ATHENS – And now we enter the top five of our series on Georgia’s most important players for achieving success in 2012. Appropriately, we begin the top five with a member of the front five.
The list to this point:
10. Corey Moore, sophomore safety
9. Isaiah Crowell, sophomore tailback
8. John Theus, freshman tackle
7. Shawn Williams, senior safety
6. Jarvis Jones, junior linebacker
And now, for No. 5.
WHY HE'S VITAL: There have been plenty of trees killed already discussing how the offensive line is Georgia’s biggest concern. Considering that, as we pointed out in our post on John Theus, almost any linemen could be on this list. But Gates is the most critical because Georgia needs him to be the pillar of this line. His 12 career starts makes him the most experienced offensive lineman on the team. He finished spring as the left tackle, and he will start the season there unless Theus supplants him. Even in that case, Gates would merely shift to right tackle, or possibly right guard, where he’s needed most. The 6-foot-5, 330-pounder from Grantville has become the team’s most versatile, and dependable, lineman. If he struggles or gets hurt, it would be hard to see the offensive line being successful in 2012.
QUOTABLE: “Nobody’s separated themselves – with the exception of Ken Gates. Right now if you were gonna play a game I know he would be there.” – Offensive line coach Will Friend, during spring practice.
BEST CASE: Gates is as dependable as hoped, and nails down the left tackle spot, allowing Theus to transition to college with a bit less pressure. Gates anchors the line, protecting Aaron Murray’s blind side with aplomb.
WORST CASE: Gates isn’t up to the job, or at least not on a consistent basis, and the Bulldogs are juggling the line on a constant basis. Murray gets sacked too much, leading to turnovers, and the running lanes aren’t there.
FINAL WORD: The inside linemen have to play well too, but nailing down the left tackle spot is half the battle. If Gates (or Theus) does that, then Georgia’s line is on the way to success, and it will go a long way toward the Bulldogs getting back to the Georgia Dome.