May 17, 2012

Bulldog breakdown: OL

When it comes to breaking down Georgia's chances for success in 2012, no doubt a lot of attention will be paid to the Bulldogs' offensive line.

Despite having three players - Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson - drafted head coach Mark Richt said the position did not play as consistently as it needed to , and with three new starters being thrown into the mix, some wonder how much improvement there will ultimately be.

Aside from Kenarious Gates, Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, there's not a ton of experience to choose from, although for the first time in a few seasons, at least there are enough bodies to employ a full second unit.

According to Richt and offensive line coach Will Friend, they expect as many as nine linemen to be "SEC ready" this fall.

Below, we take a look at the offensive linemen who will have an opportunity to play key roles this fall.

• LT Kenarious Gates (Jr., 6-5, 328): Offensive line coach Will Friend wasn't sure where to put Gates when the season began, but after getting an early look at left tackle the Greenville native appears to have adjusted to his new role relatively well. Although Gates has yet to play a game at the position, he showed quality footwork and hand placement to give him the early jump on the starting job heading into preseason drills. But even if left tackle doesn't work out, Gates ability to play four of the five spots on the offensive line will ensure he gets plenty of playing time in 2012.

• LG Dallas Lee (Jr., 6-4, 300): Lee was arguably Georgia's best offensive lineman for the first eight games of 2011 before breaking his leg against Florida. Now healthy, Lee has also received some snaps at center, and can spell starter David Andrews as well as help out at right guard.

• C David Andrews (So., 6-0, 292): "Boss" appeared in 10 games last year in a backup role to Ben Jones, and barring something unforeseen, will take over the starting job from his mentor this fall. A tireless worker, Andrews endured a tough spring going against the likes of nose tackles Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins, but managed to hold his own. Technically speaking, Andrews has pleased Friend, although he still hopes he can get a bit stronger. Through summer workouts, Andrews should be able to accomplish that task.

• RG Chris Burnette (Jr., 6-2, 313): Burnette started 12 games for Georgia last fall, and along with Gates, is the Bulldogs' most experienced offensive lineman. Like Lee, Burnette also saw time at center in the spring. The key for Burnette will be staying healthy. Last season was the first year the former Troupe County standout has been able to consistently stay out of the training room and will need to do so again.

• RT Kolton Houston (RSo., 6-5, 300): Houston, who did not play in 2011, was the surprise of spring camp. After starting out with the first team at guard, Houston was moved to right tackle approximately two weeks before the end of spring camp and excelled to the point where he's the starter heading into preseason drills. For those wondering, the "issues" that kept Houston from playing last year will be history once August workouts begin. The versatile Houston also gives the Bulldogs another option to use at either guard position.

• LT Austin Long (Jr., 6-5, 304): Long was actually one of the feel-good stories for the offensive line last fall as he actually got to play for the first time in three years (going back to high school) after back surgery in 2009 had some wondering if he would ever play again. Finally healthy, Long started out the spring at right tackle but was flipped to the left side midway through and apparently held his own. Although Coach Friend will tell you, Long still has some work to do, it appears the Memphis native is ready to finally contribute to Georgia's depth this fall.

• LG Mark Beard (So., 6-4, 295): An early enrollee, Beard struggled with the speed of the game in the spring and still has to get adjusted to that aspect of it before he can be counted on to play a significant role. It's expected that he will, but it's still going to take a little time. By the end of spring, Beard was starting to show some positive signs and will be in the mix to be part of the rotation at guard, most likely on the left side.

• RG Hunter Long (So., 6-4, 300): Long appeared in three games for Georgia last year and ran with the second team at right guard for the entire spring. The younger brother of Austin Long, Hunter figures to be a key part of the second unit, most likely on the right side.

• RT Watts Dantzler (So. 6-7, 310): Dantzler started at left tackle but moved to right midway through spring, after seeing some time at left guard during Georgia's bowl practice in preparation for the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. Dantzler is still developing as a football player, getting stronger and will get a extended look at right tackle come fall.

• OT Zach Debell (RFr. 6-6, 292): DeBell underwent ankle surgery shortly after the Outback Bowl, but managed to practice just a couple of days in the spring before spraining his other ankle. DeBell will be healthy for the preseason, but needs to continue to get stronger and add just a bit more weight before he's able to start earning consistent reps. His time is coming, just maybe not quite yet.

• OT Xzavier Ward (RFr., 6-7, 290): Ward missed all of last year recovering from ACL surgery. He spent the time getting bigger, and is now up to 290 pounds at last check. The injury has thus far kept the former Colquitt County standout from practicing with the team and he will need to prove that he can stay healthy. Once he does, coaches will be able to determine what kind of role he will eventually be able to play.

• OT John Theus (Fr., 6-6, 312): Some have called Theus the best offensive line prospect in the Mark Richt-era and they just might be right. Richt has said that Theus will be given an opportunity to earn a starting role as a true freshman ala Trinton Sturdivent a few seasons ago. Don't bet against it happening.

• OT Greg Pyke (Fr., 6-6, 315): Pyke may be overshadowed somewhat by Theus, but to completely forget about the youngster from Baltimore would be a mistake. The former lacrosse standout may be the most underrated of all Georgia's 2012 signees, but coaches are extremely high on his potential and eventually see him playing a number of roles, both at guard and at tackle.

Jones and his wife Donna have three children.