Freshmen linemen are usually in for a rude awakening when they line up for their first full-pad practice.
They realize that the weight training they did in high school isn’t good enough to play in the Southeastern Conference. That’s when it kicks in that technique and effort often matter more than brute force.
Despite their lack of physical maturity, Georgia has a pair of first-year freshmen who have made a push for at least backup roles this season — David Andrews and Watts Dantzler.
“It’s been tough. I know it’s been tough on me,” Andrews said. “That’s when you’ve got to rely on your fundamentals and your want-to and your attitude to go get it. That’s when you’ve got to rely on the guys around you to help you with your combo blocks and different things like that.”
Dantzler and Andrews have been working with the second-team line at probably the two most important positions, left tackle and center. Dantzler has settled into left tackle, which is the position most responsible for protecting the quarterback’s blind side. Andrews has jumped in at center where knowledge of all the blocking schemes is required.
“There’s a lot of pressure to get ready,” Dantzler said. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can and as fast as I can. Left tackle is a tough position, but (offensive line) Coach (Will) Friend is pushing me hard. I’m a lot better than I was before and I’m just trying to get ready.” Georgia lost three starters from last year’s line. Josh Davis and Clint Boling were seniors and Trinton Sturdivant went down with his third major knee injury of his Bulldog career.
The holes opened opportunities for young players to make strong bids for game time. Andrews and Dantzler are making the most of those chances.
“It’s a tough transition,” Friend said. “You’ve got a lot of new things going on. They’ve probably been playing in one system their whole life and now they’ve got to learn another. They’ve got to learn a new language and that’s tough. But hey, that’s life. You’ve got to grow up and get it going.”
Georgia has had some success with young linemen in the recent past. The guys playing immediately ahead of Andrews and Dantzler, seniors Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn, have started since they were freshmen. They also face first-rate defenders across the line in practice.
When Andrews first lined up at center, he looked across at 6-foot-6, 350-pound nose tackle Kwame Gaethers. Jones was quick to give the freshman a few pointers.
“Kwame is big, Kwame is really big,” Andrews said. “You can’t overpower him. Nobody’s doing that. I’ve had to learn how to use my help and my angles. Ben’s good. He doesn’t mess around. When you mess up, he’s going to let you know it. He had to go against Kwame all spring so he gives me little tips on how to block him. There’s no better person to learn from because of all the things he’s accomplished. He’s a great mentor and a great leader.”
Georgia opened preseason camp with 10 straight practice days before taking its first day off on Sunday. The freshmen who started strong went into a small swoon, but Friend liked the way they rebounded while playing against speedy defenders like Jarvis Jones, DeAngelo Tyson and fellow freshman Ray Drew.
“They kind of hit that wall that all freshmen hit,” Friend said. “We had to kind of re-set their focus on what we’re trying to get done and they did better at the end part of the week. Guys like Jarvis are the kinds of guys they’re going to be playing in the SEC. The tempo and the speed are things they’re going to have to adjust to.”
Although the leap from high school to the SEC is tough, it’s not impossible. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo sees some parallels between this year’s freshman line class and the group from 2007 that included Boling and Sturdivant.
“It’s very difficult for a freshman to make that jump,” Bobo said. “In 2007, we had two guys who were pretty smart, Clint and Trinton. They probably weren’t where you wanted them physically, but they were very smart kids who understood. They got physically overpowered some, but they were very smart. The thing about the O-line is, you’ve got to be a very intelligent person and understand the whole ballgame.”