Georgia‚Äôs offensive line, considered by most as the team‚Äôs biggest question mark this offseason, has managed to quiet down much of the concern surrounding it without even playing a game.
At least within its own locker room and meeting rooms.
The starting unit found continuity early this preseason when freshman John Theus assumed the right tackle spot, and by all accounts, the group has protected quarterback Aaron Murray about as well as could be expected leading up to Saturday‚Äôs opener against Buffalo.
‚ÄúThe offensive line has done a tremendous job all camp of really giving me time to feel relaxed there in the pocket and not really feel like I‚Äôm under pressure at all and be able to sit there and make accurate throws,‚Äù Murray said.
Murray, in turn, has helped the offensive line by using his knowledge from four years in the Bulldogs‚Äô offense to get them headed in the right direction.
‚ÄúExperience, No. 1, experience at the quarterback position,‚Äù offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of why he sees the offense as playing on the same page this preseason. ‚ÄúGuys have been able to get us in the right play, which cuts down on missed assignments for offensive linemen. When you get in the right play, you don‚Äôt have to practice against so many different looks and how to block every look. You‚Äôre only going to block certain looks, because you‚Äôre not going to run them against the bad looks.‚Äù
The loss of three starters ‚Äî left tackle Cordy Glenn, center Ben Jones and right tackle Justin Anderson ‚Äî was the line‚Äôs dominant storyline heading into preseason practices, but the was quickly overshadowed by tackle Kolton Houston again being ruled ineligible to play by the NCAA for testing positive for a banned substance.
‚ÄúWe all had to jell together, and I think we have,‚Äù said sophomore center David Andrews, a backup last year who got his most extensive action last season against Coastal Carolina when he entered in the middle of the third quarter.
Theus, the five-star recruit from Jacksonville, Fla., competed early with Watts Dantzler for the right tackle spot Houston held at the end of spring, but it wasn‚Äôt long before Theus got the majority of the work. Andrews, meanwhile, solidified his starting job in the middle.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs relatively strong,‚Äù coach Mark Richt said of Andrews, listed at 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds. ‚ÄúI wouldn‚Äôt say he‚Äôs a beast, but he‚Äôs quick. If you‚Äôre quick and you get your hands and feet where they‚Äôre supposed to be and you run em with enthusiasm and you know what you‚Äôre doing, you can play center.‚Äù
There are no seniors in the bunch. Kenarious Gates is the left tackle after shifting from guard. Dallas Lee is the left guard and Chris Burnette the right guard. Dantzler and Austin Long are the top backups.
‚ÄúComing through camp, everybody‚Äôs been working really hard to get the plays down and bringing John up to speed as fast as we can,‚Äù Lee said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs done a great job of it so far, getting to stay mostly with the (first team). It‚Äôs done good for our unity. Different people play different ways. It‚Äôs nice to have the same man next to you knowing how he‚Äôs going to play things. It‚Äôs led to us coming together really well coming through camp and preseason practice.‚Äù
The starting offensive line hasn‚Äôt had to go up against the No. 1 defense like it did in the spring (the No. 1 units face the No. 2 units in the preseason) when John Jenkins, Jarvis Jones and company were a handful. Bobo called that ‚Äútough sledding,‚Äù but it may have toughened up the unproven offensive line.
‚ÄúI think we‚Äôve done a lot of good things,‚Äù Andrews said. ‚ÄúEvery scrimmage we‚Äôve had, I think we ran the ball well and passed the ball well. We‚Äôre still going to have things to get better on, but I‚Äôm ready for that first game to see how we play and then adjust from there. ‚Ä¶I think we‚Äôre ready to go out and prove that we‚Äôre a solid unit and there‚Äôs no question that we‚Äôre not a weak link any more.‚Äù
Murray said early this preseason that Georgia will ‚Äúgo as far as the O-line goes.‚Äù
The season starts Saturday.
‚ÄúWe still got a long way to go like our whole football team,‚Äù Bobo said, ‚Äúbut I think we‚Äôll play well up front.