O-line uncertainty challenges Georgia

photo Georgia Bulldogs UGA logo

One of the biggest reasons for Georgia's offensive success last football season was the solid foundation provided by its line.

David Andrews, Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee and John Theus started all 14 games for the Southeastern Conference East Division champions, while Chris Burnette missed just two due to injury. Such stability has been missing this spring, with Burnette sitting out following shoulder surgery and Theus missing the first few practices with a foot injury.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo remarked after Saturday's G-Day game that Xzavier Ward, who has appeared in just six games since signing in 2011, has been the best tackle in recent workouts.

"Where does this all end up when Burnette gets back? I don't know," head coach Mark Richt said. "We've worked Gates inside some just in case, and I know he can play tackle or guard. I think Ward is a tackle only. Theus can play tackle or guard.

"I just don't know where everybody is going to end up. We'll try to get the best five out there and hopefully have a little rotation as well."

None of the offensive linemen were made available to the media after G-Day, and neither was line coach Will Friend.

Andrews is entrenched at center and Burnette is expected to reclaim his starting role at right guard. Lee could remain at left guard, but Gates could land there if Theus and Ward earn the tackle spots.

Mark Beard, who got the two starts when Burnette was out last season, will also be competing for a first-team job.

"Burnette has got to get healthy, and so does Theus," Bobo said. "Theus still isn't at 100 percent, and he missed all of the offseason workouts. That put him behind and was a disadvantage for him.

"When we get all those guys back healthy, we'll see how it all shakes out."

Ward is a 6-foot-7, 293-pounder from Moultrie who Bobo says plays hard and takes in what Coach Friend teaches. Richt was asked about Ward after G-Day and had tempered praise.

"He's much stronger as a pass protector than a run blocker, and I think he's still a little bit behind in his leg strength to really move people when we're running the ball," Richt said. "He's just got to continue to get stronger, but in pass protection I like what I'm seeing, and that's a big part of the game.

"He's one of our best pass-protecting tackles, but he's just got to get stronger up front."

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