August 26, 2012

OL has something to prove

Is there a position on the 2012 Georgia football team that has received more preseason scrutiny and expressions of concern than the Bulldogs' offensive line?

Center David Andrews doesn't think so.

"You hear about 'Georgia can be something special this year, but the Achilles heel is the offensive line,'" the sophomore said. "Hearing that kind of ticks you off, but it gives you that much more extra drive."

With the season-opener against Buffalo (Saturday, 12:21 kickoff) now a mere six days away, some of those questions are about to start being answered very soon.

Andrews is one of three new starters for position coach Will Friend, along with true freshman John Theus at right tackle with junior Kenarious Gates[/db[ taking over at left tackle, a spot he's yet to play in an actual collegiate game.

Even with returnees [db]Chris Burnette at right tackle and Dallas Lee at left guard, there's not a ton of experience at the position. Although from his standpoint, Burnette feels there's one factor that he believes will play in the Bulldogs' favor - consistency.

Unlike previous years, there hasn't been a ton of tinkering with the first team as Friend was able to identify the top five early in camp and has not deviated from it since.

"It's been pretty solidified, and honestly, that's the way I like it," Burnette said. "The more reps we get the guys, the better. Last year, we weren't real sure about the guys next to us, so the more reps, the better off we'll be."

Unfortunately, that hasn't necessarily been the case with the players who will make up the second team.

Sophomore Watts Dantzler figures to be the first man off the bench, with the ability to sub in at both guard and tackle, but aside from possibly Austin Long and Mark Beard, there's more questions than head coach Mark Richt would prefer there to be.

Sophomore guard Hunter Long was making strides before breaking his foot which will force him to miss the next six or so weeks, meaning freshman Greg Pyke and potentially redshirt freshman Xzavier Ward might have to also be depended upon, with redshirt freshman Zach DeBell perhaps making an impact down the road.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, if there's one huge area of concern, it revolves around who would replace Gates at left tackle if injury were to dictate a change?

Last week, Richt was asked point blank who his second-team tackle will be Week 1 against Buffalo. He couldn't come up with a sure-fire answer, except to suggest that he may turn either to Theus or Long to protect the blindside of quarterback Aaron Murray.

As long as Gates can stay healthy, there won't be a need to worry.

"It's a big responsibility, but Aaron trusts me and I trust Aaron to make a play. He trusts me to get the block," Gates said. "I'm going to give him as much time as possible and when I'm doing my job, we're going to have success."

Richt has his fingers crossed.

"He's really practiced well, the last few days especially," Richt said. "I think he's becoming more of a patient pass-protector and he seems like he's gotten more comfortable."

Gates said he's ready for the challenge.

"I figured that one day it would be my time if I came in and worked hard," Gates said. "Once Cordy (Glenn) left, I felt it was up to me to take that big role. I felt it was going to happen. It happed pretty quickly but I'm prepared for it."

Theus knows a lot of eyes will be on him as well.

A former five-star recruit from Bolles, many predicted that Theus could potentially earn a starting spot right away for the Bulldogs. He hasn't disappointed.

"We've been busting our butts," he said. "It's grind time, my first time out there with the big boys. I'm learning, just trying to get better."

But as Burnette is quick to point out, the entire offensive line will be under close scrutiny.

"We still have a ways to get as far as getting to the point where we'll be ready to go out and dominate every game, but I feel we've made a lot of strides," he said. "You look from where we came in the spring to the start of fall camp, where we've come from the start of fall camp to now - we feel we've come a long ways. As long as we keep making the kind of improvement we have, we'll be fine."