ATHENS — There are a lot of question marks along Georgia’s offensive line. But there is at least one thing we know for certain: Kenarious Gates is going to be an integral part of it.
That has pretty much been that case with Gates ever since he showed up. Though he was a late addition to the 2010 recruiting class — he snapped up UGA’s last-minute offer on the eve of national signing day — Gates started three games as a true freshman and has played in every game ever since for which he was physically able.
Now a 6-foot-5, 328-pound junior, Gates’ role becomes even more significant this season. He opened spring camp as the Bulldogs’ first option at the all-important left tackle position. He is heir apparent to Cordy Glenn, who has graduated and moved on to the NFL after protecting quarterback Aaron Murray’s blind side last season.
It’s a role Gates saw coming and one he is more than happy to accept.
“I knew as soon as the bowl got over with that was a position I needed to get familiar with,” said Gates, who started nine games at left guard last season and missed two with an ankle injury. “I knew I’d probably be the guy to pick that up. So before spring ever got here I’ve been working on it, trying to get better at it.”
Gates is getting plenty of competition. Junior Austin Long is getting some looks at left tackle and the Bulldogs brought in Mark Beard from junior college to compete at that and other positions. Later this summer, 5-star signee John Theus of Jacksonville will join the fray.
For the most part, it appears to be Gates’ position to lose. He has much work to do after playing guard for the Bulldogs the past two seasons.
“It’s not that big of a difference,” he said. “You’ve just got to be quicker to the outside and to the inside. I’m somewhat used to it because I played it throughout high school and I’ve practiced at it here. . . . You’ve got to be an athlete. You’ve got to have quick feet and be athletic to play the position because it’s the blind side of the quarterback. It’s one of the most important positions out there.”
Whatever flaws and imperfections Gates may have as a left tackle, they figure to get exposed during this camp. In the spring, the Bulldogs always scrimmage the No. 1 offense and defense against each other. That means Gates is often matched up with All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who led the SEC in quarterback sacks this past season.
“Jarvis Jones is one of the best outside linebackers in the nation and we go against each other every day,” Gates said. “He helps me and I help him all the time. We’re going against each other throughout every practice. He makes me better; I make him better.”
Georgia is quite fortunate to have Gates on board. He was originally committed to Kentucky but switched when the Bulldogs offered him the day before national signing day in 2010. UGA came forward with an offer only after a couple of other prospects turned it down.
Gates ended up playing seven games in 2010 with three starts at right guard.
“I’m here now and I’m glad to be here; I never looked back at the way all that happened,” Gates said. “I’m happy to play here and now I have the opportunity to play my natural position.”
Gates played his entire career at Greenville High at left tackle. He calls “The Blind Side” his favorite movie and Michael Oher, the inspiration for said movie, his favorite player.
So if anybody is anxious about Gates playing left tackle, it’s not Gates.
“I’ve got to get better with my footwork and with my hands,” Gates said. “But overall I feel like I’ve done good there. . . . They wouldn’t put me there if they didn’t think I could do it. They’ve believed in me and trusted me to fill other positions.”
Now the Bulldogs are looking for Gates to come through once again.