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September 21, 2011Coming into the season, Georgia Offensive Line Coach Will Friend had his work cut out for him. He had two new starters at tackle and a first time starter at guard. All but one of them had experience, but only Ben Jones (Center) and Kenarious Gates (Left Guard) had experience at their respective positions.
There was also the question of depth. When Trinton Sturdivant went out with his third season ending knee injury and Brent Benedict decided to transfer to Virginia Tech, it left the UGA offensive front paper thin.
Despite the inexperience and early struggles the UGA offensive line has shown signs of being productive. Here is a breakdown by position.
The first thing on any coaches mind when he is building an offensive line is "who is my left tackle?"
Cordy Glenn has taken virtually every snap for Georgia at left tackle and he has struggled at times. Against Boise State, Glenn was having a difficult time dealing with the silent count in the no huddle. He had a couple of false start penalties and was often late in opening up to get in a position to pass protect.
His pass protection was much improved against South Carolina as there were times when he dominated freshman phenom Jadeveon Clowney and star junior Devin Taylor. There were also points in the game where, again, it was clear that he got a poor jump on the snap and did not get in position to protect.
Glenn is a huge, athletic, talented offensive lineman that is being forced to play out of position because he is the best option for Georgia at left tackle. He is a natural guard and it shows as he has excelled when run blocking. Despite his size, he has a natural ability to explode off the ball with a pad level that gives him a great deal of leverage.
Glenn would agree that his better days are ahead of him in 2011, but his grade through three games is a B-.
This is a position that has been manned by two different players in 2011. Sophomore Gates started the season as the starter but left the Boise State game with an injury to his ankle. Gates has yet to return to action but his replacement, redshirt sophomore Dallas Lee, has been impressive.
Before his 2011 debut against Boise State, Lee last made an impression in the Under Armour All American game in his senior year of high school where he did a great job of controlling Gary Brown, a five star recruit who signed with Florida.
Lee has been very good in both pass protection and run blocking. There have been times where Lee has missed assignments and protected the wrong gap in the passing game, but he has made up for those miscues with explosive and physical play in the run game.
Lee is like a magnet at the point of attack and knows how to erase separation. He is quick to contact and remains engaged once he gets there.
UGA fans can only expect Lee to get more consistent and thus far in 2011 the former Buford standout has a grade of B+.
Over the last four years , three things have been certain in Athens. Taxi's will be busy on weekend nights, the Last Resort will knock your socks off, and Ben Jones will start at center for UGA.
Jones is the unquestioned leader of the Bulldog front five and has been solid thus far. He has a great grasp of the offense and does a great job calling the protections. He has shown excellent quickness in getting out to the perimeter in the run and screen game.
Jones has yet to face the rigors of blocking a true nose tackle for a full game, but his play has been rock solid as many expected it would be. His grade for the first quarter of the season is A-.
Chris Burnette is a first year starter on the UGA offensive line and the least experienced offensive lineman to start for the Dawgs. Things did not look good early for the redshirt sophomore from LaGrange as he was beaten early and often by Billy Winn and the Boise State defensive interior.
Burnette has since improved as he had a good game against South Carolina. He more than held his own opposing USC senior Melvin Ingram in their "Panther Package."
Burnette is one of UGA's quicker offensive lineman but he has struggled to make key blocks in the second level of the defense. Unlike Lee, Burnette does not lock onto blocks naturally, but he is more explosive at the point of contact.
Burnette has gotten a great deal of support from Ben Jones thus far and should continue to develop. He has improved from game to game thus far, and his 2011 grade thus far is a C+.
Senior Justin Anderson has had a unique career at UGA. He started on the offensive line as a redshirt freshman. He was then moved to the defensive line as a Junior where he sat out the season with a turf toe injury. Bean was then moved to back to the offensive line for his senior year.
Fans have been critical of his play thus far in 2011, but the fact is that he has also shown improvement. If Anderson and Glenn were wearing the same number versus Boise State, it would have been hard to tell them apart. Anderson had the same struggles as he was called for multiple false start penalties and was abused more than once by the Broncos pass rush off the edge.
Anderson, like Glenn, settled in for the South Carolina game and did a great job run blocking. He still struggled a bit more in pass protection, but improvement was made from game one to game two.
Anderson has always been a mauler and that hasn't changed. He engulfs defenders at the second level and has a natural ability to collapse a defensive front when he down blocks. He needs to get better at using his hands and keeping them inside while also working on keeping a wide base so that he does not fall off of blocks.
Anderson must make a great deal of improvement in pass protection if he wants to stay at right tackle, but he has shown that he is capable. His grade through the first three games is C.
The most encouraging thing for UGA fans has to be that each member of the offensive line has shown improvement from game to game. It appears as if everyone not named Ben Jones is still trying to settle into their new roles and that should only improve with time.
Coach Will Friend's focus for the rest of the season will be to build depth, help his line gel as a unit, and keep them focused on their role in the offense. If he is successful, this offensive line will continue to improve and allow Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell to have huge years. If they take a step back, the UGA offense could struggle mightily to be successful in any facet of the game.