The offensive line provided arguably the biggest question mark during Georgia’s past two offseasons. In 2011, it was a question of depth and last year, experience. But everything worked out, and the Bulldogs managed two solid seasons from their pass protectors. Offensive line coach Will Friend is probably breathing a lot easier this spring, especially since he’s returning his entire starting unit.
Perhaps Georgia’s biggest surprise from a reliability standpoint was center David Andrews. The rising junior had a large void to fill when All-American Ben Jones graduated, and skepticism mounted before the season about his size and strength. Andrews, however, hushed his critics by becoming one of the premier offensive leaders and starting all 14 games. His highlight performance came against Auburn, which was good enough to earn SEC offensive lineman of the week honors. Like Jones was to him, Andrews should be a great mentor to Preston Mobley – who has been lining up with the second team – and early enrollee Josh Cardiello.
Dallas Lee also had a strong outing in 2012 and started all 14 games. It was a comeback kind of season for the Buford native, as he suffered a broken leg against Florida the year prior. His recovery process was quite exhaustive as well – one that extended through spring practice and into the summer. “If I was a receiver or something, I probably could’ve been back a lot faster, but being a 300-pound person that has to hit other 300-pound people adds a lot more pressure,” Lee said in November. Regardless, Lee is hungry for another great season in red and black, and is out to even the score with his brother, Dillon, who won last year’s national title with Alabama.
Rising senior Chris Burnette is another guy who has battled some injury issues during his time in Athens, though not nearly as drastic as Lee’s. Burnette has missed at least two games in each of the past two seasons, but when healthy, he started each outing. Last year, Friend reserved Burnette strictly to right guard and there’s not much indication that will change.
When Burnette went down, Mark Beard rose to the occasion. The JUCO transfer quietly had a great year in 2012 and made an appearance in all 14 games, two of which he started (Auburn and Georgia Southern). Beard showed his versatility when he shifted to left tackle during Burnette’s absence, as he’s listed at guard on the official roster. This spring, Beard has continued to line up at tackle, but whether or not he will stay there remains questionable. When John Theus returns after his recovery from foot surgery – which Georgia said could be before G-Day – there will be a more concrete look at the line.
A guy who hasn’t really gotten a chance to prove himself yet is Hunter Long. Much of that has to do with injury – a broken foot put a hefty damper on his 2012 campaign, and by the time he returned, the line was in a comfortable swing. Depth could be against him again this fall, and he will probably only see playing time if there are injuries to those in front of him. The same goes for Caleb Drake and Greg Pyke, though the latter has been lining up with the second team this spring.
Among the freshmen contingent are Buford’s Cardiello and Marietta’s Brandon Kublanow, both of which have great upside. Cardiello enrolled early and has been making strides with the third team. He told me back in August that he thought he would end up redshirting his freshman year, and there’s little reason to doubt that. The same goes for Kublanow, who arrives this summer. Both of these youngsters are smaller than the prototypical SEC linemen, but they have strong work ethics and love to play through the whistle.
Stayed tuned each Thursday for Daniel Kramer’s breakdown of the 2013 Georgia offense. Next week we look at the offensive tackles, some of whom have been lining up with the interior lineman this spring.