Even at 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, Watts Dantzler has been quite the small fish this season in the sea of University of Georgia football.
The freshman out of Dalton High School earned the second-team spot at right tackle early in preseason camp but has stayed mostly on the sidelines each Saturday for the No. 18 Bulldogs. He has played in just three of 13 games, helping finish off lopsided victories over Coastal Carolina, New Mexico State and Auburn.
"It's been extremely difficult starting at the bottom of the totem pole and working my way up," Dantzler said, "but it's definitely been a great experience because I've learned so much and improved throughout the year. There has been a lot to learn playing against bigger and stronger people, and I still have a lot of improvement that needs to be done in that area."
Dantzler was one of two Chattanooga-area players who signed with Georgia in February, with cornerback Devin Bowman of Ridgeland High being the other. Bowman did not go through summer workouts in Athens because he had yet to pass the English language arts portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test.
Bowman got the needed score a couple of days before freshmen were scheduled to report, and he wound up redshirting.
"I knew I was going to redshirt when I got here late, so it wasn't a big deal," Bowman said. "I just had the mindset that even though I'm not playing, I can still come to practice every day to get better knowing next year is my time. It's just not my time right now."
Though he didn't play in any games, Bowman apparently did enough in practices to show older Bulldogs that he, too, will get his opportunity.
"He's an athlete, and he's going to be something special here," junior free safety Shawn Williams said. "I've seen him catching punts, and he's going to be good at that, too. He's got a long body and has just shown a lot of ability."
With Sanders Commings and Branden Smith projected to be Georgia's starting cornerbacks next season, Bowman realizes that playing time in the secondary could be difficult. Returning punts could be another matter, especially if Georgia coaches continue to find ways to use Smith more on offense.
Bowman expects to compete for that opportunity with Smith and fellow freshman cornerback Damian Swann, who has played this season.
"I truly, truly believe that if I keep working, that will be my job next year," Bowman said.
The microscope on Dantzler will be a bit more intense.
Georgia's two starting tackles -- Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson -- are seniors who have managed to stay healthy and productive all season. Redshirt sophomore Austin Long is Glenn's backup on the left side, while Dantzler has backed Anderson the past five months.
So Dantzler will go from learning the ropes as a reserve to being expected to start, though he could be challenged by members of Georgia's 2012 signing class.
"It's going to be tough, but there have been a few times this season when I have worked with the first team when someone had a test or was sick," Dantzler said. "I don't think it will be anything too drastic, but it will be a lot of hard work."
Said offensive line coach Will Friend: "He's got to get tougher both physically and mentally. He's got a ways to go on that, but he's improved."
Dantzler displayed some versatility during Georgia's on-campus preparation for Monday's Outback Bowl against No. 12 Michigan State by practicing at first-team right guard while Chris Burnette was out with an illness. Though he would have liked to have played in more than three games, Dantzler has no regrets about his freshman season.
"Going in, I didn't know if I was going to redshirt or not, but I'm glad I got to play and travel to all the games," he said. "I just did whatever I could to help the team out. If they had wanted me to redshirt, I would have gladly done it, but I got to step in and play some, and I think it's worked out great."
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs held their first practice in Tampa on Tuesday morning, working out for two hours in full pads. ... Freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell was "under the weather," according to head coach Mark Richt, and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome remains on the first team. ... Senior defensive end DeAngelo Tyson and junior inside linebacker Michael Gilliard continue to nurse ankle injuries but are expecting to play. ... Freshman receiver Malcolm Mitchell could work some next season at cornerback as well.