ATHENS - As preseason practice looms, there is a different, and thus very noteworthy, tone around Georgia's offensive line. On what has been the offense's biggest question mark the past four seasons, suddenly there is optimism.
Yes, it's more cautious optimism, especially with three senior starters having to be replaced. But offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, not one to be sunshine and roses, enters the preseason happy about where things stand.
"I feel really good about where we're at up front," Bobo said Wednesday. "I think we've got some maturity there, we've got some leadership in that group. We've got some guys who we feel are a little bit more athletic than we've had in the past. But the bottom line is we've still gotta go out and do it. Potential doesn't really mean anything yet.
"But we've got got a chance to be pretty good up front."
Bobo reiterated that junior John Theus is a candidate to start at either tackle spot, as is senior Kolton Houston, who could also play left guard. Senior David Andrews is set at center, while Greg Pyke is the favorite at right guard.
The left guard spot remains wide open, with Mark Beard and Brandon Kublanow competing. Senior Watts Dantzler is also a candidate to play at tackle and guard. So depth is another reason Bobo enters the preseason feeling better about the unit.
"We've just gotta figure out what's our best combination that's going to give us the best success," Bobo said.
Blazevich joins Hicks at H-Back
It turns out that Quayvon Hicks won't be alone at the newly-installed H-back spot.
Freshman Jeb Blazevich, who signed as a tight end, will also be at H-back, according to Bobo. The position is a hybrid of fullback and tight end, and while it's been used for a long time at the pro level, it's new to Georgia's offense.
Hicks and Blazevich will both participate in the tight ends meetings, and be coached by tight ends coach John Lilly. But they will also work with running backs coach Bryan McClendon for some drills.
Bobo indicated that how much the H-back is incorporated in the offense is yet to be decided.
"We're gonna have to see really how it unfolds as a team, offensively, what our best personnel groups, and what our identity becomes, for us to move the ball," Bobo said. "And that changes year to year. Everybody sees Georgia as two-back team, which we do, but last year we were a one-back team 74 percent of the time, with three receivers, one tight end, one back. So it's really going to depend on who our best personnel is who gives us the best chance to move the ball."
Bobo on new receivers
Georgia could afford to move freshman Rico Johnson from receiver to cornerback simply because of depth on offense: Bobo said there are 14 receivers at receiver, even after Johnson's departure. Brendan Langley moved over from cornerback after spring practice, freshmen Shakenneth Williams and Isaiah McKenzie have joined the team, as has Charlie Hegedus, a transfer from N.C. State.
Bobo called Langley "one of the fastest guys on our team," and had good receiving skills in high school. Langley is a player who could help the offense "stretch the field."
Hegedus, a junior, is eligible immediately to play because of a hardship waiver. But he will be a candidate to redshirt.
"Charlie Hegedus is going to provide depth, and another big body that can run, that I like in the weight room," Bobo said.
There were no kid-gloves with Georgia's star tailback in the spring, as Todd Gurley was a full-go, girding him for the season. It worked, as Gurley's ankle, quad and everything else escaped unscathed.
So over the next month, will it be the same approach? Bobo's answer was that they would handle it in a "smart" way, a nod to the reality that if Gurley gets hurt in August there isn't an entire summer to heal up.
"We'll challenge him just like we did in the spring," Bobo said. "You want to be great, then let's practice to be great. I really like where he's at right now."
Chubb impressive in the weightroom
Freshman tailback Nick Chubb has been as expected in the weight room, according to Bobo, who said strength coaches have marveled at how hard he works, and how little he talks.
"I believe Nick is going to do well here because of his attitude and his work ethic," Bobo said.
There are six scholarship tailbacks on the roster now, as Chubb and fellow freshman Sony Michel join a group headed by Todd Gurley, and now featuring a healthy Keith Marshall.
One focus this preseason will be the competition to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Hutson Mason. As Mason is a senior, the winner of that battle, if there is a winner, has a leg up to be next year's starter.
But Georgia also needs to groom an eventual replacement for senior center David Andrews, who is entering his third year as the starter. Bobo listed a number of candidates, including junior Hunter Long, redshirt freshman Josh Cardiello, walk-on redshirt freshman Glenn Welch, and freshman Isaiah Wynn.
Wynn might also end up a top backup at guard, which would take him out of the center competition.