Offensive Line shuffle includes starting spot for freshman

The notion back in early August would have seemed far-fetched.

Georgia Bulldogs center Ben Jones (61), guard Cordy Glenn (71) and offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant (77) sit under a cooling fan on the bench as the Georgia Bulldogs beat the Tennessee Volunteers 41-14 at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, October 9, 2010 in Athens, Ga.
(David Manning/Staff/david.manning@onlineathens.com)

Georgia’s veteran offensive line, touted as ranking among the nation’s best, needing to turn to true freshman Kenarious Gates?

“He looks like he’s going to be a good one down the road,” coach Mark Richt said during the first week of preseason practices. “I doubt that we’d have to call on him at all this season. We hope that we would not have to.”

With a 1-4 record and its offensive line lacking toughness, the redshirt on Saturday came off the 6-foot-5, 307-pound Gates, who became Georgia’s starting right guard in a lineup shuffle. Clint Boling moved from left tackle to right tackle and Trinton Sturdivant was installed as starting left tackle.

Georgia rolled up 402 yards of total offense in the 41-14 win against Tennessee, scoring its most points in a Southeastern Conference game since a 52-41 win against Arkansas on Sept. 19, 2009.

“I thought it worked out really well for us,” said left guard Cordy Glenn, who along with center Ben Jones stayed put at their previous positions. “We probably needed something new because we were struggling these last couple of weeks. I think it helped us a lot, just having some new faces and changing it up a little bit.”

Sturdivant wasn’t a new face, but being a starter was a new role – at least for this season.

The fourth-year junior last started the 2009 opener at Oklahoma State, but went down with his second season-ending knee injury in as many years in the second half.

Georgia coaches gave Sturdivant more and more snaps as this season progressed.

“We knew we weren’t going to go full-speed, just make him a starter and try to play all the scrimmage downs the entire season,” Richt said. “We didn’t think that was going to happen. We thought it was going to take time and be a process.”

Sturdivant played nearly the entire game against Tennessee. He’s further along in pass protection than he is as a run blocker, Richt said.

“When it comes to getting used to playing again after those injuries, the run blocks are the ones that sometimes you feel most put you at most risk,” Richt said. “It’s just really not true. The harder you play, the safer you are and he’s figuring that out.”

Even with the new offensive line combination, Georgia still averaged only 3.8 yards per rushing attempt.

Georgia’s coaches were preparing to play Gates before the Mississippi State game on Sept. 25, but he got injured in practice.

“Something needed to change,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

Gates became the third player to start at right guard. Senior Chris Davis, who has dealt with hip and knee injuries, started the first two games and junior Tanner Strickland the next three.

“Gates did a nice job,” Richt said. “He did not faint. He did not have a bunch of busted assignments. Being next to Ben and Clint helped him a lot, I’m sure, for those guys to get him where he’s supposed to be. … He pass protected pretty good. There might have been one pressure or one sack that was attributed to him. Overall, he did well.”

Gates was recruited by Vanderbilt and backed off a Kentucky commitment before signing day to accept a late Georgia offer.

Like Sturdivant, Georgia has not made Gates available for interviews this season, but Gates said back in May: “I’m glad that Georgia came to me.”

He said Georgia recruited him to play left tackle.

“That could be in his future somewhere down the road,” Richt said this week.

Jones said Gates worked to improve on pass sets from the first day of practice because he came from a Greenville High program that ran the ball a lot.

“Kenarious said before the game he was a little bit nervous, but I don’t think it showed or he played like that at all,” Boling said. “I thought he handled it very well.”

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