Depth Hard to Come by for OL

ATHENS – A week before spring practice opened, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo rattled off a list of things he hoped to accomplish.

In addition to developing the young wideouts and grading the quarterback competition, Bobo said it was essential that Georgia begin building some depth on an offensive line that has suffered through injuries in each of the past two seasons and will lose three senior starters after 2010.

It was a perfect pet project for spring practice, but getting the results hasn't been easy.

During Tuesday's practice, Georgia used four different players at left tackle thanks to injuries to Trinton Strudivant and A.J. Harmon, and head coach Mark Richt said it's been a bit of an adventure.

"We've had to roll some guys in and out of there, but that's part of spring ball," he said. "Guys are proving that they're ready to play or not ready to play, as the case may be. But that's all part of it."

Sturdivant's injury is improving rapidly, and he has been out on the field with a knee brace, although not participating in most of the normal offensive line drills. Bobo said Sturdivant would be the likely starting left tackle in 2010 if he's healthy, but at this point he's being considered "a luxury."

Harmon's injury – a high ankle sprain suffered in Georgia's scrimmage last Saturday – is a bit more troublesome.

While the starting five of Clint Boling, Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Chris and Josh Davis has been pretty firmly established, Harmon had set himself up as a solid candidate for the first reps off the bench before the injury.

"He's a guy who has a tremendous amount of athletic ability for a guy his size," tight end Aron White said of the 300-pound redshirt sophomore, who had been getting plenty of reps with the No. 1 unit at left tackle. "He can move a little bit and was growing tremendously. As soon as he can mentally grasp everything we're doing, he's a guy who can come in and contribute. He's the guy I feel has stepped up the most as far as all of our second-team lineman. He stood out this spring."

Bobo said he remained hopeful Harmon could return by G-Day, but that's unlikely. Harmon was on crutches at practice Tuesday, and coaches aren't anticipating he'll be ready to go for a few more weeks at least.

Sturdivant and Harmon are hardly the only banged-up Bulldogs on the offensive line, however. Josh Davis is finally back to full strength, but he didn't lift weights at all last year after two offseason shoulder surgeries. Backup Tanner Strickland hurt his shoulder last spring and has yet to return to work, while occasional starter Justin Anderson is also out this spring with a shoulder injury. Anderson's issues go deeper, however.

After coming to Georgia as one of the state's most highly touted offensive line recruits and starting 12 games in the last two years, Anderson was relegated to the bench for most of the second half of the 2009 season. Last week, Georgia's coaches announced he would be swapping sides of the line, moving to the defensive line to work in Todd Grantham's new 3-4 scheme once he returns to full health.

That leaves just a handful of healthy backups on scholarship for Georgia, including Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette, who both redshirted last year, and true freshman Kolton Houston, an early enrollee. Redshirt sophomore Jonathan Owens is also in the mix, while Austin Long, another redshirt from 2009, is still recovering from a back injury that has kept him from ever practicing with the Bulldogs.

It's not exactly a deep list of candidates to develop, Bobo said, but there have been some standouts.

"Burnette has done a nice job," Bobo said. "I was pleased with him in the scrimmage. He's got to get stronger and get a little bigger, but I like how he's played. Dallas has shown some flashes of doing some good things. Dallas has just been inconsistent at making it through a practice."

Burnette has been working as the second-team center, and quarterback Aaron Murray lauded the freshman's advanced knowledge of the offense and recognition skills. Lee has mostly worked at guard and has made progress after an injury-riddled season a year ago.

Houston could also be a find. While he's still well down the learning curve, he's made big leaps at times this spring, Boling said.

"Kolton came in early which is huge, and he's gaining experience and coming along," Boling said. "But it's going to be a slow process for all those guys to get some experience and get more time in the weight room and just learn the offense. Kolton, Dallas, Chris Burnette – all those guys are playing really hard right now just trying to figure it out."

Bobo may still be a ways off from establishing the depth he was hoping for, but progress has been made, and that's a start.

During last week's scrimmage, Murray worked routinely behind the No. 2 line, and while there were a number of mistakes, he saw a lot to be excited about, too.

"I watched film on them at the scrimmage, and they looked great," Murray said. "They've improved tremendously from last year just with their footwork and their knowledge of what they're doing out there. They don't look nervous or unsure of what they're doing."


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