an invitation to the annual NFL Combine, and is a likely mid-round selection in April's annual NFL Draft.

Looking ahead, there appears to be plenty of able-bodied players capable of filling Howard's talented cleats.

Don't be surprised if rising senior Jeremy Lomax has a season similar to that of Howard this fall.

Lomax was impressive in pass-rush situations and collected 4.5 sacks off the bench for the Bulldogs, and will get every opportunity to win the job for himself this spring.

Another player to watch will be redshirt freshman Neland Ball.

Like Howard, Ball was a bit undersized at 215 pounds when he arrived at Georgia, but is now approaching 250 and teammates have raved about his possibilities.

Don't forget about Jarius Wynn, who was moved over to end from tackle late in the season and collected one sack, along with Michael Lemon, who got in 8 games as a redshirt freshman.

Of Georgia's impending signees, Griffin's Toby Jackson appears to have the best shot of receiving some early playing time, depending how quickly he adjust to the speed of Division I football.

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