In his first year as Georgia's offensive line coach, Stacy Searels had to start three freshmen.
He spent his second season combating a slew of injuries, which resulted in five starting lineups and four starting left tackles. There were more injuries last season and six starting lineups, so might Searels experience anything even remotely normal in his fourth year with the Bulldogs?
"That's the SEC. It's always a challenge," Searels said. "Things happen and injuries happen, and you have to be able to adjust. Our kids have been resilient, and they've bounced back. We've asked them to play different positions, and they've had to do it on the short term."
Georgia began spring practice Thursday with all five starting linemen back from a year ago. The Bulldogs averaged an embarrassing 97.2 rushing yards a game during the first half of the regular season last year but an imposing 217 during the second half.
They carried the productivity into their 44-20 rout of Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, rushing for 208 yards.
"I think towards the end of the year we just started building a lot of confidence," said Clint Boling, who had starts at right tackle, right guard and left tackle. "At the beginning, I think some guys were unsure about what was going on. Moving Josh Davis into the starting lineup certainly helped, because he brought a lot of energy and some fresh legs, and once we got that momentum, we kept it going."
Davis underwent left shoulder surgery in January 2009 and made his debut last season as the starting right tackle in the seventh game at Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs rushed for 173 yards, more than their previous two games combined, and rolled to a 34-10 win.
Georgia scored 27 or more points in every game but one from that point, with Boling and Davis as the tackles, Cordy Glenn and Chris Davis the guards and Ben Jones the center. The Bulldogs ended the regular season by stunning Georgia Tech behind Washaun Ealey's 183 rushing yards and 166 by Caleb King.
Last season began with an opening loss at Oklahoma State, in which starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant tore his anterior cruciate ligament. It was Sturdivant's first appearance since the Sugar Bowl rout of Hawaii capped a No. 2 finish in '07. He had missed all of '08 due to a torn ACL in preseason camp.
"When we're talking about our objectives as an offense and what we want to accomplish this spring," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, "we want to establish depth on the offensive line without counting on No. 77, Trinton Sturdivant. We think he's going to be back. He's ahead of schedule. He's doing great, but we've got to establish depth besides him."
Said Boling: "Hopefully this year will be it. If we can stay healthy, we will have a lot of depth up front and a lot of options. There is no telling how good we can be."
Searels coached LSU's offensive line from 2003 to '06 and did his share of shuffling there as well. Ben Wilkerson, Brett Helms, Ryan Miller and Will Arnold missed multiple games because of various setbacks during the '04-06 seasons, but those seem like the healthy days now.
"I've never had a kid blow it out two years in a row like Trinton has," Searels said. "It's just a fluke deal. We have had our fair share of injuries here, but that's part of college football."