ATHENS -- In the SEC, games are won in the trenches. Both lines need to be athletic enough to move the other side off the line of scrimmage and free up their teammates to make plays.
At least on one side of the ball, Georgia appears golden. The Bulldogs’ offensive line paved the way for an average of 257.8 rushing yards per game a year ago, which ranked eighth in the nation. Quarterbacks were sacked only 17 times in 2014, which tied for the 17th best mark in the NCAA. Four starters return from last season’s unit, although losing center David Andrews could hurt.
The defensive line, however, is a different story.
The group up front must replace Ray Drew and Mike Thornton in the rotation, although the Bulldogs appear to have some talented pieces in play. For the defensive line, finding the right rotation early in the season will be key.
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The OL players: John Theus, Kolton Houston, Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow are all back to a Georgia offensive line that will begin the year among the nation’s best. Kublanow, however, will open preseason camp at center as opposed to left guard, where he started each game a year ago. Georgia head coach Mark Richt was complimentary of Kublanow’s ability to play center and thinks he has the body suited for the position. Filling Kublanow’s spot at left guard, at least in early August, will be former top 10 offensive line recruit Isaiah Wynn. Richt also believes Pyke could stretch out to tackle if the situation needed him to do so.
The DL players: On the summer depth chart, Sterling Bailey, John Atkins and Josh Dawson were listed as the three starting defensive linemen. Of course, that could change rather quickly with freshman Trenton Thompson’s arrival. Thompson was one of the nation’s highest-rated recruits regardless of position and figures to see immediate playing time. Freshman early enrollee Jonathan Ledbetter could see some time in the rotation, as could his brother, sophomore Joseph Ledbetter. Senior Chris Mayes, who had eight starts in 2013, is another player Georgia could plug in the middle if needed.
OL expectations: Georgia’s offensive line had its way with just about every defensive line it faced a year ago. Even in losses to South Carolina, Florida and Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs averaged 184 rushing yards. The offensive line will be expected to be as strong as it was a year ago in opening holes for Nick Chubb and company to run through. The line, with the help of strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke, has trimmed down and should be in enough shape if Georgia wants to push the tempo.
DL expectations: Needing to solidify the front, a lot could be asked out of Thompson early. The defensive line will receive plenty of help from arguably the SEC’s best group of outside linebackers. But if the defensive line encounters trouble shedding single blocks, the outside linebackers will wind up in trouble. Thompson enters the college football landscape at 6-4 and 293 pounds, meaning he at least has the size to play nose tackle in conference play.
Outlook: The only thing that could disrupt Georgia’s offensive line would be injuries. If healthy, this has the makings of a group that could replicate the success it had in 2014, when defenses simply couldn’t stop what the Bulldogs wanted to do. Depth and experience behind Georgia’s offensive line are a concern, which makes it imperative to avoid injury.
Georgia’s defensive front doesn’t necessarily need to be elite. It just needs to occupy blockers to free the linebackers up to do work. If Thompson comes in and performs as advertised, the Bulldogs should have enough up front to make things difficult on opposing offenses.