Help Wanted: UGA Rebuilds Offensive Line
By Dan Mathews
Georgia has gone through seven practices this spring in preparation for the 2014 season. One major spot on the field that is getting tons of looks is the offensive line.
The Bulldogs graduated three members of last year's offensive line. Left tackle Kenarious Gates, left guard Dallas Lee and right guard Chris Burnette are out of eligibility, and it's time for younger players to step forward.
After talking with offensive line coach Will Friend, it seems that he’s only concerned with two spots on the line, both on the interior.
“Nobody’s stepped up and said they want to be the guard yet,” Friend said. “We’re not performing the way we need to inside right now.”
After the first scrimmage of the spring, Friend did like the play of third-year sophomore Greg Pyke. The 6-foot-6, 326-pound guard out of Baltimore has been getting most of his looks at the right side of the line. The left guard spot is a little more up in the air for the Bulldogs. However, help could be on the way: Junior offensive tackle Zach DeBell is getting snaps with the first team at left guard.
“I think he has a better chance to contribute there and play,” Friend said. “He had a good day last Thursday and then in the scrimmage he struggled there on some things.”
In addition to working as a backup tackle, senior Mark Beard has also taken reps at left guard. If you’ll remember, Beard almost transferred this offseason before having a change of heart at the last minute. Sophomore guard Brandon Kublanow also has practiced inside, but has been dealing with an unknown injury limiting him to non-contact drills.
Friend is happy with his tackle positions right now and the work he’s getting out of that group. Junior John Theus is getting first-team reps at left tackle, while senior Kolton Houston is at the right tackle spot. As with most position battles in the spring, it could be subject to change.
“Probably when it gets down to it, we’ll probably have to have three (tackles) that can go into the game,” Friend said. “Somebody is a swing guy (and) they’re both (Theus and Houston) going to work both sides.”
Entering the spring with Theus at left tackle wasn't an agonizing decision for Friend.
"(Theus) looked like he felt more comfortable over there doing things and Kolton looked like he felt more comfortable doing things on the other side,” Friend said. “I don’t claim to be the smartest guy, they look comfortable where they’re at, so I said let’s just leave them there and that’s how it happened.”
Right now, Beard and junior Xzavier Ward are the front-runners for the “swing” tackle spot. Senior tackle Watts Dantzler is also trying to make a surge for playing time. However, he is dealing with the effects of a concussion.
Friend said the key for Theus was taking part in the offseason workouts and practices right now after missing tons of time last year.
One thing that Friend has going for him is the return of David Andrews at center. Andrews will enter this season as the three-year starter and signal caller for the Bulldogs offensive line.
“The center ties everybody together,” Friend said. “He’s got the front side and the backside, he’s got to put them all together. So a guy that’s played a lot and is intelligent that can do that is important.”
Even with all of these players getting good reps on the field during the spring, the fact remains that three starters are no longer with the program. Plus, Houston and Theus divided time at right tackle in 2013. The latter guy ended up taking the job. However, he’s now shifting over to play left tackle. So as it stands now, the Bulldogs would be starting only one offensive lineman with full-time starting experience.
Georgia opens the season at home against Clemson and then hits the road for South Carolina in week two. Good news for them, there’s no longer a guy on the Gamecocks defensive line wearing No. 7 and wrecking quarterbacks.
Success of any football team begins up front, and Georgia must find solid play from some off its new starters.