SEC: A.J. Harmon

Brent Benedict leaves Georgia

June, 27, 2011
Before the spring, Georgia would have put its offensive line up against just about anyone's in the SEC.

There was size, strength, experience, and most importantly, there was depth.

Now, as the season slowly draws near, the Bulldogs said goodbye to yet another lineman when redshirt freshman tackle Brent Benedict decided to leave the program Sunday for what coach Mark Richt said were personal reasons.

Benedict arrived at Georgia as a highly touted recruit, but he suffered a devastating knee injury during his season year of high school. Benedict not only tore his ACL but had nerve damage as well.

The injury cost Benedict his first season on campus, but he returned this spring expecting to push for time on Georgia's line. While Benedict had the potential to be a star for the Bulldogs, he struggled to move ahead in his playing progression this spring. He arrived as a tackle, but left spring as the backup right guard.

The 6-foot-5, 301-pound Benedict is the third offensive lineman that won't make it through the season for the Bulldogs. Senior tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down this spring after suffering his third ACL-related knee injury. Sturdivant, who started seven games last season, was battling converted guard Cordy Glenn for one of the tackle spots before his season-ending injury.

In May, junior tackle A.J. Harmon also transferred for personal reasons. Harmon competed for time at tackle during his first two years, playing in just seven career games.

The Bulldogs are left with a crippled offensive line. Heading into preseason, converted defensive lineman Justin Anderson is to start at right tackle opposite Glenn. Center Ben Jones is arguably the most reliable lineman the Bulldogs have, and Kenarious Gates, who started three games in 2010, is listed as the starting left guard. The young and inexperienced Chris Burnette is the starter at right guard.

Behind them, things don’t look much better. Offensive line coach Will Friend will have to accelerate the development of a handful of freshmen during preseason camp. One other option will be taking a look at moving Gates around to help with depth at tackle. This spring, Richt said that with Gates' athleticism, he could cross-train at tackle.

Kolton Houston and Dallas Lee are also options at guard, but Houston was a member of the scout team last season, while Lee played in just three games.

Sophomore Austin Long is listed as a tackle, but injuries have hurt his progression. Long had back surgery and missed the 2009 season. He was a member of the scout team last season and missed this spring after tearing a pectoral muscle in practice.

The Bulldogs signed six offensive linemen in the 2011 recruiting class and the staff will have to push these youngsters even more heading into the season. Three players that could come in and compete for time immediately are Watts Dantzler, Zach DeBell and Xzavier Ward, who are all expected to play tackle.

Even with the talent the Bulldogs possess on both sides of the ball, they are an offensive lineman injury away from having a rough 2011.
The big uglies up front on the offensive side are our focus today. There are some quality veterans out there, but teams all across the league are looking to replace some quality linemen in the trenches.

Here's how we see the league stacking up:

[+] EnlargeBarrett Jones
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBarrett Jones has been one of the mainstays of Alabama's offensive line the past two seasons.
1. Alabama: Four of Alabama’s five linemen from a year ago return, making this one of the team’s strongest units. The returners have combined for more than 70 starts at Alabama. Barrett Jones is the star of the show. The junior has been the Tide’s starting right guard each of the past two seasons, but took reps at left tackle and could be asked to move. William Vlachos is back at center and could be the best at his position in the league. Fellow starters D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack are back and took reps at left tackle this spring.

2. Ole Miss: The Rebels’ offense isn’t getting much respect this offseason, but its offensive line returns All-SEC candidates in tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. Seven of Ole Miss’ linemen started two or more games each on the offensive line in 2010. Last season, the Rebels were first in the league in sacks allowed, giving up just 14. Alex Washington should stay at left guard after starting eight games there and A.J. Hawkins will likely get the nod at center after playing eight games there as well. Arkansas transfer Matt Hall will compete for time at center.

3. LSU: Joseph Barksdale might be gone, but the Tigers have a very talented group of linemen returning. Tackle Alex Hurst seems primed to be a star in the league and senior Josh Dworaczky is arguably the Tigers’ top lineman with 25 career starts. Patrick Lonergan is solid at center, while T-Bob Hebert is valuable at both center and guard. Sophomore Chris Faulk has the tough assignment of replacing Barksdale, but made quite the impression on his coaches this spring.

4. Kentucky: The Wildcats return four starters on their line. Right guard Larry Warford headlines the group after gaining second-team All-SEC honors a year ago. Kentucky also returns two-year starter Stuart Hines at left guard and Matt Smith at center, who was solid in his first year there. Left tackle Chandler Burden missed spring practice, but is expected back by fall practice. Finding a suitable right tackle is the next step for Kentucky.

5. Tennessee: This group could be one of the most impressive units for the Volunteers this season. It’s deeper and more experienced in Derek Dooley’s second year and he was very pleased with its performance this spring. Junior Dallas Thomas is solid at left tackle, and sophomore Ja’Wuan James really came on strong in his first year and is one of the top linemen in the SEC. James Stone also returns at center. The surprise of the group was true freshman Marcus Jackson, who held down the left guard spot for most of the spring.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs must replace All-American left tackle Derek Sherrod, but most of the line is somewhat on point. Center Quentin Saulsberry will anchor the line and is versatile enough to play just about every position on the line. Left guard Gabe Jackson and right tackle Addison Lawrence return and the Bulldogs will have junior Tobias Smith lining up at right guard. Blaine Clausell and James Carmon, who moved from defensive tackle, will compete at left tackle.

7. Georgia: This was supposed to be one of the strongest offensive line units in the league, but the Bulldogs lost tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a season-ending knee injury this spring and fellow tackle A.J. Harmon transferred. Georgia’s most-reliable options are Cordy Glenn, who moved from guard to left tackle and Ben Jones at center. Kenarious Gates is at left guard, but he’s athletic enough to play tackle if needed. Former defensive lineman Justin Anderson will start off at right tackle. Right guard is the next area of business and the depth all around is a problem.

8. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have questions here, but there is talent across the line. Rokevious Watkins is one of the most talented guards in the league and he’ll be assisted by returning starter at center T.J. Johnson. Senior Kyle Nunn has made strides at left tackle and redshirt freshman A.J. Cann took over duties at left guard this spring. Still, the younger linemen will be counted on to contribute this fall.

9. Arkansas: The Razorbacks must replace three starters on the offensive line. Center Travis Swanson and left guard Alvin Bailey are the only returning starters. Just a sophomore, Bailey impressed his coaches last season and will be one of the top linemen in the league this fall. After that, the Hogs will have to turn to youth for help. True freshman Brey Cook could be thrust into the starting role at right tackle, while sophomore Anthony Oden could get the job at left tackle.

10. Florida: Florida’s offensive line struggled throughout the 2010 season -- and that was with a senior-laden group. This fall, the Gators will start over with a ton of inexperience. Right guard Jon Halapio and right tackle Xavier Nixon are the only returning starters. Halapio struggled at times last season and Nixon battled injuries. Florida’s line spent most of the spring in the infirmary, so little is known about the overall talent. Freshman Chaz Green left spring as the starter at left tackle, Jonotthan Harrison will battle former Notre Dame lineman Dan Wenger at center. He transferred in after spring, but has health concerns.

11. Auburn: The Tigers will go from having one of the top offensive line groups in the country to having a major work in progress in 2011. Senior Brandon Mosley is the lone returning starter, and while he was solid on Auburn’s line last season, he came from junior college as a defensive end/tight end. The good news is that tackle A.J. Greene should be fine this fall after sustaining a season-ending leg injury last year. The rest of Auburn’s linemen are very young and inexperienced. Don’t expect many redshirts from this group.

12. Vanderbilt: The Commodores might return all five starters, but this unit had trouble keeping things together last year. The offense needs this group to improve mightily. Wesley Johnson is Vanderbilt’s best option, despite only being a sophomore at left tackle. There will be size on the right side, with 300-plus pounders Kyle Fischer and Ryan Seymour over there. Simply put, this unit has the experience, but it requires a lot of improvement.
Georgia has released a post-spring depth chart and there were few surprises on it.

One interesting move is that redshirt freshman Ken Malcome is listed as the fourth-string tailback. Senior Caleb King is the starter, followed by Carlton Thomas and Brandon Harton. Malcome had a decent spring game, and though he dealt with injuries this spring, it seemed as though he was making strides. He was not the best option at the position, but his fall is a bit of a surprise.

Malcome could fall even farther down the pecking order after incoming freshman Isaiah Crowell gets on campus.

Where you can really see where the Bulldogs will have trouble is on the offensive line. Senior tackle Trinton Sturdivant went down this spring with his this third ACL-related injury, while junior A.J. Harmon transferred for personal reasons, leaving some holes to fill.

Senior Cordy Glenn took the spot at left tackle and will be backed up by redshirt freshman Hugh Williams. Sophomore Kenarious Gates is the starter at left guard, Ben Jones is at center, Chris Burnette is at right guard and Justin Anderson is at right tackle.

Redshirt freshman Brent Benedict has moved from tackle and is behind Burnette. Kolton Houston and Dallas Lee are both behind Gates and Austin Long is behind Anderson.

Staying healthy on the offensive line will be critical for the Bulldogs.

At wide receiver, junior Marlon Brown will start opposite flanker Tavarres King. Brown showed signs this spring that he's ready to be a major contributor to the offense and will need to take some pressure off of King, who should be quarterback Aaron Murray's primary target. Junior Rantavious Wooten is listed behind King.

The defense looks steady, especially up front.

Abry Jones, Kwame Geathers and DeAngelo Tyson are the three down linemen. Once junior college transfer John Jenkins arrives, the battle between him and Geathers for the noseguard spot should be exciting to follow.

Jarvis Jones is the starting Sam linebacker, Cornelius Washington is at Will, Christian Robinson is the Mike and Alec Ogletree is inside at the Mo. This is sure to be one of the fastest linebacker groups in the SEC.
Much of the focus in Athens has centered around who will replace A.J. Green as Georgia's big-play receiver and whether prized freshman running back Isaiah Crowell can come right in and pump new life into the Bulldogs' running game, especially now that Washaun Ealey is gone.

But as we creep toward June, a new issue has surfaced -- depth on the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Harmon
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia's depth took a hit Tuesday when A.J. Harmon left the team.
Junior tackle A.J. Harmon left the team Tuesday for what coach Mark Richt said were personal reasons, although academics sidelined Harmon for the Liberty Bowl last season. Harmon was a potential starter at right tackle, and at the very least, was going to be the Bulldogs' third tackle capable of filling in on both the left and right side. That's two tackles that the Bulldogs were counting on for next season that won't be around. Senior Trinton Sturdivant, who started seven games at left tackle last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the spring.

Undoubtedly, first-year offensive line coach Will Friend will be working a few guys in different spots when preseason camp begins in order to build some depth.

Senior Cordy Glenn will open the preseason at left tackle and was probably going to be the starter there even before the injury to Sturdivant, who was expected to slide over to right tackle. Senior Justin Anderson, who was on defense last season before undergoing surgery for turf toe and missing all but one game, is the starter at right tackle entering the preseason.

Senior Ben Jones is solid at center with sophomore Kenarious Gates penciled in at left guard and sophomore Chris Burnette at right guard.

As it stands now, Gates would probably be the Bulldogs' third tackle and could end up moving there. He started three games as a true freshman last season at right guard.

Redshirt freshman Kolton Houston showed enough promise this spring that the Georgia coaches feel like he could also come in and play guard if Gates moves to tackle.

But among Gates, Burnette and Holston, they have a combined three college starts.

The two wild cards at tackle are redshirt freshman Brent Benedict and sophomore Austin Long, but there are health concerns with both players. Benedict had a serious knee injury his senior season of high school that also included nerve damage. Long underwent back surgery and missed the entire 2009 season. He was also out this spring after tearing a pectoral muscle in practice.

The Bulldogs may have to look to a true freshman or two for depth next season. Watts Dantzler, Zach Debell and Xzavier Ward are all projected to play tackle in college.
Figuring out the offensive tackle situation at Georgia should be an interesting task for coach Mark Richt.

The loss of Trinton Sturdivant, who is expected to miss the 2011 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee this spring, put a dent in the Bulldogs‘ offensive line plans.

Both he and converted guard Cordy Glenn were rotating back and forth between the right and left tackle spots.

With Sturdivant gone, Glenn has assumed the starting role at left tackle, but right tackle and a backup for Glenn remains a bit of a mystery.

Wednesday, Richt threw out some names for both spots.

He said guard Justin Anderson and tackle A.J. Harmon are candidates for the right tackle spot. Both split reps there this spring. Tackle Austin Long is a candidate as well, but dealt with a shoulder injury this spring.

Richt said guard Kenarious Gates, who has been solid in the middle of the line this spring, is athletically gifted enough to play tackle if needed.

After that, it’s a bit unclear. Redshirt freshmen Brent Benedict and Kolton Houston will both get a shot. Benedict missed all of the 2010 season after suffering a severe right knee injury during his senior year of high school.

Georgia will also look to accelerate the development of incoming freshmen tackles Zach DeBell, Xzavier Ward and Watts Dantzler.

The key to figuring fall positions will be finding the correct fit at right tackle, Richt said.

“A lot of it’s going to depend on who is going to be the starting right tackle,“ Richt said. “My guess is whoever we think the third best tackle is he may end up having to cross train between the left side and the right side.”
Talk about cruelty.

Sunday, tests confirmed that Georgia senior offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant suffered his third ACL-related, season-ending injury. His first two were in his left knee, but this one was in his right one.

Remember, this is a guy who was a freshman All-American in 2007 after starting all 13 games at left tackle for the Bulldogs.

He then tore the ACL in his left knee during a preseason scrimmage in 2008 and tore it again in the 2009 season opener.

For a guy who has given everything for his team, this is a devastating blow for not only Georgia but also his career.

Sturdivant, who started seven of the 12 games he played in during the 2010 season, considered forgoing his senior year to enter the 2011 NFL draft, but later decided to stay at Georgia for his final season.

It’s unknown if Sturdivant, who would be a fifth-year senior this fall, will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.

As for Georgia’s offensive line, this leaves a huge hole. The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Sturdivant was splitting time with converted guard Cordy Glenn at the left and right tackle positions.

Sturdivant’s injury leaves Glenn as the only Bulldog tackle with any real experience, and while Glenn did start four games at left tackle after Sturdivant went down in 2009, most of his experience has come at left and right guard.

Junior A.J. Harmon could be an option at tackle, but he’s played in just seven career games. Redshirt sophomore Austin Long and redshirt freshman Kolton Houston could be options at right tackle, should Glenn permanently move to left tackle. Redshirt freshman Brent Benedict, who missed all of the 2010 season after suffering a severe right knee injury during his senior year of high school, could also be an option to replace Sturdivant.

The low numbers at tackle mean the Bulldogs will have to immediately throw incoming freshmen tackles Zach DeBell, Xzavier Ward and Watts Dantzler into the fall practice rotation.



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