It's not exactly a closely guarded state secret that the offensive line was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2010 season, breaking down in pass protection at a couple critical junctures and failing to pave the way for a dominating running game. For that reason, not a lot of the returning guys can exactly be called "entrenched." Still, with plenty of experience returning, a new position coach, and a no-excuses philosophy in the strength and conditioning program, there's reason to hope they'll play up to their full potential in 2011.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
1. Ben Jones (6'3", 298), Sr.
2. Chris Burnette (6'2", 291), RSoph.
3. Ben Reynolds (6'2", 253), RSoph.
1. Ben Harden (6'3", 308), Sr.
2. Kenarious Gates (6'5", 307), Soph.
3. Josh Parrish (6'4", 300), RSoph.
Who's coming back. If Mark Richt and his coaching staff seem remarkably non-panicky about losing three of last year's O-line starters to graduation, it's because they still have Trinton Sturdivant to rely on for blindside protection. After missing all of the 2008 season and all but a few snaps of 2009 due to knee injuries, Sturdivant appeared in 12 games last year, making seven starts; it's safe to say the coaching staff feels pretty comfortable assigning him to fill the substantial shoes of All-SEC first-teamer Clint Boling. Also returning are center Ben Jones and left guard Cordy Glenn, who started 25 of 26 total games in 2010 (Jones was suspended for the first half of the Colorado game after clipping a Mississippi State player the previous week).
Who's not. Clint Boling, of course, is off to certain riches in the NFL; guard Chris Davis and tackle Josh Davis have graduated and will be crossing their fingers to hear their names called in the draft as well. The line lost some depth when redshirt junior Tanner Strickland, who started three games at left guard last year, announced he was calling an end to his unfortunately injury-plagued career.
Who's new. Ben Harden and Kolton Houston appear poised to step up to starting positions on the right side of the line; coaches are particularly excited about Houston, who was a four-star recruit out of Buford High School and enrolled early at UGA. Overall, Georgia doesn't have quite the line depth it enjoyed last year (though A.J. Harmon can play just about anywhere on the line the coaches need him), but that doesn't mean you should expect to see any of the five linemen from the Dawgs' 2011 recruiting class to take the field anytime soon; even the most highly touted of those recruits, Tarpon Springs, Fla., tackle Zach DeBell, will probably take a redshirt this season while learning the system and adding some muscle mass.
Outlook. You could look at Georgia's crop of O-linemen one of two ways. The glass-half-empty set, of course, sees a new line coach coming in and having to deal with the loss of Boling and two other senior starters from a line that didn't do all that great last year to begin with; the glass-half-full crowd, though, sees fresh blood (and an aggressive new training regimen) potentially molding a talented group of linemen back into something special, i.e. what they were in 2007 and '08.
With Sturdivant, Glenn and Jones presumably retaining their starting spots, there's a solid nucleus of talent to build onto; the coaching staff just has to hope they can get one more good injury-free year out of Sturdivant, as the depth behind him at LT is not spectacular. Barring a major disaster in spring practice, though, don't expect 2011's bumper crop of linemen to figure much into this year's depth chart battles, as Richt's ideal scenario involves all of them getting redshirted while they build up the skills (and bulk) they'll need to command the trenches in the SEC.