ATHENS -- Like the first player off the bench in basketball, Hunter Long is the sixth man of Georgia’s offensive line.
If an injury happens to someone up front, Long comes in. He would step in at guard or center if an injury occurred there. If a tackle goes down, starting left guard Isaiah Wynn is the likely candidate to kick out, with Long filling Wynn’s spot inside.
It’s not a task Long is taking lightly, given the fact that an injury, in some fashion, is bound to happen on the offensive line at some point this season.
“I know my job, know my role,” Long said. “I’m going to do the best I can with it.”
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Long was competing to be Georgia’s starting center, a position he has played most of his life. During the spring, Wynn and junior Brandon Kublanow were the frontrunners for the center job with Long behind them. Once offensive line coach Rob Sale placed Wynn as his starting left guard, the job came down to Long and Kublanow.
Sale decided on Kublanow, a scrappy lineman who started all 13 games at left guard a year ago, for the job. But even though Kublanow is the No. 1 center, Long has taken reps there to ensure he’s ready if called upon, such as when last year’s starting center David Andrews sustained an ankle injury in a 38-20 loss to Florida.
Long entered for Andrews and was on the line when running back Nick Chubb ran for a 39-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“It’s definitely good knowing that if one of us goes down, one of us can swing and not miss a step,” Kublanow said. “It’s definitely good, it’s good competition for me. I learn from him; he learns from me.”
Sixth-year senior Kolton Houston said that it’s imperative for Long to be ready to go at a moment’s instance, especially early in the season.
“The one thing you get with veteran offensive linemen, our risk of injury goes up,” Houston said. “We’re all older guys. The sixth man has to be ready. Sale, he’s made an emphasis, especially in the beginning of the season, he’s going to want to roll some guys. That sixth and seventh guy, they have to be ready. They’re going to play some snaps in these first couple of ballgames.”
Long saw playing time in nine games a year ago but has yet to earn a start for the Bulldogs. The game experience should come in handy if he’s needed to step in for extended time. He’s earned the trust of his teammates and coaching staff.
Following Georgia’s first scrimmage, head coach Mark Richt said Long was the only member of the second-team offensive line who could step in with the first unit and keep cohesion.
“He’s played a lot of football,” right guard Greg Pyke said. “He’s been doing a great job all camp and Coach Sale trusts him like he does the ones. He’s been doing really well. It’s nice to have him in there with the twos. He knows exactly what to do so he’s been really helping those younger guys.”
Long was asked if he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to win the starting center job. He shrugged his shoulders slightly, possibly signaling the obvious, all while acknowledging the role he’s tasked with this season.
“That’s something I can’t really control,” Long said. “I just have to come out and do my part. I worked as hard as I possibly could this offseason, did everything I could to help the team and help Brandon move into that position.”