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Monday, April 11, 2011

Analysis: What now for the offensive line?

Trinton Sturdivant was a great story for the Georgia football team. He was one of the few positive, uplifting angles that came out of the dreary 2010 season.

But the senior tackle was more than that to the 2011 team: He was to be one of the keys to a revamped, improved offensive line.

For both reasons, the news of his third ACL tear has to be a shot in the gut to the program.

We’ll find out later what Sturdivant plans to do; he would be a likely candidate for a sixth year if he wants it. In the meantime, the North Carolina native will begin rehab.

As for his team, new offensive line coach Will Friend almost has to go back to the drawing board.

At a minimum, it will be a patchwork line. Maybe by the time they trot out a starting five against Boise State they’ll feel confident about the unit as a whole.

But for the moment the most likely starting tackle, Cordy Glenn, was a guard the past few seasons. The only other returning starter is Ben Jones, who’s a center. There doesn’t seem any way to avoid having a couple inexperienced starters, perhaps even a true freshman.

Friend, who should be available to the media after Tuesday’s practice, appears to have three options:

- Kenarious Gates can shift from guard to tackle. That would take away the team’s chance to have a returning starter at guard (Gates played there as a freshman last year) but it would at least give the team experience on both ends of the line.

- One of the returning linemen – likely Brent Benedict, Kolton Houston, Austin Long or A.J. Harmon - could get a shot at right tackle. Benedict (6-5, 301) and Houston (6-5, 291) are redshirt freshmen, Long is a redshirt sophomore who hasn’t played yet, and Harmon (6-5, 320) is a redshirt junior who has appeared in seven games in his career. There’s also Dallas Lee (6-4, 300), a redshirt sophomore who played three games at guard last year.

- Friend could wait for one of the incoming freshmen. Zach Debell (6-7, 285) and Watts Dantzler (6-7, 315) would seem the most likely candidates, followed by Hunter Long (6-3, 293). Xzavier Ward is seen as more of a project, and David Andrews is projected at center.

Ideally, a team doesn’t want to play true freshmen on the offensive line, and especially not right away. (Gates earned his spot midway through the year.) But I suspect this staff, given the importance of this season, will burn a redshirt or two if they have to, then worry about getting it back later.

This also puts a lot more pressure on Glenn. He was an NFL prospect at guard – which could still be his eventual position in the pros – but now he may have to anchor the line and protect Aaron Murray’s blind spot.

“He’s rusty there,” Friend said of Glenn earlier this spring. “The biggest thing he’s got to do – he’s got a lot of potential. … He could be a dominant player. We need him to be one.”

Especially now.

It also may be a bit tougher for Friend to make personnel decisions, being a new hire. He wasn’t around to see how Benedict, Houston and Austin Long did on scout team. He didn’t recruit Debell, Danztler and Hunter Long.

Then again, maybe a fresh approach helps. Plus, Mark Richt, Mike Bobo and other staff members can also provide some perspective on the available linemen. Richt and Bobo have their own problems to settle, but the offensive line is so paramount that I’m sure they’re huddling with Friend these days.

Friend has said he’ll start the best five. Of course, everyone says that. But if he truly means that, based on the word that’s seeped out of spring practice, it would mean Option 1: Justin Anderson and Chris Burnette start at guard, allowing Gates to shift out to tackle.

But there’s a long way between now and the opener. There were already going to be a few unknowns on the front five. The Sturdivant news means the uncertainty now extends to almost the entire line.

It doesn't bode well.

7 comments:

Scott said...

I hate this for Sturdivant, a good dawg, and will be missed on the line. I just don't get the fact the we all of the sudden stink every time we lose one player. Come on, this is football. Put someone in there and play football. Drawing board? I'm gonna give up football completely if I've gotta bury my head with every injury. I can understand with players on the level of Tebow or Newton (no disrespect intended for Sturdivant), but this is morbidly pessimistic. Get and attitude and step it up. That goes for the coaches, too. Go Dawgs! Get ready and win. If they don't score, we don't lose.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Seth is a bit of a pessimist by nature. No biggie. All viewpoints are needed.

Anonymous said...

I think the key this year is going to be how much the defense improves. I expect the offense to be down because the line, the inconsistency with the RB's, and the inexperience at WR. #77's injury just made it worse.

DawgInVA25 said...

First off Sturdivant was a DGD!

As for the O-Line, my guess for the starting line for the Boise game will be:

LT: Glenn
LG: Gates
C: Jones
RG: Burnette
RT: Anderson

Mayo said...

I agree with Scott...losing a starter just means someone else needs to step up and show some grit. Hell that was UGA football for a lot of years. I feel sorry for the kid but he never impressed me after his freshman year, and yeah I know how tough ACL tears are! However, does anyone remember his last game against UCF? Pitiful!!!!

AthensHomerDawg said...

I think DawgInVa25 has nailed it. Bean at RT makes the most sense as he has started there before. Heck he's played in 22 games and started 12 of them. He didn't progress at the end of 2009 .....the rest of the line followed his demise in 2010. Benedict at the number 2 RT. We'll be fine.

Anonymous said...

Ward had surgery and will redshirt this year.