As expected, John Theus emerging for Georgia

semerson@macon.comAugust 11, 2012 

ATHENS -- The plan is on a parallel track. It is well-devised, and so far being perfectly executed. The object of this plan is John Theus.

The first part of the plan is to make clear to Theus that he has to earn his starting spot, that just because he was a five-star recruit, with all the hype attached to him, that he wouldn’t automatically play.

The second part of the plan is, in fact, to play him.

Because when you’re the Georgia football program, and your offensive line is perhaps the team’s top concern entering 2012, you don’t keep a player like Theus on your bench.

You can see the plan in action with these types of comments from offensive line coach Will Friend: “He’s a good player. He’s got a long way to go though.”

Merely a “good” football player? According to the recruiting hype, Friend is under-selling it.

Theus is one of the most accomplished offensive line recruits to enter the program in some time: a Parade, USA Today and Army All-American, a five-star recruit by Rivals and Scout and the No. 1 overall player in the state of Florida at any position, according to Rivals.

His arrival on campus this year coincided with the departure of three seniors who were all drafted into the NFL, including both starting tackles.

Head coach Mark Richt did nothing to dampen expectations, comparing Theus to A.J. Green and Matthew Stafford in terms of immediate impact. Since preseason practice began, Richt hasn’t hid from the fact that Theus will play, although he hasn’t been named a starter yet.

Theus, making his first public comments as a Bulldogs player this past week, also kept it humble. During a 15-minute interview Friday, he uttered the phrase “busting my butt” a total of 14 times. He seemed to say “day by day” even more.

“I just came in here working my best,” he said. “I didn’t know -- I still don’t know what’s gonna happen. There’s no plan. No one’s telling us anything.”

When practice began Aug. 2, Theus was in a competition with sophomore Watts Dantzler for right tackle, the final available starting spot on the line.

By this past week, it was apparent Theus had moved ahead of Dantzler. But the Georgia coaches are sticking to the plan; Theus hasn’t been named the starter yet.

“You knew (in recruiting) he had a chance to be a good player, and I think he still does,” Friend said. “He’s got a long way to go, though. He’s just gotta take it day by day. Whether he’s the starting right tackle or not, improve each day. If he can do that, I think he’ll be a good football player.”

Georgia is used to starting freshmen on the offensive line. Cordy Glenn and Ben Jones started 10 games each in 2008; Clint Boling started 11 games in 2007; Trinton Sturdivant started every game at left tackle, defending Matt Stafford’s blind side, in 2007.

But Theus was comparatively ahead of each of those, Richt said this past spring.

Defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner has talked about “breaking them down” upon their arrival, before building them up. Friend, true to his surname, doesn’t really do that.

“You know linemen are probably not as bad as maybe some of the other positions,” he said. “They buy into their group a little bit. So that hasn’t been quite that hard. And (Theus) is a hard worker. … Linemen traditionally aren’t the guys you have to worry about de-recruiting.”

Since Theus arrived on campus during the summer, he has put on nearly 20 pounds and is now up to 306. He is listed at 6-foot-6.

The first couple of weeks of preseason practice also have provided Theus a good preview of what’s to come in the season. Jarvis Jones, the All-America outside linebacker, said he has made it his mission to get Theus ready by testing him.

“Me and Jarvis had a lot of great talks, and he’s been a big help to me,” Theus said.

Defensive end Cornelius Washington, a senior who had five sacks last year, also has been a good test on the outside. All the evidence is Theus has been able to hold his own.

“He’s tough,” Friend said. “The big adjustment is being able to handle being a tough player and the difference of the size of your opponent, the tempo you have to play at, the speed you have to play at. And if you’re a tough guy I think you have a chance to adjust quicker. He is tough.”

But then Friend tempers it.

“We’ve just gotta keep him going,” he said. “He’s a long way from there, now.”

It’s all part of the plan.

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