Coming out of spring, Georgia coaches know it’s what’s up front that counts

The spotlight is on the offensive line, particularly John Theus. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The spotlight is on the offensive line, particularly John Theus. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The thing about spring intrasquad games that match the first-string offense against the first-string defense is that no matter which side wins, it’s going to raise concerns.

If the starting offense runs up the score, you worry about the defense. If the defense prevails, you wonder if your offense is all it’s cracked up to be.

Going into spring practice, most Georgia fans probably were more worried about the rebuilding effort on the defense, particularly the defensive line, than with the offense, which returns all but one of last year’s starters from a record-setting unit.

But after the defense-led Black team won the G-Day game, a lot of questions have been raised about the subpar effort given by the starting offensive line that played for the Reds.

ESPN analyst and former offensive lineman Ed Cunningham has probably been the most negative, saying the Dogs’ starters “played horribly.”

“If I was Mark Richt,” Cunningham said, “I’d be very happy about my defense at this moment. But going into a schedule that starts with Clemson and then goes into the SEC, if I’m Georgia, I’m very concerned about the performance of my offensive line.”

Most critics haven’t gone that far, but when the Bulldogs returned to the practice field Tuesday offensive line coach Will Friend had two of the starters whose effort had most been questioned, John Theus and Kenarious Gates, working with the second-stringers.

It seems likely this was more a reprimand for those two players rather than a permanent demotion, but the message was pretty loud and clear. As the Athens Banner-Herald reported, Friend was not happy with the nine sacks given up at G-Day, even if offensive coordinator Mike Bobo did generously lay the blame for some of them on quarterbacks holding the ball too long.

Friend said he didn’t think the starting offense “played with enough effort” and “didn’t play physical enough, didn’t play with the kind of effort we expected out of them.”

Theus may have made the SEC All-Freshman team while starting every game at right tackle last year, but after experimenting with the player at left tackle some this spring, Friend saw plenty of room for improvement. “We’d like for him to play better,” the assistant coach said.

Friend is pretty sure his returning interior linemen — center David Andrews and guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette (who missed spring drills with a shoulder injury) will hold on to their starting spots. But he warned tackles Theus and Gates: “They better be one of the top five or they won’t play. Both of them have got to play better. They know that, and we’ll go from there.”

Last season, it was the starting defense, which was loaded with NFL prospects who elected to return for another year of college ball, that was expected to be worldbeaters. Unfortunately, much of the time they seemed complacent and didn’t live up to their billing.

Mike Thornton appears to be the favorite to start at nose guard. (University of Georgia)

Mike Thornton appears to be the favorite to start at nose guard. (University of Georgia)

This year, there’s lot of young, inexperienced talent on the defense and the overall impression from the spring is that they’re hungry and battling for playing time, which paid off in the G-Day game.

It’s still far from certain who’ll wind up as the starters on Georgia’s defensive line, though Mike Thornton seems to be the leader at nose guard, but there appears to be some depth developing there. That can only be a good thing, as last year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and then-DL coach Rodney Garner tended to keep the starters in too long, rather than rotating snaps, resulting in the line wearing down in the second half, particularly against the run. New DL coach Chris Wilson has vowed to play more defensive linemen this year.

Meanwhile, it appears the Georgia coaching staff is trying to avoid having the veteran offense suffer the same sort of letdown seen with last year’s defensive starters.

Even Richt, who pronounced himself generally pleased with the spring progress of his team, seemed to be trying to light a bit of a motivational fire under the offensive line.

“Is the offensive line as hungry this year as they were a year ago?,” Richt said at his post-spring game press conference. “I don’t know. We’re trying to create that hunger by letting them know you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to earn it again.”

Richt said he hopes “that the offense understands that last year was last year, and you can’t say, ‘Well, we were really good last year, we don’t lose many guys so therefore we’re going to be great this year.’ That’s not always the case.”

“Coming out of this spring, we still don’t know who will play where and who will start,” the head coach said. “We have a good idea who is getting ready. But in terms of starting positions, I can’t think of a year where we’ve had more uncertainty. I feel like we’ve got the right ingredients and the right talent base. It’s just a matter of who wins it and if they’re mature enough to play well early enough with the way the season begins.”

Last year, Richt noted, Georgia was simply worried about having enough players to field a starting OL. This year, “we’ve got more guys and it becomes, which five will it be? We’ve got six, seven, eight, maybe nine guys who can play.”

His challenge to his players: “If you’re working out this summer thinking you’ve got something nailed down, you better recheck your thinking. We’re going to have 29 practices in the fall and probably about at least 20 of them before we nail down who’s going to start across the board. It’s going to be a lot of competition.”

I like that approach and I think it will pay off in the long run.

COACH BUSTS SOME MOVES

Besides the offensive line and a big day for receiver Jonathan Rumph, the thing most fans were talking about coming out of the G-Day game last week was that “Dawg Bite” video featuring David Richt, Colt Ford and David’s dad Mark joining in on some of the choreographed moves. I’ve heard from several readers who wanted to find the video online. It’s on YouTube now, and you can check it out here.

JUNKYARD MAIL CALL

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at  junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

Find me on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter.

— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

80 comments Add your comment

ARdawg

April 13th, 2013
9:35 am

Tatman

April 13th, 2013
9:43 am

This is so going to fuel the “Murray sucks…put Mason in” crowd! For that crowd I say, come back next season then. We all know that Murray is going to start this season unless injury occurs….Oh, and GO DAWGS!

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
9:50 am

I think Bill King is the best journalist on the AJC. Finally something about the Dawgs and not that stupid golf. The o- line always starts out slow, we can’t afford for them to do that this year or we going start the year out at 0-2. Even splitting the first 2 games is not going to cut it this year. If Richt is going to ever win us a MNC……looks like he is going to have to do it the hard way. Because last year was the easiest schedule in the Richt era and still fell short….I’m praying we get back to Atlanta again this year….but I have a lot of doubts

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
9:52 am

I’m so sick of those mason fans…I like mason but he is not ever going to start over Murray in any level of football….weather it’s little league or the NFL.

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
9:55 am

I will go to the first game….but if we are not in the real silver britches by the second game…I will refuse to purchase tickets for that game. It’s so stupid that Mcgarity can’t pay Nike pay enough money to get us the real silver pants..geez it’s makes me sick

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
11:25 am

What the hell is wrong with you people…no replies to the best blog of the day. I gess you pathetic fools have your fatt buts glued to the worst sport in American history. I hope a hurricane hit the masters this afternoon

Pdx

April 13th, 2013
1:22 pm

Whiny little bugger aren’t ya?

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
2:06 pm

Who are you??? Just another worth less drifter huh??? Btw….Richt owns Paul moobs johnson

ugafan618

April 13th, 2013
2:19 pm

Great article, Bill. I think the experiment moving Theus to LT had more to do with his poor showing than “want” or “effort.” I’m confident that he and the other lineman will work out hard this summer and continue to gel. People need to keep in mind a few things about the offensive showing. 1) Gurley and Marshall barely played – if the defense knows they’ll be passing, they can pin their ears back and come after the QB more freely. 2) Murray played only a handful of possessions and every score recorded by the “Red” team was while Murray was in there. Hutson did a nice job leading the 2nd team offense and feel “OK” about him if Murray were to go down, but we definitely know who the starter is.

As for the person hating on The Masters… give it a shot. Georgia has already played the Spring Game, so there’s no reason to hate on the event that signifies the coming of Spring. Go Dawgs!

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
3:28 pm

I already gave golf a shot years ago….and it sucked then and still does now. Spring sports suck…..I need my Uga football!!! August can’t get here soon enough

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
4:01 pm

Baseball team lost again….when is Perno getting fired

DAWGMAN

April 13th, 2013
5:16 pm

Has anyone noticed that Nike has changed our school colors?

Bulldawg35

April 13th, 2013
5:37 pm

No they haven’t….are u blind??? They changed the numbers on the uniforms

RHall55

April 14th, 2013
6:48 am

Prediction….heard it here first…Coach Will Friend…will be the demise of the UGA Football Team…with his under-recruiting of OL…his inability to land more than John Theus as a top tier lineman…Brandon Shell, Antonio Richardson, Brandon Greene, Avery Young, Laremy Tunsil, Trenton Brown, V Alexander…..my question is: “Why does Will Friend have such a hard time recruiting African American OL?” Look @ the names above!!! Cannot succeed in the SEC this way!!

takedowndawg

April 14th, 2013
6:54 am

Will Friend is a major problem in our coaching staff. We normally have as large as or larger OL than Alabama, especially in ht. but our line can not seem to open consistent holes for our backs. The back must be slashing-cutback runners to get yards against better SEC defenses. We have settled three too long for three plus years under this under performer coach and his “two step polka” techniques..

roughrider

April 14th, 2013
7:35 am

We have not recruited for the O line in several years.

Bat

April 14th, 2013
7:59 am

A few questions?
a) Shouldn’t Murray be getting sacked 8-12x per year like Cox & Stafford did instead of 25-33x per season like Murray has–get rid of ball faster–make reads faster—hit secondary receivers quicker?
b) Shouldn’t Murray be making run audibles at the line to get the oline and rb’s into the position to succeed?
c) Is Friend qualified to coach the offensive line?
d) Is Chris Wilson the best dline coach out there—if so–why did his dline last season finish near the bottom at Miss St in sacks, tackles for loss, and against the rush?
e) Does Todd Grantham really know what he’s doing—why do teams score 30+ points on him in almost every big game over the last couple of year like SC, Alabama, and Nebraska in 2012, Boise, SC, LSU and Mich St in 2011? Why did his defense finish 79th against the rush?
f) Why do teams like Alabama have their rb’s going off for long runs in their Spring game, and their No 1 Qb throwing 4 td’s, when UGA’s top 2 rb’s combined for 23 yards and No 1 Qb only threw 2 td’s?
g) Why is UGA only winning 20% of big games, 2-10 vs. top 25 teams in the last 3 seasons?
h) Why are dline and oline not going in the 1st round of the NFL draft when the state of Georgia is one of the top 3 states for recruiting in the country–recruiting ills, and development issues?
I) Grantham’s defenses gave up 300 yards rushing in each of the last 4 games last year–what does this say about Grantham–could this be why he was looking for an NFL job in the off season?

Buzz-off

April 14th, 2013
8:01 am

Bulldawg35 @9:55 yesterday

Hey pal, give me a call and I’ll buy your tickets in a heartbeat. My love and support for the DAWGS is not based on the shade of silver of their britches!!!

Buzz-off

April 14th, 2013
8:03 am

Hey Bat
Got anything positive to offer?

Buzz-off

April 14th, 2013
8:06 am

Try this……
Why is Murray on the verge of setting scores of UGa, SEC and NCAA passing records while his team simultaneously has one of the best rushing attacks In the Country? Nibble on that one dude!!!

Bulldawg35

April 14th, 2013
8:13 am

Buzz-off

Bro mine does too…..but it’s just stupid that with all the money the university has it can’t purchase real silver britches…..Mcgarity is doing nothing

Bulldawg35

April 14th, 2013
9:40 am

I agree a lot with what BAT posted. Mostly because we have so many un known possibilities and unproven players and coaches.
Our best coaches are Richt….bobo and bryan McClendon. Every other coach on the team is suspect.

Mad Dog One

April 14th, 2013
10:39 am

Didn’t some of you see that the part of the O line played for both sides? GO DOGS GATA

ugafan618

April 14th, 2013
11:06 am

Some “fans” out there can’t say anything if it’s not a complaint. THEY are what most people see when they think of UGA fans and are the reason people rip on Georgia fans all the time. Do us all a favor and go cheer for Tech for a day or two and then you’ll realize what REAL problems are. Love the people complaining about the OL … Will Friend took an OL in year one that had to replace 3 starters and helped produce the best RB duo, highest scoring offense in UGA history, and most TD passes in UGA history. Can’t do those things without a good OL and they will be better this year.

Bulldawg35

April 14th, 2013
11:29 am

Ranking our coaching staff
1. Mark Richt
2.Mike Bobo
3.Bryan McClendon
4. Tony Ball
5. John Lilly
6. Will Friend
7.Scott Lactose
8.Ken Olvadotti
9.Todd Grantham
I couldn’t rank Chris Wilson because he is brand new…..if any of you disagree with this ranking….just don’t disagree, make your own list…if you don’t then just be a flicking idiot

Bulldawg35

April 14th, 2013
11:40 am

I remember how we got sacked 5 times in the first half of the ole miss game.
We couldn’t sustain many long time consuming drives, because our OL couldn’t run block consistently enough to allow us to do so.
Our offense was best went it hit the home run plays…instead of relying on the OL to run block. Don’t get me wrong now the o-line did have its moments of good run blocking….but they have to be more consistent and blok for all four quarters

FRED Russo

April 14th, 2013
12:05 pm

In the 25-30 years i have been watching UGA we almost never have a great offencive line!

takedowndawg

April 14th, 2013
12:32 pm

ugafan618, I want to poise you a question regarding Gurley and Marshall running accomplishments. You apparently are not accustomed to looking at blocking assignments and how effective the linemen are. Can you imagine Gurley and Marshall how effective they could have been with an Alabama line? They achieved their yards in spite of, rather than because of, Friend’s “two step polka” blocking scheme. Plus, athletes who have been too a Will Friend OL say that he ass attitude and that the young men at the camp said they would not play for him even if offered. Bad attitudes are remembered and shared.

WindMill

April 14th, 2013
3:36 pm

Ranking the UGA coaching staff
1. Mike Bobo
2. Tony Ball
3. John Lilly
4. Mark Richt
5. Scott Lakatos
6. Todd Grantham
7. 3 way tie for last between Will Friend, Ken Olvidotti, and Chris Wilson

UGA’s OLine and Dline coaches are probably the worst in the SEC.
Friend’s oline went for 23 yards rushing and gave up 9 sacks in the Spring game with 10 starters back, and 9 new starters on defense. Friend’s oline also gave up far too many sacks in 2012.
Chris Wilson’s dline was the worst in the SEC in 2012 in sacks, tackles for loss, and against the run.
Olividotti’s ILB’s can’t tackle or sack.
Grantham’s d gives up too many points and can\t stop the run.

WindMill

April 14th, 2013
3:41 pm

McClendon would be either 6th or tied in a 4 way for last. Generally speaking, his rushing production isn’t in the top 3 although he’s had a lot of talent to work with. And the passblocking is horrendous.

WindMill

April 14th, 2013
3:51 pm

Scott Lakatos has finished in the top 20 in pass defense 2010-2012. His rankings get better each year, 18th in 2010, 10th in 2011, 8th in nation in 2012. He’s one of the best coaches on the team and the best coach on defense.

Grantham’s OLB’s have been very good, he’s an excellent OLB position coach, but a lousy defensive head coach.

Georgia’s coaching talent is heavily weighted to the offense–might be the best set of offensive coaches in the SEC except for Will Friend who clearly doesn’t belong

Will Friend is absolutely a terrible coach. See GDay stats if you have ANY doubts.

the defensive coaches at dline and ILB are as bad as it gets

but Lakatos and Grantham are two of the best position defensive coaches in the nation.

Bulldawg35

April 14th, 2013
4:31 pm

I agree with your opinions…..windmill. Jury is still out on will friend

RedDust

April 14th, 2013
6:40 pm

Alabama exposed the weak coaches on defense in the front 7 in def line & inside linebackers Coaches. Both coaches got exposed, and Saban’s backs simply steamrolled the UGA inside front 6, as did GT, GSouthern, Nebraska, etc.

UGA defensive inside front 6 will be the target for Clemson, certainly Spurrier & LSU will attack it, as will Florida.

Saban really exposed the inside of the defense UGA front 6, and teams will keep hammering it until UGA stops the run. Saban in the 2nd half stopped trying to beat UGA’s defensive strength at passrush and pass coverage, and started pounding the weak front 7, who had some of the worst run tackling technique I’ve ever seen.

Inept Chris Wilson & ineffective Kirk Olavadotti will be challenged until they prove they can stop the run because every deecent head coach sees those 2 guys as the weak links on the defensive coaching staff.

RedDust

April 14th, 2013
6:50 pm

Mark Richt’s No 1 job is to keep the team hungry like Saban does so well. And let’s face it, Richt’s been too nice and too loyal to underperformance in the past. It remains to be seen whether this offense, with 10 returning starters lives up to its\s expectations, or like the defense last year, costs UGA a National Championship.

It all depends on how Mark Richt handles the entitlement problem so rampant at UGA. Can he shake the team up and get them out of complacency and hungrier than last year like Saban does every year?

Mark Richt has a lousy track record against big teams, rarely wins when he’s the underdog or favorite against a top 10 or top 20 ranked team, maybe 2-11 record since 2010. He is not doing a good job at his No 1 job.

Hopefully that will change and Richt will learn something from Saban.

RED DOG 77

April 14th, 2013
11:05 pm

The Bulldog Oline will be just fine this year. The only thing neded is a hardworking, trouble free Summer………..and that goes for the whole team………..GO DOGS

WDE

April 15th, 2013
9:50 am

If the coaches keep this you have to earn playing time to play and we stay healthy I think we do pretty darn good this year. And for everyone pointing at the defensive coaches being out coached by Bama , folks we hit a lot of those backs for what should have been little or no gain , so we were coaching them right on where to be but not on how to wrap up.

Columbus Dawg

April 15th, 2013
10:18 am

Two things helped Bama’s run game in 2012, one was the fact that they could hold on nearly every running play with no flags thrown, and two, Lacey is a beast to tackle. While it is true that the linebackers were often in the right place, Lacey was just not going down right away. The Bama fans will not admit it, but they are going to miss Lacey more than Richardson. They will miss the departed offensive linemen as well. I have not heard too much out of Spurrier yet, but he has a heck of a team for 2013. Former UGA recruiting target Mike Davis will do well at running back to replace Lattimore. The South Carolina game will be UGA’s biggest challenge in Sanford Stadium since the Blackout game against Bama in 2008.

dawgs01

April 15th, 2013
12:37 pm

i liked the footage on the video from the games but it was a lame song and the guy with the chain around his neck doing the singing seemed uncomfortable and awkward.

[...] game raises questions about offensive line. The Bulldogs have lots of openings on [...]

Bulldawg35

April 15th, 2013
4:09 pm

Yeah I expect sc to beat us again….how sad. But you are right Bama was holding almost the whole game

Bulldawg35

April 15th, 2013
6:10 pm

If we lose to sc again….I will become physically ill….I want the whole coaching staff to be fired if we lose.

Ernie

April 15th, 2013
6:56 pm

By most accounts, the Dawgs have a legitimate shot at playing for a National Championship this season, right? So, why would Coach Richt think it necessary to create “hunger” within the minds of the O-Line (or any other part of the team, for that matter)? If these guys don’t have a ravenous appetite for what’s to come this season then there is something seriously wrong with this whole team. I don’t have a problem with motivating the team to do their very best but I hope Richt does’t seriously believe that he has to build hunger in these guys.

Ernie

April 15th, 2013
7:05 pm

Oh, one more thing…It’s been said many times before but Richt needs to get after the players big time. He is a nice guy, a great guy but you know what? I think it is fair to say that Alabama’s HC is a nice guy, a great guy, too! But, from what I hear he doesn’t hesitate getting after his players big time. Richt is afraid he will lose the love his players have for him if he gets tough with them. I think, more than love, players need to feel RESPECT for their coach. They need to be gotten after and I think they like that as long as it is done with love and respect. My mom used to get after me, not with a switch or paddle, nothing physical, and had she not done so, I don’t think I would have the respect and appreciation for her that I do today. Woof, woof, Sic’em, Coach Richt!

Whamo

April 15th, 2013
7:13 pm

Ernie, you didn’t watch the GDay game. The UGA #1 “hungry” offense got less than 25 yards rushing, and the “hungry” offensive line gave up nearly 10 sacks. 4th year Qb starter AMurray only threw 2 td’s all day in his 5th GDay game. Hungry is Alabama. AJ McCarron threw for 5 td’s in his spring game, Zach Mettenberger, threw for 6 td’s in the LSU Spring game. 10 starters back and the #1 offense throws for 2 td’s? UGA Hungry?

Whamo

April 15th, 2013
7:23 pm

UGA had a shot at the National Championship last year, and look how the defense played against Alabama, KNOWING if they won this ONE GAME, they’d be playing Notre Dame for the whole enchilada. Defense had all these starters coming back, how’d they react to that opportunity? Gave up 300+ rush yards in each of the last 4 games. Coughed up 350 yards rushing to Bama in the game that could have put em through. The defense started believing their own press last year and got their behinds kicked in a bunch of games, much like the offense did on GDay. What you did last year doesn’t matter this year. It’s 0-0 again. Texas A/M is coming after a ring, so is South Carolina, so is LSU, so is Florida, so is Clemson, so is Alabama. They all think it’s their time. You take off, or quit, on one play, like the last play against Bama, and the whole season is done. Bama just wanted it more last year. They were hungry.

Whamo

April 15th, 2013
7:29 pm

If the defense plays with the hunger they showed against Florida, they’ll have a great year. The offense hasn’t played hungry for all 4 quarters in a really big game since Murray’s been at Georgia. For whatever reason, Murray hasn’t inspired himself or his offensive teammates to play their best in big games. Looks like a leadership issue.

Bulldawg35

April 15th, 2013
8:59 pm

Whamo…..G-day doesn’t mean anything…..we already know that the o-line will be good but not dominant…we have to much depth there to be poor. We already know that the defense will struggle in some areas. Because of all the new starters….we already know we will lose at least 2 games….seems to be the magic number for Richt. Also if we lose Lorenzo carter to Bama….I’m going to paint myself red and stick a crow bar up my nose….damn it!!!!!

DAWGMAN

April 16th, 2013
12:43 am

I say did anyone notice that Nike has changed the colors of our football teams uniform. Is Nike so poor that they are unable to purchase the correct UGA school colors.
This some major BS.
Bulldog35 check your meds + your eyesight is letting you down dude.

DAWGMAN

April 16th, 2013
1:09 am

Why do we have to accommodate Nike? Who said OK to this breech of school tradition? What have they gained by this?
Some some bodies need to be double dipped and deep fat fried for sixty minutes.
When you give up tradition for a little walking around money, you have exposed your fanny as a greedy, irresponsible slacker.

Bulldawg35

April 16th, 2013
7:17 am

Dawgman……WTH are you talking about….you did say they changed the colors. Are 100 years old and that senile………you are worthless.