An early look at Georgia's new offensive line

semerson@macon.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend during national signing day at the Butts-Mehre Complex on Feb. 5.

JOHN KELLEY — John Kelley

ATHENS, Ga.- Georgia begins spring practice two weeks from Tuesday, and most eyes will be on the defense, where new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt figures out what he has, and put his stamp on the unit.

But the man who helped lure Pruitt to Athens has plenty on his plate too.

Offensive line coach Will Friend, in whose basement Pruitt lived for a month after being hired, loses three senior starters. Those three players - Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette - started a combined 109 games during their Georgia careers. Lee, at 33 career starts, was the least experienced of the trio.

But Friend has a pretty good idea how each will be replaced. He's been planning on it for awhile.

Four players saw playing time last season, in what was mostly a way to keep the line fresh during games. But the side benefit was that Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Brandon Kublanow have at least some experience entering next season. The same goes for Kolton Houston, who actually started last year's season opener, and five more games. Beard also has two career starts.

Speaking on signing day, Friend said the returning linemen will line up "pretty much where they finished up" last season. That means Beard at one of the tackle spots (left, most likely), and Dantzler and Kublanow at guard. Houston can play tackle or guard.

"We're gonna take some guys and they're gonna work more than one spot," Friend said. "Some of the tackles are gonna work some guard stuff. And especially the third (tackle). But (they'll be) pretty much where they were (to end the season)."

The two returning starters from the bowl game are tackle John Theus, who will be a junior, and center David Andrews, who will be a senior. Realistically, the only player who can be inked into a starting spot is Andrews, who is entering his third year as a starter and has emerged as an emotional leader of the line. Theus is almost certain to start as well, and most likely at right tackle, though the left tackle spot has been vacated.

That left tackle spot will be a source of intrigue. Beard played it last year while spelling Gates, but then Beard briefly decided to transfer, before changing his mind. If he was assured of a starting spot, he likely would not have even been thinking about leaving.

Dantzler and Kublanow will start out as leading candidates to move into the vacant guard spots. Houston could be a factor there, with that also depending on how much he's playing tackle. Either way, as Friend indicated the third tackle will rotate into the guard spot. (Beard also has guard experience.)

The other returning scholarship players will also get a shot to crack the rotation: Josh Cardiello and Aulden Bynum are freshman who redshirted last season. Greg Pyke, who will be a third-year sophomore, has been on the two-deep for awhile. And Hunter Long, who will be a fourth-year junior, was Andrews' top backup last year.

The Bulldogs didn't sign an offensive lineman expected to come in and start right away, as Theus did two years ago. But Friend likes the potential of the four signees this year: Tackles Kendall Baker and Dyshon Sims, and interior lineman Jake Edwards and Isaiah Wynn.

"There's a lot of time between now and then," Friend said on signing day. "But I think all four of them have a chance to contribute."

Georgia is hoping that they will see a payoff of a long-term process: Bring along younger players with spot playing time, then they'll be ready to move into bigger roles.

"I think we'll have a good group," Friend said. "I think we will be more athletic, with what's coming back. The last half of the season. I think we've got some more physical guys that are coming back. We did lose three players that were very productive. I mean, they were on good offenses and did good things. But I think there's a more athletic and presence that's coming back. I think we added to it with this group. I think what we just signed is a really athletic group of kids. They're strong kids, they're athletic, and I think they're going to be good players."

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