There aren’t many areas where there are obvious holes to fill for Georgia as it opens spring football practice today.
Linemen Kenarious Gates, left, and Cordy Glenn, right, go through drills during the first day of last year's summer practices on Aug. 4, 2011. As the Bulldogs open up spring practice today, Gates appears to be the likely leader to replace Glenn at left tackle.
The Bulldogs return 15 starters combined on offense and defense from a team that won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
The biggest question mark is on the offensive line, where three players who made 125 career starts are gone.
The Bulldogs are hardly in panic mode.
“These guys — I think everybody’s putting them under the radar a little bit or worried about them,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “Everybody on offense is back besides the guys on the offensive line.”
Georgia must replace left tackle Cordy Glenn, projected as an NFL first-round draft pick, center Ben Jones, another four-year starter, and right tackle Justin Anderson.
“I really don’t think it’s as much of a concern as people are making it,” tight end Arthur Lynch said.
Yet the 15 spring practices including the April 14 G-Day game will help shape decisions about which players will start and where they will line up. The final answers won’t come until the preseason after highly regarded line recruit John Theus joins the mix.
“Any time you’re replacing three starters, you always have question marks,” coach Mark Richt said. “The question is, do you have the talent base on the team to get the job done? You know what? I really am getting encouraged. I’m not going to say we’re going to line up and just whip tail every single down because that’s tough to do in our league, but I’m encouraged because I see these guys work hard, I see these guys fight through the offseason conditioning that we’re doing. I see some athleticism. I see some guys that can learn and not have assignments busts.”
Kenarious Gates appears to be the leading contender to start at left tackle after lining up at left guard last season.
“He’s a scary athlete for his size,” Lynch said of the 6-foot-5, 328-pound junior who has 12 career starts. “Kenarious will do fine at left tackle. He’s fast enough, he’s quick enough and he’s certainly strong enough.”
Georgia returns guards Chris Burnette, who started 12 games last season, and Dallas Lee, who started seven.
Sophomore David Andrews is the top candidate to replace Jones at center, but Burnette and Lee will also get a look there.
Mark Beard, a transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, could be the answer at right tackle after enrolling in January, but also can work at guard.
“I’ve asked about the new kid from JUCO,” Anderson said. “They tell me he’s pretty good, so I think he’s going to be the one.”
Sophomore Watts Dantzler could line up at tackle or guard. Lynch said he expects Dantzler, listed at 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, to open eyes after reshaping his body.
Murray mentioned Gates, Dantzler and redshirt junior Austin Long as candidates at the all-important left tackle spot.
“It’s open tryouts,” Murray said. “We’re going to see who does the best and gives me the most time and not get me killed.”
Guard Kolton Houston will practice this spring after not playing last season for an undisclosed NCAA-issue. Georgia says his status remains unchanged, so how he fits into the mix this fall remains uncertain.
Murray said he saw Georgia’s second-team offensive line — which included Andrews, Dantzler and Long — grow up towards the end of last season playing with backup quarterback Hutson Mason against the team’s starting defense.
“At the beginning of the season, Hutson would pretty much have to get the ball and throw it right away,” Murray said. “You’re going against one of the best defenses in the country. You could pretty much see during the season Hutson getting more and more time to throw the ball. By the time we got to bowl practice, those guys were giving him plenty of time to throw the ball against some of the best defensive guys in the country.”
The good news for Georgia is that it this group of linemen should be together beyond this season, but how it will shape up for 2012 is still to be determined.
“We won’t have a senior on the offensive line this year,” Lynch said. “That’s a big deal for years to come. I don’t think it will be as pressing issue in the near future as people are making it right now.”