ATHENS – Technically it’s just bowl practice. But for Georgia’s offensive lineman, the month of December may seem more like preseason camp.
The Bulldogs’ offensive coaches made a pronouncement regarding the line almost as soon as the SEC Championship game ended: Every position is up for grabs and the starting lineup will be determined during the 15 practices leading up to the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl.
“That’s how we put it to those guys,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “The five that are going to play, we’ll figure out between now and the bowl who’s going to be where. I do think the line played extremely well this year and got better. But there’s always room for improvement, and any time there’s competition that’s good for the group.”
The Bulldogs were seemed stable up front this season. They played just three different starting lineups – including the same for the first nine games – and shuffled it around only because of injuries. The primary lineup included sophomore David Andrews at center, juniors Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette at the guards and junior Kenarious Gates and freshman John Theus at left and right tackle, respectively.n But the Bulldogs began to rotate in sophomore Mark Beard at left tackle increasingly toward the end of the season and would slide Gates inside to left guard.
Line coach Will Friend also said he’s giving a hard look to players who didn’t get a lot of game-action during the season. Before wet weather impeded practices Sunday and Monday, the Bulldogs full-contact, graded scrimmages featuring mainly non-starters. Austin Long, Watts Dantzler, Greg Pyke and Xzavier Ward that have reportedly stood out in those sessions.
“They were told when they came back from finals that .the people that perform the best would play and have a chance to start,” Friend said. “So we’ve mixed some guys in at some different spots just to look at some better combinations, things you probably wouldn’t be able to do in a (game) week.
“Like we said from Day One, our goal is to play with the best five. So maybe (experimenting with) a couple of different lineups will provide a chance to do that.”
While some of the experimentation is for the bowl matchup with Nebraska, the Bulldogs are also looking ahead to next season. Georgia will return its entire corps of offensive linemen, but it’s also recruiting several blue-chip prospects, including five-star left tackle prospect Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Fla. Friend indicated that he would prefer to keep Theus at right tackle, meaning any changes will likely come on the left side.
“Obviously, Ken can play (left tackle) and we can play at a good level with Ken,” Friend said. “Now is Ken suited better for guard if somebody’s a better left tackle? Maybe. Mark Beard has improved some and done some good things athletically, but he’s got a ways to go. Maybe he’s more of a guard of somebody’s better at left tackle.
“But we’ll play the best five. Our best tackle will probably be the left tackle, whoever it is.”
Bobo aspires to be head coach
Bobo tends to be very evasive will talk turns to his interest in any other job than the one he currently has. But his name surfaced in several head coaching searching this winter and he admitted Monday that his ambition is to one day become a head coach.
“I think we all aspire to run your own program one day,” said Bobo, who has been Georgia’s offensive coordinator since 2007 and quarterbacks coach since 2001. “But I’m just constantly trying to learn and get better. If stuff like that happens, it happens. If not, not. I’m just really worried about what I can control and that’s coaching here right now.”
Bobo bristled when asked specifically if he interviewed for any positions this year. “I’m not going to comment on anything other than that,” he said.
Prove it on practice field
Redshirt sophomore tailback Ken Malcome recently expressed discontent over his role as a backup to freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Bobo had some advice for him on Monday.
“If he wants more playing time, he’s got to prove it on the practice field,” he said. “He’s given opportunities every day. He’s got a great chance, like we talked about with the offensive line, to earn some playing time in this bowl practice. But the best guys are going to play regardless of age.”
Etc. . . .
Inclement weather forced the Bulldogs indoors on Monday. The offensive and defensive units alternated utilizing the Nalley Multipurpose Room, which is not large enough to accommodate the entire team. It’s the second day in a row wet weather altered Georgia’s practice plans. Storms canceled Sunday’s practice and the Bulldogs ended up playing whiffle ball instead. . . . Linebacker Ryne Rankin, an early enrollee from Orlando, went through his first practices with the team over the weekend. “He’s only been here one official practice,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He ran around like a freshman, but he did a good job.”