Traditionally this is the space in which I would bemoan the Georgia Bulldogs' lack of depth along the offensive front. I've been doing it for years, and of course I'm not alone. Most of you have joined me over the years in this annual rite of fall.
And it's not like we've been Munsonian about this. It's been a very real worry over the years for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was recruiting numbers that were ridiculously low. Sometimes it was guys just not panning out. Sometimes it was Neil Callaway exhibiting his talent for being able to find 250 pound offensive guards with gimpy shoulders anytime, anywhere.
But not this year. This year Coach Will Friend will lead a unit consisting of 15 scholarship linemen and a couple of experienced walk ons. All 5 starters from the 2012 unit are back. 14 players are entering at least their third year in the program. It is, in short, the deepest, most experienced contingent of big uglies in the Mark Richt era.
It's so deep a group that at least a couple of those returning starters aren't guaranteed a spot, at least not in the same place. Senior Ken Gates looks like a safe bet to get the start at left tackle. Senior left guard Dallas Lee is entrenched at his spot, and junior David "Boss" Andrews returns as the starter at center. But on the right side things are a little more unsettled.
Sophomore John Theus started at right tackle as a true freshman, but he's getting pushed by the newly-eligible Kolton Houston. Chris Burnette started at right guard in 2012, but he's still coming back from offseason shoulder surgery. Friend said recently that Theus could move inside to replace Burnette, leaving the tackle spot to Houston.
Redshirt sophomore Xzavier Ward flirted with a starting spot during the spring, and is all but guaranteed to crack the rotation in 2013. The 6'7, 293 pounder from Moultrie has developed physically during his time in Athens, and I for one am curious to see what he can do. That goes double for redshirt freshman Greg Pyke, and triple for redshirt junior Zach Debell. These guys are on a list of players who coaches have said can play, but who have not been seen.
Junior Mike Beard stepped up big in his first year in the Classic City and returns this season to provide depth. Junior Hunter Long showed promise in limited duty, but lost significant time to injuries. With his brother Austin ending his career due to academic issues, it falls to Long to uphold the family name, likely at guard. Junior Watts Dantzler also saw time in 2012, but there has been talk of a redshirt for him this season to create some class separation. Anybody remember a time when Georgia was in a position to even think about redshirting a contributor on the offensive line? I don't think that's occurred since Bubba Velasco redshirted in 2003.
The Red and Black also bring in 3 true freshmen: Buford guard Josh Cardiello, Valwood (Valdosta) tackle Aulden Bynum, and Walton (Marietta) center Brandon Kublanow. Of the 3 Kublanow is the only one I'd expect to play in 2013, as he'll begin being groomed to fill Andrews' shoes in 2015 as a junior. I've seen a lot of high school offensive linemen over the years, but I can count on one hand the number who I thought were a safe bet to play on Sundays. Kublanow may be one of them. He's already strong enough to play in the SEC, has the aggression you want in an interior lineman, and possesses the quick feet and center of gravity to block anyone. Once he knows what he's doing, the sky is the limit.
Cardiello could probably play if he needed to, and may be a star down the road. But this season he should have a chance to redshirt, which is great news for the future. The 260 pound Bynum however needs to fill out before he's ready for action on Saturdays. Again, we're lucky to have the luxury of giving him time.
In short, I cannot guarantee that the Bulldog offensive will scores points by the bucketful in 2013 (though, absent some serious bad luck, I strongly suspect it). But if those bucketloads of points do not materialize, it won't likely be the fault of Will Friend's unit. They're experienced at every spot up and down the front. They have reserves at every position. For once the unit which has long been the team's perceived Achilles heel may be the most battle-ready platoon in the company.
Until later . . .