Numerous pundits have already placed Georgia in the upper echelon of their way-too-early, pre-preseason top 25s for 2012. The majority of them seem to be picking the Dawgs to repeat as SEC East champions. But it probably won't be long before you run across a few contrarians who don't, and the offensive line is why.
That's to be expected when an already thin unit loses its top three players -- tackles Justin Anderson and Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones, all of whom could be winging their way to NFL training camps in a few short weeks. Not that last year's O-line performance was particularly great; they allowed 34 sacks (eighth in the SEC) and paved the way for just a hair under 4 yards per rush. But improving on those numbers will be a challenge without the experienced leadership of the departing players, particularly Jones and Glenn.
Good thing the Dawgs have amassed some promising talent in their last two recruiting classes -- they're going to need some of those guys to step up in a hurry.
This list pretty much tells the story of why Georgia was so overjoyed (and relieved) to sign Theus, the nation's fifth-ranked offensive line recruit according to Rivals, last July. Gates has the most experience at this position, but that's not much considering that he was behind a potential NFL first-rounder in Cordy Glenn; the two guys following him are both dealing with recent injuries. Theus is described as that rare kind of true freshman who could step into the critical left-tackle position right away; don't be surprised to see him charge up the depth chart this summer.
1. Dallas Lee, RJr. (6'4", 300)
2. Kenarious Gates, Jr. (6'5", 328)
Lee played well here before breaking his leg against Florida and missing the rest of the season, but he's the only one with any experience at this position other than Gates, who will be needed at left tackle, at least initially. The Dawgs better hope and pray that either Lee stays injury-free or John Theus crushes it at LT to the point where they can afford to move Gates around.
Will Friend has described Andrews as the member of last year's freshman class most capable of making an immediate impact on the line, but redshirt junior Chris Burnette is a likely candidate as well, and could snag the job if the coaches think they can afford to move him over from . . .
1. Chris Burnette, RJr. (6'2", 313)
2. Kolton Houston, RSo. (6'5", 291)
Burnette is the most experienced lineman on the Dawgs' 2012 roster, but the coaches would probably love it if Houston emerged at this position and allowed them to use Burnette as a safety valve at center. Houston had to sit out the entire 2012 season due to an unspecified eligibility issue with the NCAA, but he was a strong contender for playing time before that.
Dantzler was one of the 2011 season's most pleasant surprises, but the coaches would dearly like to develop some depth here. The hope is that they'll get it from DeBell, a promising recruit from the 2011 "Dream Team" who has all the athleticism needed to play the position but is still working on building the size. That's less of a problem for Beard, who transferred from junior college in Kansas and has a shot at playing right away.
Rookie prospects: Aside from Theus and Beard, the only other lineman Georgia signed in the 2012 class was Baltimore's Greg Pyke, an offensive guard ranked as a three-star prospect by Rivals. His playing time is unlikely to be substantial, but given the perilous depth at both guard slots, the coaches simply may not be able to afford to redshirt him.