Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
Georgia’s offensive line, while playing well, faces a challenge which is likened to a hunter who does well when the target birds have been raised in a pen. He then is invited to hunt where the birds are wild and suddenly sees his marksmanship decline.
Thus far, the competition has not been what the Bulldogs will face in the coming weeks, starting Saturday against Tennessee.
“Best team by far we have played,” is the way offensive line coach Will Friend sizes up the Vols.
Like wild quail who fly higher and faster, Tennessee will bring a much better defense to Athens than what the Bulldogs have seen in their first four outings.
Interestingly, this week, more than a few critics are suggesting that the 4-0, No. 5 nationally-ranked Dawgs haven’t really beaten anybody. While that may have some validity, the bigger question is, “Who is really good right now?”
Nobody knows. Georgia is certainly a developing team which means that looking ahead could be like drinking hemlock. Many fans already have begun sipping heady wine.
That is not a problem unless the players begin to sip from the same cup.
Taking a positive stance leads one to conclude that there is good news with the offensive line. Friend likes, first and foremost, the fact that his linemen “are playing hard.” They are, he says, giving tremendous effort. And they care about each other, a term which has the greatest of value, although the skeptics often scoff at such notion.
When linemen care, they work together with more efficiency, and they are prone to do the little things which make a difference. Consider this caring thing trite if you like, but what chef could make a mouth-watering pound cake without flour and sugar?
The Bulldog linemen are blessed with good karma, camaraderie and intelligence, all of which means they could become really good. They, themselves, are trying to sustain their unwritten motto which Friend reminds them every day: “Improve with each practice.”
Summer camp began with inexperience hovering about. Only Kenarious Gates, Dallas Lee and Chris Burnett had any game action to speak off. Friend has tried to give the backup players, including Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Austin Long, as many snaps as possible, especially when fourth-quarter leads have enhanced opportunity. With center David Andrews, a pleasant surprise, and right tackle John Theus, it has been on-the-job training, but now the real work begins.
With talent, competition and depth at running back, the line has confidence that if it gives Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Ken Malcome even a little space, these gifted backs can move the chains. In the first four outings, downfield blocking by the receivers has been a notable plus, which means the team effort appraisal has repeated itself all fall, with no insignificant influence when it comes to points and yardage production.
The rapport of the linemen is also bringing dividends to the offense and so is the rapport of Friend with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Their mutual admiration society counts, too. They have to manage the game plan every week, mindful of the fact that the pro-style offense has come to the campus but restricted to a total of 20 hours to get the job done — and that includes football chores, like meeting time and weight lifting.
Bobo, an affable man with a sterling reputation in the coaching profession, is quick to give friend a thumbs-up for the job Friend does.
“Will,” Bobo says, “is very demanding, which you must be if you are going to succeed in this business. He expects a lot from his players, but he is fair and they appreciate that. He can relate to them, and, as a result, they play for him.”
Bobo’s parting compliment was that the Bulldog’s O-Line coach has not had too many negative grades this season when it comes to missed assignments. This means fewer penalties, fewer sacks and more production. All of the aforementioned, however, is aware that the forthcoming competition is like a wild quail — tougher to bring down.