“Poor Nick (Jones) and all those offensive linemen over the last couple of years have hardly had a break,” Coach Mark Richt said. “The toughest part for the linemen is practice. There’s nobody there to rotate. It wears them down.”
The Bulldogs (8-4) played with eight scholarship offensive linemen this season. Thanks to the suspensions of Ian Smith and Seth Watts, they’ll have just six available for the bowl game, including senior starters Jones, Daniel Inman and Ken Shackleford and senior reserve Michael Turner.
“It’s tough at first, but as you go through the year you see it’s not really going to change, and it’s one of the things you have to deal with,” said Jones, an All-SEC center. “We just have the attitude of play as hard as you can play whether you’re banged up or not.”
The Bulldogs gave up 15 sacks, the second-fewest in the SEC this season, and rushed for 132.1 yards per game, seventh-best in the conference, behind their weary line this season.
“It was tough,” junior guard Chester Adams acknowledged. “Coach (Neil) Callaway some days would come in and say, ‘I know you’re tired, I know you’re banged up, but you have to fight through it,’ and we did. And we came through real strong.”
It won’t do any good for the seniors, but help is on the way for Adams and fellow returning starter Fernando Velasco.
Georgia already has signed two junior college offensive linemen – Scott Haverkamp and Vince Vance -- and plans to bring in three prep products – Tanner Strickland, Trinton Sturdivant and Justin Anderson – in time for spring practice.
The Bulldogs’ large influx of mid-year offensive linemen may be unprecedented, said Scout.com recruiting analyst Miller Safrit.
“You rarely hear anything more than three at all positions much less that many at one position,” Safrit said. “If you’re able to bring them in in time for spring practice, it means they definitely want one or more of the new kids to start for them. They’re almost expecting that.”
There will be as many questions as there are newcomers this spring. Velasco may be a guard or center; Adams could play center or guard; at least three first-year players will have to start, but which ones?
“Nobody really knows where they’re going to play,” Velasco said. “There are a lot of questions marks, but I think once we get into spring ball, work hard and put everything together, we’ll be OK.”
Along with the 2007 signees, Georgia will get a long look at three players who redshirted this season – Chris Davis, Josh Davis and Kevin Perez.
“I want to play here, so getting a chance to step up and do it is really exciting,” said Josh Davis, a tackle. “I’m kind of nervous about it, but it’s exciting. I heard spring is pretty intense so I want to see what that’s all about and get a chance to compete for a starting job.”
Unlike players at some positions, offensive linemen welcome new additions at their position rather than worrying about losing playing time, Richt said. That’s particularly true for the veterans of this season of long work days.
“We’re not picky about somebody getting our spot because we always need depth,” Adams said. “Offensive and defensive line is ready for an able body any day.”