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Georgia digs deeper into depth for title run

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Football coaches by nature are worriers.

And when it comes to depth on the offensive and defensive lines, they can be downright basket cases.

That's where you win championships and where you can lose championships if you're not strong enough or deep enough in the line of scrimmage.

The margin for error can be razor thin.

"You never have enough depth up front," said Rodney Garner, Georgia's defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. "Just when you think you do, you realize you don't."

Garner speaks from experience. He looked at his rotation of four defensive tackles before preseason practice began and felt like he had four that could match up with most anybody in the country.

But then Kade Weston had arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason, and Jeff Owens tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Bulldogs' opener last week against Georgia Southern.

"That's when you sort of wonder what comes next," said senior Geno Atkins, who was starting at defensive tackle alongside Owens. "But that's what the coaches preach every single day in practice: Are you ready to step up and take that next guy's place when he goes down?

"If you're going to play here, you've always got to be ready."

It's a theme that will echo over and over again for the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs. They've already lost Owens, as well as left offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant for the season to knee injuries. That's two of the three best linemen on their team.

"Some teams, if they lose a starting offensive lineman or starting defensive lineman, it all goes downhill for them," said junior Vince Vance, the Bulldogs' starting left offensive guard. "But that's the difference with Georgia. When one person goes down, everybody keeps pushing. Our season doesn't end right there. You keep moving forward."

It also means that younger players are indoctrinated that much quicker.

Garner had hoped to redshirt true freshman tackle DeAngelo Tyson. That all changed when Owens' season ended in the first quarter of the first game.

"I hated that because I wanted to bring [Tyson] along slowly and let him develop, but you've got to play the hand that you're dealt," Garner said.

He won't get Weston back in time for the Central Michigan game this Saturday, but there's a chance that Weston will be healthy enough to play in the SEC opener against South Carolina on Sept. 13.

Senior Corvey Irvin, a junior college transfer a year ago, filled in for Owens last week.

"Corvey came in and played outstanding. He was our player of the game," Garner said. "But that was one game. Hopefully, he can have that type of impact from game to game. That's still going to be determined."

Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who doesn't talk to the media, also had to do some shuffling following Sturdivant's injury. He wound up moving Kiante Tripp from right tackle to left tackle and he gets Clint Boling back this week after a one-game suspension. Boling will slide out to right tackle after starting most of last season at right guard.

"Thankfully, this didn't happen last year, especially on the offensive line," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I don't know if we could have really handled it very well. Last year, we had no injuries at all on our offensive line and we did start three freshmen, Trinton being one of them.

"This year, we've just got a little bit more depth to handle that situation. We also moved Kiante Tripp from defense to offense last year. He wouldn't have been ready. This year, he is ready. We're just better equipped to handle it. We're still starting a true freshman this year, Cordy Glenn, and our top three backups are freshmen right now. So we're young, very, very young up front, but we do have enough quality people that I think we'll be OK."