Front and center

ATHENS - The bad news for Georgia's Russ Tanner and Ryan Schnetzer is that they have to deal with Auburn nose guard T.J. Jackson tonight. The good news is they get to share the load.

The No. 9 Bulldogs' two senior centers will rotate the position for the 18th-straight game when Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) takes on No. 15 Auburn (7-2, 5-1) at 7:45 p.m. in Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Taking a few plays off against Jackson will be a good thing. The 6-foot-1, 311-pound senior has 33 tackles, including four for loss, and he has commanded double-teams all season. Tanner and Schnetzer won't block him at the same time, but at least they'll be able to take turns.

"It's good when you've got two guys who can play," Tanner said. "It works out well against defensive lines that don't rotate too much. When the fourth quarter rolls around, neither one of us is really breathing hard."

Center rotations are rare because coaches worry about interfering with the familiarity between the center and the quarterback. The positives outweigh the negatives for the Bulldogs, though.

"I think both of them deserve to play," offensive line coach Neil Callaway said. "They're both about the same. If we had two guys we felt were playing well enough to win, we'd do it any position."

The rotation is a first for Callaway and coach Mark Richt in their years of coaching.

"It's a little risky to do that, but it's working out beautifully for us," Richt said. "I wish we did it at more positions to be honest with you. They are both just real responsible guys that you trust out there."

The Bulldogs haven't fumbled a snap all season, and Tanner and Schnetzer each practice snaps with quarterback D.J. Shockley on the sideline prior to their respective series. The players try to make their style as similar as possible, not only for Shockley's sake, but also so the rest of the offensive linemen won't be surprised by something.

"We feel like we'll adjust to everybody else," Schnetzer said.

The only difference is cosmetic, Shockley said.

"Russ' butt is a little bigger than Schnetzer's," the quarterback said. "It's kind of funny to say that, but with the center and quarterback, you have to say it. Russ has a little more cushion."

Georgia's coaches are so comfortable with the rotation that they let the two players keep track of it during games. Tanner starts each game and then plays every other series.

"Callaway just leaves it to us," Schnetzer said. "We know when to rotate, and, if there are any problems, he'll come let us know. So far, the last two years we've worked it out amongst ourselves. Russ and I are such good friends, everything just goes real easy."

Tanner and Schnetzer, who are roommates on the team's road trips, ended up in the same spot, but they started in very different places.

Tanner was named the high school offensive linemen of the year for Georgia in 2000, his senior season at Johnson County High School. After a redshirt season, he became a regular contributor on the 2002 SEC Championship team and then moved into a starting spot, which he has held for 34 straight games, more than any Bulldog other than Max Jean-Gilles (also 34).

Schnetzer came to Georgia as a walk-on from Newnan High School, where his highest honor as a senior was being named Regions Bank Most Inspirational Player. During Schnetzer's first mat drills with the team, Richt told assistant coaches to keep a close eye on Schnetzer for fear he wouldn't be able to make it through the drills.

From that point, he has gotten to this: He deferred his acceptance to medical school for one year in order to return to the team and was rewarded with a full scholarship for his final season.

"It took a while for me to build up, but I never quit," Ryan Schnetzer said. "I'm just proud to play with these boys and proud to be able to make it on the field and help them out."

Now he and Russ Tanner operate as equals.

"On the sideline, you can see a lot more than what you can see in the game," Schnetzer said, "so when I'm out there playing, he'll be watching and telling me things, and I'll tell him the things I see from the sideline."

"It has worked out good so far," Callaway said.

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