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August 26, 2008ATHENS -- Knowshon Moreno probably won't return punts in Georgia's opener against Georgia Southern on Saturday, but the idea of using the Bulldogs' star tailback on special teams is still alive.
Moreno, who rushed for 1,334 yards with 14 touchdowns as a freshman last season, is a big reason Georgia is No. 1 to open the season. Moreno posted the big numbers while starting only six games and sharing time with Thomas Brown, now a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons.
Moreno hasn't returned punts in a game since he played for Middletown South High School in Belford, N.J., but the sophomore appeared to be on track for having the chance this season until he was slowed by a bruised shoulder in preseason practice.
While Moreno was held out of contact drills, coach Mark Richt's staff turned to other options on punt returns, including Asher Allen. But Richt still says he likes the idea of Moreno having the ball in the open field on returns.
``Knowshon had a spell where he couldn't get any reps, and I guess he fell by the wayside,'' Richt said Tuesday. ``Not to say he won't get revived one day, but I doubt he does it the first game.''
Some may worry about the injury risk to such a valuable player to the Bulldogs' offense. Richt instead says Moreno's potential value on returns can't be overlooked.
``I just think if you get the ball to Knowshon in the open field on the punt return with the kind of blocking we've been getting over the years, that's a pretty valuable place to be, or a good place to have a valuable guy,'' Richt said.
Moreno wasn't listed as a punt returner on the depth chart released by Georgia on Tuesday.
``I wouldn't count Knowshon out of returning some punts before this year is over,'' Richt said. ``He's very capable and would be excited about the opportunity.''
Richt said Georgia could use Moreno in select situations perhaps a key return opportunity in a big game.
``Yeah, we might trot him out there,'' Richt said. ``It'd be good. I'd be excited to see what happens.''
Moreno says he doesn't expect to be used on special teams this week ``unless the coaches see otherwise'' but said he's not worried about the potential injury risk.
``Definitely not. That's part of the game,'' he said, adding that a limited role on returns might be the right compromise.
``I wouldn't mind being back there catching a few,'' he said. ``I think that would be perfect. I'd do anything to help the team out and if that's what the coaches want me to do, then I'll do it.''
Richt said he may not pick a starter on punt returns before Saturday. Cornerback Prince Miller is listed behind Allen on the depth chart.
Allen and another cornerback, Ramarcus Brown, are the two top options on kickoff returns.
Allen set Georgia's season record with 690 yards on kickoff returns. He had 149 yards in returns against Florida, the third-highest total in school history.
``My whole life, I've always loved having the ball in my hands,'' Allen said. ``I feel I can do a lot of things. But most important is what the team wants and if the coaches feel it's advantageous for me to do it or not.''
Allen started in 11 of Georgia's 13 games at cornerback last season and had 64 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks. He had two interceptions in Georgia's 41-10 win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.
Allen returned only one punt last year. Mikey Henderson, a 2007 senior, led Georgia with 19 punt returns last season.
``Anytime he gets the ball, he obviously can do a lot of things,'' Allen said of Moreno. ``I think the coaches will make the right decision on who to put back there.''
-- NOTES: Richt said he expects to play eight to 12 true freshmen against Georgia Southern. Freshman Richard Samuel is competing with redshirt freshman Caleb King for playing time at tailback behind Moreno. Richt said two more first-year tailbacks, Dontavious Jackson and Carlton Thomas, also could play. Freshman Cordy Glenn is expected to start at right tackle, Ben Jones will play behind starting center Chris Davis, and A.J. Green is a second-team receiver. Freshmen Marcus Dowtin and Christian Robinson are top backups at linebacker. ... Richt named quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Tripp Chandler, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and punter Brian Mimbs as game captains.