If this is not your first visit to A DAMN BEAST!!!, then you are no doubt aware that our football world view is one that believes defense wins championships and that special teams can be a game-changer and should be made a priority. With that said, even the brilliant minds that gave us “Football for dummies” must admit that football begins and ends along the lines of scrimmage. That is why the publicity ducking, hog-mollies up front take center stage in the latest installment of things we want to see by the time the DAWGS are turned loose at G-Day on April 10th.
SPRING PROVING GROUNDS II: OFFENSIVE LINE STABILITY
Over the last couple of years, injuries have been a harsh reality of life along the DAWGS offensive line. In 2008, the DAWGS deficiencies along the O-line were masked in part by the talent on hand at the skill positions in Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno Mohammed Massoquoi and AJ Green. In 2009, with no proven play-makers other than Green to cover up their offensive warts and a rotating door along the offensive line, the Georgia offense struggled to find their way in the run game and failed to develop any consistency.
By the time the DAWGS arrived at their annual grudge match in Jacksonville against the HATED Gators, Georgia was trotting out their fifth different starting group on the offensive line with junior Clint Boling (LT), sophomore Cordy Glenn (LG), sophomore Ben Jones (C), junior Chris Davis (RG), junior Josh Davis (RT) getting the starting nod.
Though many chose to discount the successes the DAWGS had seen in the running game during the 4th quarter the week before against Vanderbilt, there were signs of life in the Georgia backfield and there had definitely been a shift in the Georgia game plan. This renewed commitment to pounding the rock would begin to become evident against the Gators.
Starting in Jacksonville, the DAWGS strung together some impressive rushing numbers over the final six games of the season as Washaun Ealey and a healthy Caleb King began to find their way. Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s net rushing yards down the stretch…
FLORIDA – 121 yds (33 carries, 3.7 ypc)
TN Tech – 304 yds (39 carries, 7.8 ypc)
AUBURN – 169 yds (38 carries, 4.4 ypc)
KENTUCKY – 196 yds (44 carries, 4.5 ypc)
GEORGIA TECH – 339 yds (44 carries, 7.7 ypc)
TEXAS A&M – 208 yds (40 carries, 5.2 ypc)
Of course, the DAWGS statement game during this stretch was the ground game exhibition put on against the Techies as Ealey and King declared “WE RUN THIS STATE” and then went out and proved it. King ran for 166 yards and two scores while Ealey punched holes in the Tech defense on his way to 183 yards. Over the final six games of the season, King got loose for 459 yards and six scores and Ealey chipped in with 595 yards and three TDs.
More than just the production in numbers, the DAWGS appeared to play with a different attitude over the last half of the season. An attitude that can only come from the confidence gained when you dictate the game and impose your will on your opponent. That type of football can only be played when you are getting production in the run game and that starts with the play of the offensive line. After their early season struggles, the DAWGS eventually found the winning formula along the O-line and the results showed. The obvious problem is that it took so long to figure out what the right combination would be.
Now we find ourselves heading into spring practice and the DAWGS would appear to have a good handle on the how the pieces along the offensive line should fit together. That is until you factor in the possible return of the DAWGS would-be starting left tackle from the last two seasons, Trinton Sturdivant. After missing the last two years (except for about 40 minutes) with severe knee injuries, the catalyst for all of Georgia’s offensive line shuffling, Sturdivant is said to be ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and well on his way to making a return to the lineup at some point later this year. For now, the coaching staff is remaining cautiously optimistic that Sturdivant can come all the way back. At this point, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and the rest of the staff are viewing having Sturdivant ready to rock and roll come the fall as a “luxury”, but they appear to have learned their lesson and know that they cannot afford to count on it. Earlier this week, Bobo had this to say:
“When we’re talking about our objectives as an offense and what we want to accomplish this spring, we want to establish depth at the offensive line with out counting on Trinton Sturdivant. He’s a luxury. We think he’s going to be back, he’s ahead of schedule, he’s doing great, but we have to establish depth besides him.”
You can read more on this and other DAWGS notes HERE.
This thought process is music to my ears. If the DAWGS big left tackle can return to form and reclaim his starting spot, it will be great news for Georgia and it would be fantastic for Sturdivant. However, the DAWGS cannot just assume #77 will be ready to go. This is why when news starts rolling out of Athens in the coming days, one headline I will be looking for will be the one in bold face detailing the progress along the offensive line. A good place to start would be to just keep rolling with the starting five from the back half of the 2009 season, but you can be sure that everyone will get a hard look and that the coaching staff will make every effort to get the best five players on the field. I just hope whatever changes prove necessary due to coach’s decision or that are forced by player effort, they sort themselves out so that Georgia can hit the ground running when fall camp rolls around. It’s no secret that the longer an offensive line can play together as a unit, the more productive they will be. Given that the DAWGS backfield appears to be ready to run in 2010, I am hopeful that a constant re-shuffling of the offensive line will not prove to be the stumbling block for the Georgia offense.
Courtesy AP Photos