Gainesville – Georgia coach Mark Richt didn’t shed any more light on the sudden departure of A.J. Harmon on Tuesday, but he acknowledged that his loss was yet another blow to a precariously thin offensive line.
Richt was here at the Gainesville Civic Center to speak at a “UGA Day” alumni gathering. Beforehand he spoke with reporters about Harmon, a junior offensive tackle from Jefferson County who left the program Tuesday for “personal reasons.”
Asked if he could expound on the reason for Harmon’s departure, Richt quipped, “No, that’s why you say it’s personal reasons. That’s all I can tell you about that. I wish him the best. Good kid.”
Harmon (6-5, 320), a rising junior, projected as a possible starter at right tackle and was going to be at least a primary backup at both right and left tackle. Coupled with the loss of starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a season-ending knee injury and other injury issues, the Bulldogs’ situation on the offensive line is potentially troublesome.
“Well it’s less,” Richt said of the depth on the line. “It’s just going to be an opportunity for someone else. We have confidence that Justin [Anderson] and Cordy [Glenn] play tackle. We believe that [guard] Kenarious Gates can play tackle if need be. . . . We’re getting confidence in Kolton Houston’s ability to play football for us. I would think if something happened to one of the tackles and Gates had to go outside, Kolton would be the next guy inside.”
The problems begin after that.
Georgia thought it had recruited its future tackles the previous two years in Austin Long and Brent Benedict. But both former five-star prospects have incurred serious injury problems that have delayed their ability to contribute.
Long (6-5, 302), a redshirt sophomore, had to have back surgery shortly after arriving in Athens from Memphis. He has basically recovered from that injury before suffering a partially torn pectoral muscle early in spring practice.
“I think the jury is still out on Austin right now just because of the injuries and lack of productivity to this point,” Richt said. “I’m not sure whether he’d ready to go at this point. By the time camp is over, he may get to the point that we’re comfortable enough in him.”
Benedict (6-5, 301), a redshirt freshman, had to have a complete knee reconstruction his senior season at The Bolles School in Jacksonville. He, too, should have been sufficiently recovered by now.
“We had him pegged as at least a right tackle when we signed him,” Richt said. “He was really a tremendous high school football player. Then he has an injury where he gets not only an ACL but nerve damage. He’s having trouble triggering his foot and he’s still trying to recover from that.”
Dallas Lee, a sophomore guard from Buford, is experiencing asthma-like symptoms that may or may not be due to mold issues.
Richt said there’s a chance they may have to turn to true freshmen for depth. Georgia signed three tackles – Watts Dantzler, Zach DeBell and Xzavier Ward – and five offensive linemen overall.
“I think we’ve got enough guys who can line up and play football at a very high level,” Richt said. “But you’d like to have more depth by now. You’d like to have more guys waiting in the wings for their opportunity. I’d rather not go through another cycle of freshmen . . . It’s really not ideal. But if that’s what it takes that’s what we’ll do.”
As for Harmon, there are strong indications his departure was academic related. Harmon had to sit out the Liberty Bowl with an academically-related suspension. His next destination is unknown.
“He called me one day last week and said he was leaving Georgia and that’s all I know,” said J.B Arnold, Harmon’s coach at Jefferson County High. “I told him that we needed to sit down and talk before he did anything, but I haven’t heard from him since.”
Harmon signed with Georgia as a defensive lineman in 2008. He was moved to offensive line that fall and redshirted. He played in three games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and four as a backup offensive lineman last year.