For a team ranked sixth in the country, Georgia has a lot of unsettled starting spots. The Bulldogs open practice Thursday trying to sort those out.

Here are three position battles to monitor:

1. Tailback

Top contenders: Ken Malcome, Richard Samuel, Keith Marshall, Todd Gurley

With the dismissal of SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell (850 rushing yards, 6 total TDs), Malcome enters camp atop the depth chart. The redshirt sophomore ran for 174 yards last season. The senior Samuel, moving over from fullback, brings experience and a hard-nosed attitude. Marshall and Gurley are highly-recruited true freshmen. Look for Marshall, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, to emerge as the primary ballcarrier at some point this season.

2. Center

Top contenders: David Andrews, Chris Burnette

The sophomore Andrews is the favorite to replace four-year starter Ben Jones, but he struggled in the spring. So did the other three linemen coach Mark Richt tried at center. They couldn’t handle the Bulldogs’ outstanding defensive tackles, Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins. (Few can). If Andrews doesn’t work out, the junior Burnette would move over from guard and that would have an undesired ripple effect on the rest of the line.

3. Outside linebacker

Top contenders: Chase Vasser, T.J. Stripling

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham moved Cornelius Washington to defensive end in the spring, opening up the outside linebacker spot not manned by All-American Jarvis Jones. A 6-3, 227-pound junior, Vasser appeared in 12 games last season, starting three. He made 16 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Stripling, a 6-6, 222-pound junior, played in nine games and made two tackles. Freshmen Josh Harvey-Clemons, Jordan Jenkins and Josh Dawson also could be in the mix.

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Daniel Lewis and Larry Hartstein, follow @CBSSportsSEC.