ATHENS - Georgia football fans can only hope this means good things: Offensive line coach Will Friend thinks he has a good group this year, or at least a better one than last year.
Friend was rather upbeat on Saturday when appraising his line, which returned every scholarship player from last year, and added the services of newly-eligible Kolton Houston. Ten days into preseason practice, Friend said he feels better both about his potential starting five (which he's close to naming) and the entire group, including reserves.
"I think they're better than they were this time a year ago, there's no question about that," Friend said. "But I do like the fact that the numbers we have that we'll be able to carry some competition and guys will have to worry about performing throughout the season. Where probably last year and the year before we didn't really have that ability to do that. It was kinda we had this group, and 'none of you all get hurt' kinda deal."
A couple of the position battles are also winding down.
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At left tackle, senior Kenarious Gates is the heavy favorite, with Friend saying Gates has probably been the best lineman in camp.
"Gates has had a good camp," Friend said. "He came in better shape, and he's moving around better."
At right tackle, sophomore John Theus is getting a big push from Houston, and the next week is setting up to be very important. That includes Wednesday's scrimmage. Theus has also been getting work at right guard, working about half the time at that spot the past few days. Senior Chris Burnette is entrenched as the starter when healthy. Burnette had shoulder surgery before spring practice, and is being eased back, sitting out a few practices.
"I think after the next scrimmage we'll have a pretty good idea," Friend said. "We kind of have a good idea right now, but you know we're gonna give them two scrimmages. We'll approach this one Wednesday like it's a game, and hopefully put enough pressure on guys to see how they will handle pressure situations, and go from there."
Some other notes from Friend and other assistant coaches:
- Running backs coach Bryan McClendon, who is also in charge of the punt return unit, said that freshman Brendan Langley is a candidate to return punts. Langley has been added to the list of candidates for that job alongside three who have done it the past two years: receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Rhett McGowan and cornerback Damian Swann.
- Speaking of Swann, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham indicated strongly that Swann will be the star position role at Clemson. That spot, basically the nickel-back, is open for that one game with Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended. Grantham didn't indicate he's looking at anybody else for that spot. Sheldon Dawson would move to the top cornerback position, with Langley and fellow freshman Shaq Wiggins getting a look at the No. 2 corner spot.
- Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said that all three freshmen tailbacks are being prepared to play. Neither Bobo nor McClendson listed a pecking order between A.J. Turman, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas, just saying that all have had a good camp.
"Right now all of them are in there together," McClendon said.
One or two of them could still end up redshirting, but that's only if the team stays extremely healthy at the tailback spot. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are set at the first two spots, then there are the three freshmen and walk-ons Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis.
- Bobo said the No. 3 quarterback job is still open, with freshman Brice Ramsey continuing to make a push. The team would rather redshirt Ramsey, and a decision on that could be made later this month, according to Bobo. Ramsey could be the No. 3 quarterback this season and still redshirt as long as Aaron Murray and/or Hutson Mason stay healthy.
"Brice has had an excellent camp," Bobo said. "He's a guy that's been productive and made plays when he's in there. He's gotta understand what we're doing though. But I see a guy that's picked up on some things. They're all competing. He's pushing for that (No. 3) spot. Each day one guy's been No. 3, and the next guy the next guy's been No. 3. But at the end of the day we'll still have to make a decision on what we're gonna do with him for the year."
- Bobo said he was generally pleased with the effort he's seen from the offense thus far. That was in contrast to comments by players - specifically Mason - and head coach Mark Richt after Wednesday's scrimmage, which they agreed lacked energy. The team had its 10th straight day of practice on Saturday, with Sunday due to be the first day off.
"We're still in camp mode. It's more the grind, and learning how to fight through, learning how to play when you're a little banged up and tired. And still being able to do it fundamentally right," Bobo said. "That's the part of camp that's hard for them. It's not supposed to be easy. They're fighting through. I've been proud of that."
He added that Wednesday's scrimmage would be a better gauge of that effort. Bobo said Murray did have a good overall first scrimmage, and that two of the three interceptions were "freak interceptions." The third one was rushed by Murray.
"You can't turn the ball over and expect to win games. Glad it happened last Wednesday instead of on the 31st," Bobo said.
- Defensive line coach Chris Wilson said he would feel comfortable using six-to-seven players right now. He didn't name them, preferring to let the competition continue, but Wilson's goal has been to develop a rotation of about seven-to-eight players.
- Freshman Brandon Kublanow may have a chance to play this year on the offensive line, rather than redshirt. Kublanow can play guard or center, and is playing well enough to serve as the second-team center, behind David Andrews.
"He's a guy that as he gets it a little bit more he'll be better," Friend said. "Because he's a strong guy. He's a real physical guy, and it's just a matter of putting it together."
- The family of an athletic department official was in the building as Bobo was about to open his media session. One of the young boys could be heard calling out: "Dad," and Bobo - the father of five young kids - looked up.
"Thought that might be one of mine," Bobo said, to laughter.
Video of assistant coach media sessions on Saturday: