TAMPA, Fla. -- Justin Anderson felt lost. His football career seemed stalled or worse. And then Will Friend came along.
The result, as Anderson sees it, was stark.
“I will always in my heart believe that he saved my career,” Anderson said.
Friend was hired in February as Georgia’s offensive line coach. Anderson was languishing on the other side of the ball, spending a year at nose guard, where he felt displaced. He was also injured and only appeared in one game.
Never miss a local story.
Anderson wanted to return to offense and didn’t get the sense Stacy Searels, the former line coach, was receptive. So when Searels left for Texas, and Friend was hired, Anderson -- better known as Bean among his teammates -- made his feelings clear.
Friend doesn’t remember it as a difficult decision.
“Bean is a guy that I guess when I got here, we needed some bodies, and I kind of wanted to get Bean over (on offense),” he said.
But it wasn’t just putting him back at right tackle that Anderson thinks saved his career. Friend showed patience with him despite his injury -- a turf toe that slowed him -- and taking awhile to get back in the offensive groove.
“When I was coming off injury, he didn’t try to kill me, he kind of let me get back used to playing ball,” Anderson said. “He didn’t really pressure me. But when camp came around, I was fully healed and ready to go.”
It still took Anderson awhile. In fact, it took the entire line some time, with the debut being as rough: Boise State sacked Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray six times.
For a time, Anderson also seemed good for at least one false start penalty per game. But he eventually ironed things out and has been a part of the line that held together as Georgia went on to win the SEC East.
“This has been the best year of my whole college career,” Anderson said. “This year, I’ve got memories that I can talk about for the rest of my life, based on just this year. I mean, it’s been fun. I really don’t want it to end, but I guess it has to.”
Anderson started a combined 12 games as a freshman and sophomore on offense. But after the move to nose guard, his junior season was a lost one. He couldn’t take a medical redshirt because he already redshirted as a freshman.
But now the 6-foot-5, 342-pounder could have a future in the NFL.
Friend kind of laughed and shrugged off Anderson’s “saved my career” comment. But Anderson is adamant.
“He did,” Anderson said. “He believed in me.”
Anderson is one of three starters Friend will have to replace on the line next year. The others, left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones, are also NFL prospects.
But Friend is optimistic because the team should at least have more depth. This year’s team only had six players the team was comfortable using in critical games, with true freshmen as the top reserves.
Georgia already has signed junior college prospect Mark Beard, whom Friend said has a chance to play right away. The Bulldogs also have a commitment from John Theus, one of the nation’s top high school recruits who will contend for the left tackle spot as a freshman.
“We kind of lost a little bit of the competition part (this year) because there were guys that were so much better at their spot and really didn’t have a backup,” Friend said. “You always need that competition, and we’ll get that back.”
Jenkins intends to stay
Junior nose tackle John Jenkins has given some differing answers to the NFL draft question lately, but on Friday morning he gave a fairly definitive one.
Asked an open-ended question on what his thinking was, and he answered, “For the most part, I feel like I need to stay.”
Jenkins began the year as a backup to sophomore Kwame Geathers but finished strong, starting the final six games. Jenkins enters the Outback Bowl with three sacks, six tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a fumble forced.
Jenkins was one of the team’s highest-profile recruits after last season.
“The high expectations, I didn’t understand it,” Jenkins said. “But as far as trying to help everybody, as far as trying not to let everybody down, I believe I’ve been trying to have that mindset every day, every day, every day. If I did my job and people think I did the job they asked me to do or wanted me to do, I hope I did. But as for myself, I feel I’ve got a lot to improve on.”
Injury, tailbacks updates
Two defensive starters dealing with ankle injuries have been slow to return to practice this week. Inside linebacker Mike Gilliard has done some scout-team practice, while defensive end DeAngelo Tyson has not taken the field.
“I don’t think DeAngelo will play. Mike has a chance,” head coach Mark Richt said.
Tailback Richard Samuel has been practicing all week, after not playing since October because of ankle surgery.
Richt said he wasn’t sure who would start at tailback Monday. Ken Malcome began the week as a tenuous No. 1, with Samuel and freshman Isaiah Crowell expected to push him.
“We haven’t really talked about it, but my guess is right this minute as who will play, I would think there’s a good chance that at least three, maybe four of them will play,” Richt said.
Georgia vs. Michigan State
1 p.m., Monday (ABC)