February 13, 2012

Looking ahead: The OL

Assistant coach Will Friend only makes one promise when talking about his offensive line - the best five will play.

The question is - which five will it be?

Right now, your guess is probably about as good as his.

When Georgia kicks off spring practice on March 20, they'll do so with only three offensive linemen - Dallas Lee, Kenarious Gates and Chris Burnette - who have ever started a collegiate game for the Bulldogs.

Others like Austin Long, David Andrews, Hunter Long and Watts Dantzler, have only received a brief taste, but will be asked to do - and will have to do - much more.

Redshirt freshmen Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell will also get their shot, as will early enrollee Mark Beard, plus incoming freshmen John Theus and Greg Pyke.

Below, UGASports takes a look at the 2012 offensive line, including the main options to earn playing time for the Bulldogs this fall.

• David Andrews (6-2, 295, So.) - Andrews appeared in 10 games last year as a backup to four-year starter Ben Jones and is the favorite to earn the starting job. Andrews drew considerable praise from Friend as a true freshman, and has been described as having many of the same traits as Jones, the man he is expected to replace.

• Mark Beard (6-4, 300, So.) - The transfer from Coffeyville Community College will have three years to play three for Georgia since he redshirted his first year as a Kansas JUCO.

"We're going to look at him at tackle," Friend said recently. "You know how we like to move guys around a little bit."

Friend says Beard has the versatility to play a number of roles.

"We feel he's going to come in and help us. He's got a real good toughness. We're very excited about him," Friend said. "He's a big body that moves very well, with big, strong hips. We think he's going to be a good player."

• Chris Burnette (6-2, 313, RJr.) - Burnette started 12 games for the Bulldogs at right guard last fall, and figures to be the favorite to start there again in 2012. The LaGrange native will also work out at center, where he will also compete with Andrews for the starting job.

• Watts Dantzler (6-7, 310, So.) - Dantzler appeared in three games at right tackle for the Bulldogs, and figures to get plenty of looks there again in the spring. However, coaches did let Dantzler get a taste of left guard during bowl practice.

• Zach DeBell (6-7, 295, RFr.) - DeBell redshirted last year to put on more pounds and he has apparently done that. DeBell recently told UGASports that he's up in the "295 range" and is ready to compete for playing time this fall. DeBell underwent minor ankle surgery back in January but is expected to be able to compete this spring. It's expected he will get his initial look at right tackle.

• Kenarious Gates (6-5, 328, Jr.) - Gates battled injuries last fall but still managed to start nine games for the Bulldogs at left guard. But don't necessarily pigeon hole the Grantville native there this fall. Gates is one of Georgia's more versatile offensive linemen and will get looks at both right and left tackle as well.

• Kolton Houston (6-5, 295, RSo.) - Houston's status remains up in the air for the Bulldogs. The former Buford standout missed all of last year due to what Georgia officials will only describe as an "NCAA issue." Apparently, it's an issue that still is not resolved. Monday, Georgia sports information Claude Felton told UGASports that his status remains uncertain and there is no resolution.

• Dallas Lee (6-4, 300, RJr.) - Lee appeared in eight games making five starts before suffering a broken leg against Florida. Now healthy, Lee can play left guard, right guard and center for the Bulldogs.

• Austin Long (6-5, 310, RJr.) - Long appeared in two games for Georgia last fall, but worked almost extensively at left tackle for the Bulldogs during their preparation for the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. He'll - pardon the pun - will be given a long look by Friend this spring.

• Hunter Long (6-4, 300, So.) - The younger of the Long brothers appeared in three games last year, backing up at guard.

• Greg Pyke (6-6, 315, Fr.) - Another big body who because of his size will get an early opportunity by coaches to see what he can do once he arrives in the summer. Although he's got the height and obviously the size to play tackle, it's presumed Pyke will get most of his looks at guard.

• John Theus (6-6, 300, Fr.) - A five-star recruit, Theus is already touted as one of the top offensive line prospects to sign with Georgia since Mark Richt has been the head coach.

He projects at left tackle and figures to get plenty of opportunity to prove his worth once he arrives on campus in June.

"John Theus, of course, Mark Beard and Greg Pyke, they are big men. They are physically ready to compete right now," Richt said. "But John in particular, I think he's a heck of a player and has a great chance to play for Georgia. He's got to stay healthy, he's got to learn what to do, nothing's a given but he's a talented guy and he'll definitely throw his hat in the ring."

Richt puts Theus in the same class with some other recent Bulldog stars who made big impacts their first year in Athens.

"You've had the A.J. Greens who we've had in the past, the Matthew Staffords, guys at their position who were really highly thought of for a certain reason," Richt said. "Well, John is in that category for me, so his opportunity is going to be the same as those other guys."

• Xavier Ward (6-7, 295, RFr.) - Ward sat out last year after undergoing ACL surgery following his senior year at high school, but appears ready to compete. Like DeBell, one of Ward's main goals besides getting healthy was to put on weight and get stronger, which he apparently has done. Ward is expected to get looks at both tackle and guard.