Yes, three starters departed Georgia’s offensive line after last season. And yet as preseason practice begins, there’s a sense of stability and clarity on what has been in recent years the biggest question mark on the offense.
You have a three-year starter at center. You have three other players basically guaranteed a starting spot. There is probably more depth on this year’s offensive line than there has been in years. For all the chaos of Georgia’s offseason, none of it touched the offensive line, and it’s reflected on the depth chart.
Spring practice was very productive for offensive line coach Will Friend, making it a less daunting task for this preseason. If all goes well, he can pick his starting five and top backups by mid-August and then ratchet up the planning for Clemson and South Carolina.
Here’s a look at each spot, and where things stand:
STARTER: John Theus, Jr. or Mark Beard, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Watts Dantzler, Sr.; Zach DeBell, Jr.
NEW GUYS: Dyshon Sims, Fr.; Kendall Baker, Fr.
WHAT TO WATCH: Theus is going to start at one of the tackle spots as long as he doesn’t fall flat on his face in the preseason. If things are clean and easy Theus grabs the left tackle spot and Beard moves to left guard, the lone unsettled spot. But things might not be clean and easy. Much of it depends on Beard, and whether he proves worthy of a starting spot at left tackle or left guard. It also depends on whether someone else emerges at left guard, and how Kolton Houston looks at right tackle and left guard. Dantzler, who has had doses of playing time the past three years, would love to finally break through to a starting spot, but it’s going to be hard. His best chance may be Friend deciding to substitute as he did last season, expanding the rotation to seven or eight total linemen. The performance of Dantzler and other backups in the preseason will dictate whether that happens.
STARTER: Kolton Houston, Sr., or Beard
OTHERS RETURNING: Brandon Kublanow, Soph.; Billy Seward, R-Fr. (walk-on); Michael Scullin, R-Fr. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: Isaiah Wynn, Fr.
WHAT TO WATCH: Houston played last season at both left guard and right tackle, and Beard played both left tackle and left guard. Maybe Friend decides to keep moving them around, maybe he settles on something more concrete during the preseason. Then there’s Kublanow, who appeared in nine games last year and began the spring with a good chance to earn a starting spot. Instead it was Greg Pyke who grabbed one of the guard spots, leaving Kublanow some work to do this preseason. You also can’t rule out Wynn becoming a factor, although it’s hard to see that happening immediately. Jake Edwards, the other freshman guard, tore his ACL during summer workouts.
STARTER: David Andrews, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Josh Cardiello, R-Fr.; Glenn Welch, R-Fr. (walk-on).
NEW GUYS: None.
WHAT TO WATCH: The fact Cardiello is listed as the backup center on Georgia’s latest depth chart (which was in the media guide) was very intriguing. It points to the possibility that he’s being groomed as Andrews’ replacement. Hunter Long was the main backup center the past two years, but his services weren’t needed. Now Long is just listed at guard. Glenn Welch, a walk-on and brother of former Georgia backup QB Parker Welch, is listed as the third-team center. Perhaps it’s looking too much into it, but the fact is someone has to replace Andrews next year (the Bulldogs hope it’s not sooner) and the preseason is a prime opportunity to give someone a chance to be the heir apparent. Cardiello appears to have a leg up.
STARTER: Greg Pyke, Soph.
OTHERS RETURNING: Hunter Long, Jr.; Aulden Bynum, R-Fr.; Thomas Swilley, R-Fr. (walkon).
NEW GUYS: Wynn.
WHAT TO WATCH: Pyke’s ascendance in the spring was the biggest surprise on the line. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose the starting spot if he struggles next month. After all, his game experience is limited to special teams (and only two games at that). But if Pyke plays the way he did in the spring it will be big for the line, which needs to feel good about at least one starting guard spot. Then the intrigue becomes whether a freshman – Bynum or Wynn – looks good enough to grab one of the second-team spots.
STARTER: Theus or Kolton Houston, Sr.
OTHERS RETURNING: Xzavier Ward, Jr.
NEW GUYS: Sims, Baker.
WHAT TO WATCH: Again with the dominoes. If Theus and Houston both look settled at the tackle spots, then that means Houston is at right tackle and Beard has to beat out Kublanow for left guard. But if Beard plays really well at left tackle, then Theus shifts to right tackle and Houston to left guard. This could all get settled the first two weeks of preseason or Friend decides to make it a week-to-week thing when the season starts. Then there’s also Dantzler, looking for playing time somewhere, and Ward, still trying to salvage something from an injury-plagued career. Finally, Sims and Baker have a chance to compete for a second-team spot.
Next up: Defensive line.