To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice Tuesday, DawgNation will do a position breakdown each day. Today we analyze the offensive line. On Saturday we will look at the defensive line.
Key losses: Glenn, Anderson, Jones
Reserves: OG/OT Kenarious Gates, Jr.; Mark Beard, So.; OT: Austin Long, Jr.; Watts Dantzler, So.; Zach DeBell, RFr.; Xzavier Ward, RFr.; OG: Hunter Long, So.; Kolton Houston, So.; C David Andrews, So.
New faces: Junior college transfer Beard enrolled in January and has three years of eligibility remaining. He has played offensive tackle throughout his football career and could play the position at Georgia, but guard is also a possibility. Ward and DeBell also join the active competition after redshirting last season.
Spring goal: No personnel group will be watched more closely during the spring than the offensive line. Position coach Will Friend has his work cut out in settling on a rotation after losing starting tackles Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson and center Ben Jones.
Coach Mark Richt said recently that he is encouraged about the line’s potential and that he believes eight or nine players are capable of contributing this season. But the competition for playing time will be wide open and Friend will start nearly from scratch as he determines the roles where each player can best help the team.
Worth watching: Offensive tackle is one of the top concerns, but that position battle is nowhere close to its resolution. Super-talented freshman John Theus (Jacksonville, Fla./Bolles) could become one of the starters, but he and fellow signee Greg Pyke (Baltimore, Boys Latin) won’t arrive until this summer. That leaves more time for players like Beard, Dantzler, Austin Long, DeBell and Ward to earn snaps at tackle.
The center position also bears watching. David Andrews appeared in 10 games behind Jones last season, but hasn’t played much in high-pressure situations. If he doesn’t stake a claim on the job, it might go to Burnette, who started 12 games at guard last year.
Area of concern: Establishing a starting five here is without question one of the biggest concerns for Georgia’s entire roster. No offensive lineman has started a full season’s worth of games, with Burnette and Gates sharing the team lead with 12 career starts apiece. That experience shortage has to be a bit scary for a team that will probably rank in the top 10 on most preseason polls.
By this point, Friend probably has a good idea who is best suited to contribute, but several of those players are able to play multiple positions. Spring practice results will help Friend determine where they should line up when preseason practice begins in August.
Position grade: C-plus. The offensive line struggled at points last season, and that was with NFL-caliber seniors like Glenn and Jones on the field. Now that they’re gone, a number of underclassmen could figure into the picture -- which is probably an indicator to expect growing pains. Talent will not be an issue, but this group will be a work in progress in the spring and fall.