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Room for improvement

ATHENS, Ga. – Bigger, stronger and perhaps a bit angry, Georgia’s offensive line enters spring practice eager to make up for an underachieving season in 2010.

Kenarious Gates started as a true freshman last season for Georgia's offensive line.

“I felt like everybody kind of labeled us as soft last year,” senior Cordy Glenn said. “We’re just trying to come out and let everybody know this year that’s not the case. We want to be the leaders of this team in what we’re doing. We want to have a successful season, and we want to be the cornerstone of that.”

There is a new feeling all-around the unit, including a new coach, new positions and new weights for many of the players.

In response to a 2010 season where UGA finished 10th in the SEC in rushing offense and – in the assessment of head coach Mark Richt – was pushed around physically on the line of scrimmage, the offensive line has bulked up considerably since the Liberty Bowl.

Three different linemen – Glenn (+28), reserve tackle A.J. Harmon (+25) and guard Kenarious Gates (+21) – gained at least 20 pounds, according to updated roster weights provided by UGA. Two others – center Ben Jones and converted nose tackle Justin Anderson – each gained 16 pounds under the direction of the program’s new strength and conditioning coach Joe Tereshinski.

“We’ve got some big boys up front,” UGA quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It’s unbelievable the kind of stuff they’re doing in the weight room with the amount of weight they’re doing. I think I’m getting big, but when I looked at them, they’re squatting 500 pounds 30 times. You’re just like, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’

“They’ve been working their tails off, and you can see it out there. They’re in great shape, and they’re pretty big right now.”

That’s not the only big change.

Offensive line coach Stacy Searels departed in January for Texas, meaning new position coach Will Friend (hired from Neil Callaway’s staff at UAB) inherited a relatively seasoned group.

Cordy Glenn: "Everybody kind of labeled us as soft last year. We're just trying to come out and let everybody know this year that's not the case."

There could be starting experience at all five spots depending on how the rotation shakes out.

Seniors Glenn, Jones and Trinton Sturdivant have a combined 92 starts between them, while Anderson (12) and true sophomore Gates (three starts last season) figure to comprise the first five for Friend, given the position locations through the spring’s early moments.

That, however, is a long way from being settled.

Judging by Thursday's practice rotations, the first group right now consists of Sturdivant, Gates, Jones, Anderson and Glenn, though the exact positions aren't too stable.

While, Jones is certain to back at center, Anderson is saying he is stationed at right guard, though he has played tackle in the past. Meanwhile, Gates said he now working primarily at the left guard spot vacated by Glenn, who is now a full-time tackle.

Sturdivant was at left tackle last season. But Glenn said he and Sturdivant are flipping back and forth between sides this spring.

Apparently, others are also doing the same. The first group during the early portion of Thursday’s practice appeared to have the entire line flipping between left and right during basic drills.

UGA's second group was as follows Thursday: Harmon (LT), Kolton Houston (LG), Chris Burnette (C), Brent Benedict (RG), Austin Long (RT), though guards and tackles were flipping sides there as well.

“It’s spring,” Glenn said. “Everybody is trying new things, seeing where people can play, what they can and can’t do.”

Offensive line was Anderson’s choice after an injury-plagued season at nose tackle. Meanwhile, Glenn and Sturdivant came back after considering the NFL draft.

And a former Kentucky commitment who accepted a late-minute scholarship offer from UGA in 2010, Gates became a surprise true freshman starter after the Bulldogs opened 1-4 last season.

“I was very proud,” Gates said. “It made my mom proud and my family. This is always where I wanted to come, so I took the opportunity, and I came to work.”

Gates, now up to 328 pounds, has the inside track on a starting role in 2011.

“He’ll continue to get more comfortable with everything from a knowledge standpoint, but that was not his issue,” Richt said of Gates. “Just getting that true freshman body to look like a second or third-year guy, that’s it, and just getting better at all the techniques.”

Gates expects a better offensive line in 2011 for the Bulldogs, saying "We’re coming together as one. So we’ll be better this year.”

“We all know as the unit that we didn’t play as good individually as we could last year," Glenn said, "and we want to top that."

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