Offensive Line Ready to Prove its Worth

ATHENS - The high expectations for Georgia's 2004 season have made the summer seem long for all the Bulldogs.But nobody has waited for today more than the offensive line. When No. 3 Georgia kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday against Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs linemen finally can begin to erase the memories of last year.

"I'm definitely ready to read something in the media other than 40-something sacks," center Russ Tanner said. "It's an opportunity for us. If we play good the first few weeks, hopefully, we will write a new chapter for this line."

The last chapter didn't end well. Georgia gave up 47 sacks, by far more than any team in the Southeastern Conference and enough to stymie the offense all season.

"I and the rest of the line are very eager to start because we want to brush off the thoughts of the line last year," guard Nick Jones said. "We're anxious to have a new identity."

Traditionally, Division I-A teams have the biggest advantages over I-AA opponents at the line of scrimmage because their players are bigger and they have more of them. Georgia's offensive line outweighs the Eagles' defensive front by 42 pounds per man and stands an average of three inches taller.

However, GSU has four seniors across the defensive front who have started a combined 76 games. Defensive tackle Eric Hadley had 66 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last year.

"I know they will be twisting and stunting and blitzing a lot," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "A lot of times, quickness can overcome that size advantage."

Georgia's coaches have been encouraged by what they've seen in practice from the starting line. Not only has the unit been mostly healthy this fall and thus been able to build much-needed cohesion, but it has also dominated the Bulldogs' second-team defensive line in practice.

The only problem with the practice performance is that it has come against a second-team defensive line that was depleted by nagging injuries to Marquis Elmore, Quentin Moses and Ray Gant.

A lot of the second-team defensive line has "been walk-ons so it's hard to gauge how good a camp they've had," Richt said.

"It's not really a true indicator I don't think," line coach Neil Callaway said. "We have to wait until we get tested in the fire, in the game. You have to prove it on the field."

Tanner thinks his coaches aren't giving them enough credit for the mess they survived last season.

"I think we're battle tested," he said. "We had a whole year last year of trial by fire."

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