And then there were a half-dozen left. Welcome back to my summer countdown of Georgia's most important players for 2014. The gentle reminder: This is not a ranking of the team's best players. Rather it's a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
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6. DAVID ANDREWS
WHY HE’S VITAL: Andrews may not be the best pro prospect on Georgia’s offensive line, but he is the one who holds it together – especially this year, with both guards expected to be first-time starters. If Andrews were to get hurt the line would be in disarray and the offense as a whole would lose one of its leaders. This may also be the year that Andrews finally sees recognition outside the conference – and we don’t mean the Remington Trophy watch list, which includes anybody who has ever played center. Andrews was named a preseason all-SEC second-team pick by Athlon, and there’s a good bet the media and coaches will also put him on the list. Andrews has started every game at center for Georgia since the start of the 2012 season, and while he hasn’t been perfect, he’s been the most reliable linemen. His interior blocking was an underrated factor in J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas having some success as freshmen. Last year, Georgia at least had starting guard Chris Burnette as a fallback option at center. This year the backup is the inexperienced Hunter Long, or a redshirt freshman. Andrews must be healthy and probably needs to be even better in order to take pressure off the young guards.
QUOTABLE: “He’s done very well. He’s gotten better all the way around. I see him playing harder and longer, and I see him being very confident in directing his teammates into different blocking schemes that the center has to make a lot of calls on. He’s just finished more blocks, in my opinion. He’s running his feet longer and buried guys more. He’s gotten a little more movement at the point – just all of those things. If you just keep getting a little better as you go, it’s pretty impressive. David, as we know, is not the biggest guy, but he’s strong, athletic and smart. He’s a good player.” – Head coach Mark Richt, late last season.
BEST CASE: Andrews finishes his career on a starting streak of 40-plus games (it’s 27 entering this season), and goes from reliable to outstanding. He proves the anchor and emotional leader of a line that goes from inconsistent to good. As a result, Todd Gurley and the tailbacks have holes to rack up even more yardage, and Hutson Mason has time in the pocket to equal Aaron Murray’s single-season numbers.
WORST CASE: Besides injury? Andrews has an inconsistent senior season, not helped by the inexperience at the guard spots. Georgia’s line is again the weak link of the offense, and the production of the skill players suffers as a result.
FINAL WORD: There were some doubts about Andrews entering 2012 because of his size, but his leadership and tenacity have overcome that. But he also had the luxury of experience beside him at each guard spot. For that reason, this year may be Andrews’ biggest test.