Building the line: UGA offensive front shows spring growth

Building the line: UGA offensive front shows spring growth

April 17th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray leads the Bulldogs against Tennessee on October 8, 2011.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

Georgia starting quarterback Aaron Murray had no need to audible after Saturday's G-Day game when asked which area of the team improved the most this spring.

"The offensive line," Murray quickly replied. "There is no question those guys are 10 times better. I feel like I've had plenty of time in the pocket, and that's something I'm not worried about."

Considering the Bulldogs had to replace three starters up front -- including Ben Jones, a four-year starting center, and left tackle Cordy Glenn, who could be an NFL first-round pick later this month -- that was the area with the most room for growth.

When the Bulldogs held their first of 15 spring practices March 20, the first-team front consisted of Kenarious Gates at left tackle, Kolton Houston at left guard, David Andrews at center, Chris Burnette at right guard and Watts Dantzler at right tackle. Gates, Andrews and Burnette were still in their respective roles at G-Day, but Houston had claimed the top spot at right tackle and Dallas Lee at left guard.

Dantzler, the former Dalton High standout, ended drills as the second-team right tackle.

"I think we did all right considering we lost some of the best guys in the country and were going up against one of the best defensive fronts in the country," Burnette said after G-Day. "There could be two or three first-rounders on that defensive line, but I think we got to know each other better, and we got more cohesive."

After routinely getting whipped in recent weeks by the veteran defensive front, the starting offensive line came alive on the second possession of G-Day, enabling Murray to engineer a 12-play, 75-yard march that culminated with Ken Malcome's 6-yard touchdown run. Isaiah Crowell had a pair of 6-yard runs on that drive, and Murray had a 20-yard completion to Justin Scott-Wesley and a 14-yard gain to Tavarres King.

"That was pretty impressive," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said of the lengthy possession.

There were not expected to be any concerns defensively with 10 starters back from a unit that finished fifth nationally last season in yardage allowed, but that changed in the weeks leading up to spring drills when cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith and safety Bacarri Rambo drew suspensions. Commings will miss the first two games, while Rambo has to sit out four according to his high-school coach, but Richt has not announced penalties for Rambo and Smith.

Establishing players to fill those roles became a chief chore for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and it appears Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann are the likely candidates at cornerback with Corey Moore the probable pick to step up for Rambo.

"They're not going to stop the season, so we've got to be ready to play," Grantham said. "We'll continue to evaluate these guys and look at the guys coming in, and we'll put the next best guy out there. These guys who are here had a good spring and got better."

Assistant coaches began exit meetings Monday, where players were told what weight they were expected to be this summer and what skill sets they need to work on.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.