Georgia’s line faces trouble

sports@macon.comJune 29, 2011 

It’s hard to imagine that the “loss” of a player who has never played before can create such a stir. But that’s exactly what happened when Georgia offensive lineman Brent Benedict announced he was leaving the program Sunday.

Benedict missed all of last year with a serious knee injury. But the word was he was going to be a contributor this season. Instead, he’s gone.

Benedict is the second straight player to leave who has done little or nothing at Georgia, and yet the losses are important. Offensive lineman A.J. Harmon left after spring practice. He played in only seven games in two years as a backup at Georgia, but head coach Mark Richt penciled Harmon in as the starter at left tackle.

During spring practice, Trinton Sturdivant had yet another knee injury to knock him out for this season. That opened the door for Harmon, but when he left, the Bulldogs had to rework the depth chart once again.

Losing offensive linemen should not be tragic. But Georgia is in a big mess.

The Bulldogs have only 13 offensive linemen (not counting long-snappers) on scholarship. Five are true freshmen, and not one of the newcomers were expected to contribute. That might change now out of desperation.

Georgia’s problem with depth, or lack thereof, is tied to the recruiting classes from 2008 through 2010. The Bulldogs had only 10 offensive linemen sign in those three classes, which is absurd. If teams are not signing at least five offensive linemen per class, they’re nuts.

The line of scrimmage is where teams build the foundation for their success. What’s especially bizarre is that in 2009, when they also signed two quarterbacks (Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger), they failed to complement them with a strong group of young offensive linemen. Instead, they signed only four ... one who is now on defense.

And then the next year, as they prepared Murray to take over, they signed only three new linemen. How can a team neglect the line of scrimmage when it knows those are the players to protect its new quarterback?

Only five of the 13 linemen on scholarship have ever played before. One is Justin “Bean” Anderson, who had been on offense but was switched to defense last year before missing all but one game with turf toe. Who knows if he can be effective as the starting right tackle.

Another is Dallas Lee, who is slated to be a backup. But he missed spring practice with asthma, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be OK to play. Austin Long will also be counted on, but he missed all of last year with back trouble and then most of spring practice this year with a shoulder issue.

So with only eight of the 13 players really being options, depth is the problem. How can a team avoid injuries on the offensive line all season? If one or more get hurt, the Bulldogs are going to have no choice but to turn to freshmen who were not expected to play.

Offensive linemen get hurt. Sometimes they’ll have to only sit out a series or maybe a quarter. But teams have to have enough depth to compensate for that. And right now, Georgia just doesn’t have that at all.

Ben Jones should be solid as the senior center, and Cordy Glenn is a future NFL player who will start at left tackle. Kenarious Gates showed promise last year, and he’ll be at left guard. But the projected starter at right guard, Chris Burnette, has never played before.

Georgia has to worry about South Carolina. Forget Boise State. The game against the Gamecocks will be the conference matchup that could dictate the season. But if the offensive line struggles, how is new running back Isaiah Crowell going to do against a very tough South Carolina defense?

By the way, the high temperature last year in Athens on Sept. 10 was 90 degrees. The low was only 70. So you can only imagine how hot it could be this year in that game in the third quarter, around 6:30 p.m. or so. How will the offensive linemen be doing, with little depth to give them rest, late in the game in what could be a warm night against the Gamecocks?

Of all the positions on the field, a team can’t have this many questions at offensive line. Its survival may define Georgia’s season -- one way or the other.

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