January 11, 2008

Center of attention

If you want a hint as to who might be Georgia's starting center this fall, take a gander back at Mark Richt's first seven years as the Bulldogs' head coach.

Since Richt's first season in 2001, seniors have manned the position for five of those seven campaigns, with Russ Tanner (sophomore) and Nick Jones (freshman) combining for one of the two exceptions after splitting the job in 2003.

Tanner held the position all 12 games as a junior in 2004, but in Richt's other five years - Curt McGill (2001), Ian Knight (2002), Tanner and Ryan Schnetzer (2005), Jones (2006) and Fernando Velasco (2007) - were each seniors that started at least 12 contests on the offensive line the previous year.

Granted, with an offensive line that next fall will consist entirely of underclassmen there will be no senior linemen to choose from in 2008. Still, experience it would seem does matter most to Richt, particularly when settling on what player will earn the starting center role.

For example:

"We had to move Fernando last year from guard to center because we needed some experience there," Richt said. "This year, it's going to be interesting to see what happens. We've got four guys who are going to be banging away and we have to find the right guy."

Although Georgia's new starter will be determined during spring and fall drills, history suggests that rising sophomore Chris Davis - who started all 13 games for Georgia at left guard - could well be the player who gets the call.

The former Jefferson High standout saw work at center during practice last fall, and in high school served as the Dragons' long snapper all four years on the squad.

There are other possibilities. Ben Harden (6-3, 310) was moved from guard to center at the beginning of fall drills, while redshirt Kevin Perez (6-3, 270) has practiced full-time at the position for two seasons and was listed in Georgia's media guide as Velasco's top backup in 2007. Incoming freshman Ben Jones (6-2, 306) is already in school and will get his opportunity as well.

"(Harden) struggled early in the season after just moving to center with the shotgun snap, but the last couple of months, he's done real well," Velasco said recently. "He's got a lot of potential and is someone who can definitely help this team.

If Davis does slide over from left guard, the question then becomes who joins left tackle Trinton Sturdivant (6-5, 293) and right guard Clint Boling (6-5, 290) as starters on the offensive line.

Fortunately for offensive line coach Stacy Searels, he's got plenty of depth from which he could fill the gap.

Redshirt freshman Justin Anderson (6-5, 328) may be the best drive blocker of Georgia's young linemen, a group that includes Tanner Strickland (6-5, 328), Chad Little (6-6, 360) and Vince Vance (6-8, 320), who served as the Bulldogs' top backup at four different positions last fall - left tackle, right tackle, left guard and right guard.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins went against Anderson daily in practice and came away impressed.

"Bean has gotten a lot better, especially with his consistency," Atkins said of Anderson, who was listed as a right tackle in Georgia's postseason media guide. "The guy is real strong. He's got a chance to be one of the best offensive guards we have."

Boling also has experience on the edge after making his first career start at right tackle against Western Carolina, and could conceivably switch back there again if Searels feels his guards have progressed to the point to warrant such a move.

Much will also depend on the progress of Kiante Tripp (6-6, 290), who coaches moved from defensive end to the offensive tackle last fall.

At 6-6 and 290 pounds, Tripp may be the most athletic of Georgia's offensive linemen and has progressed to the point where he will get the opportunity this spring to put his stamp on the starting right tackle spot.

Don't forget about Josh Davis (6-6, 293), a redshirt freshman in 2007 who can play both guard and tackle positions.

Of Georgia's verbal commitments, Riverdale's Cordy Glenn (6-6, 315), Blountsville, Ala.'s Jonathan Owens (6-5, 295) both have tons of potential, as does four-star prospect A.J. Harmon (6-4, 308), although the Wadley native is apparently slotted for the defensive line.

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