Trying to identify and break in three new starters on Georgia’s offensive line is difficult enough.
Doing it against a stout Bulldogs’ starting defense loaded with returnees has often made it seem like a long spring in the trenches.
“It’s been tough,” guard Chris Burnette said. “I feel like playing against one of the best defensive lines, defenses in general in the SEC and in the country does nothing but make us better. I know that it’s hard. You don’t like getting beat, but in the end if it doesn’t kill you, it’s only going to make you stronger.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo saw some small victories for the group in the last week, but in the big picture, the progress of the offensive line remains probably the biggest question mark between now and the start of the season.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do still up front,” Bobo said. “The good thing is we’re going against a very talented front every day and outside backers. They’re forced to compete and fight every day. That’s linemen. They’ve just got to hang in there and keep grinding and if they do that, I think we’ll be OK.”
Offensive line coach Will Friend at least was able to identify early in the week his starting group for the Red team in Saturday’s G-Day game: left tackle Kenarious Gates, left guard Dallas Lee, center David Andrews, right guard Burnette and right tackle Kolton Houston.
“We’re coming together as a unit,” said Gates, a guard last season who is now manning the spot where projected NFL first-round pick Cordy Glenn was last season.
“There’s been times we’ve matched up and we’ve gotten after it good,” Friend said. “We had a very good scrimmage Saturday.”
Friend will exit the spring with juniors Gates and Burnette as solid starters, he said.
“Those guys are proven guys and they’ve had the best springs,” Friend said of his two returning starters.
Lee missed some practices with a concussion, but his return made the line better, Friend said.
Houston, expected to play this season after being forced to sit out last year due to an unspecified NCAA issue, has thrived at the right tackle spot.
“The one thing he’s done well is he’s brought some energy to the group,” Friend said. “He’s busted his butt and done a good job.”
Center remains up for grabs after the departure of four-year starter Ben Jones.
Georgia’s mammoth nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers have had their way this spring, but Andrews, a redshirt freshman, has also made some noise.
“(Andrews) is doing a pretty good job right now. We’ve just got to keep grinding him. He’s got to keep becoming a little bit more vocal.”
Georgia’s backups include Watts Dantzler and Austin Long at the tackles and either Burnette or Lee at center.
Junior college transfer Mark Beard hasn’t created much buzz during practices after arriving this winter from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community college. Beard is working as the backup left guard.
“It’s been spinning on him,” Friend said. “He’s just got to stay with it.”
Friend said he expects eight or nine linemen will be able to “compete and play” by the season opener.
“I think we’ve got five or six right now,” he said.
Prized recruit John Theus from Jacksonville is expected to increase that number. He was in town last week for a couple of practices, but Friend resisted the urge to suit him up and throw him in with his bunch.
“I’m caught up trying to get these guys on the right track,” Friend said.
They may be behind the rest of the team in their development, but strength coach Joe Tereshinski said of the offensive line: “Of all the different groups on our team, they are the hardest working and most committed bunch.”
They are getting better “little by little,” Burnette said.
“We’ve got to get them on an even plane,” Friend said. “There’s some good plays, you see some great individual things, but we’ve got to get them as one group and kind of get it going in the right direction.”