Georgia’s offensive linemen plan on being bullies this season.
“That’s going to be our thing this year, just go out and bully people this year and set the tempo and set how this game’s going to be played,” center David Andrews said.
John Theus, Chris Burnette, Andrews, Dallas Lee and Kenarious Gates may not be household names, but they serve one of the most important roles on the Georgia football team.
“People don’t understand, quarterbacks and skill players and stuff control the game, but in the sense of it, an offensive line really does control the game,” Andrews said. “We control the tempo, the physicality. If we’re manhandling people, that’s what breaks people’s will.”
At the beginning of last season, the offensive line was the team’s question mark. The 2012 Bulldogs’ offensive line featured Andrews and Theus as first-time starters after losing Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson and Ben Jones to the NFL.
The returning players such as Lee and Gates took advantage of their experience to help the new guys out.
“When [Theus] first came in, we stayed together just learning,” Gates said. “First you start out with the plays and stuff like that and then you start working with different techniques… He came in [and] I automatically jumped on him like ‘Let’s go. Don’t think you’re just a freshman. You’re going to come in here and get ready to play, we need you.’”
This season, the entire starting unit is returning.
In college athletics, where an athlete only gets four years of playing time, a fully-returning unit isn’t something that happens often.
“We’ve got great chemistry, our bond is there, and we trust each other,” Gates said. “We treat each other as brothers, we’ve got each others backs no matter what, on and off the field. We hang out, we just build this bond … I feel great playing beside any one of these players. You put any of them there and I know they’re going to do their job and we’re going to work as a team.”
Even with the inexperience, the Georgia offensive line improved from the 2011 season — the number of sacks allowed was reduced from 33 to 27 and the running game's yards per carry increased from 3.9 to 4.9.
However, the line showed inconsistency at times, allowing three or more sacks in four games while allowing none in just two.
Going into this season, the line must be reliable. With a year of experience under its belts and a defense that is replacing at least two starters in every tier, the line can no longer be an area of concern for Georgia.
“On offense, we’re going to just put points on the board just to give the defense a break,” Gates said. “We’ve got an explosive offense … we’re going to give the defense time to rest with the running game and stuff like that.”
To improve its play, the offensive line is utilizing defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“I’ve seen blitzes with freaking Grantham,” Lee said. “He has a lot of stuff, they bluff a lot of stuff. They’re miserable. We work with them every day, both in team drills and then we work blitz pickups with them.”
The challenge for the offensive line comes in trying to determine exactly where Grantham’s blitzes come from, which isn’t always easy.
“Grantham and his blitzes,” Gates said. “I don’t know where he gets his blitzes from, it seems like he just goes home and scribble-scrabbles on the paper and it works. Going up against his defense, his blitzes, it’s amazing.”
Grantham’s schemes ought to improve the offensive line’s play. His blitzes produced 32 sacks, which was fifth-most among SEC teams. Going up against an effective pass rush in practice is expected to translate to in-game success.
“Grantham’s a great defensive mind, he comes up with great schemes and great blitzes,” Lee said. “It’s great to work against every day. As much of not fun as it is because he’s pretty good at his job, but we know that if we keep working against that every day and how they bring things, it’ll continue to get us better.”
For this upcoming season, the offensive line will need to improve against the blitz. In the first four games, Georgia plays Clemson, South Carolina and LSU, all of which had at least 34 sacks last season.
South Carolina had 43, led by the effort of freakishly-talented defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
“We’ve got a fast start right there so there’s no real time for us to be getting it together as the season starts, that’s going to be huge,” Lee said. “Starting off this year, pretty sure Clemson is going to be in the top five or something like that, so it’ll be huge from the get-go. Everybody’s got to be on their assignments, everybody’s got to be working together perfectly.”
Last season, the offensive line had trouble early, allowing five sacks in the first two games, against Buffalo and Missouri.
“You make a little mistake against a team like Clemson it’s going to cost you the game,” Andrews said. “It’s definitely coming out of the gun, just going. It’s going to have to be going on all cylinders going against those teams, South Carolina, Clemson, LSU, those are top football teams in the country.”
If Georgia does not stall in its early season schedule, the fast start could be beneficial, especially for the big bruisers up front.
“You know what? I kind of like it,” Gates said. “I kind of like that because we don’t start out slow. Going against Clemson our first game, it’s going to be a great game, we’re going to play our best. I feel like it’s a great thing, we’ve got a tough schedule like this because it’s going to make us better as a team.”