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Beard ready to impact O-line

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia didn't reel in all of the big fish it sought in order to fill out its offensive line class on national signing day, but those who joined the Bulldogs are big enough to immediately help the team.

When discussing the newcomers -- junior college transfer Mark Beard (Adamsville, Ala./Coffeyville, Kan., CC) and high school seniors John Theus (Jacksonville, Fla./Bolles School) and Greg Pyke (Baltimore/Boys Latin) -- Georgia's coaches emphasized that those players' bulk was an important potential factor in their readiness to contribute on the Bulldogs' depleted offensive line.

"The linemen we've got coming in -- first of all, they're big men," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They're physical enough to compete right now. Sometimes you get a lineman, it might take a year or two."

That statement would have applied to Beard, who said he weighed between 250 and 260 pounds when he graduated from high school. Now he sits at the 300-pound plateau -- a size that can help him quickly jump into the competition for a starting job.

In fact, it was that possibility to play immediately that helped convince Beard to select Georgia over offers from Arkansas and Mississippi State.

"It factored a whole lot. I see a great chance of playing here," Beard said.

Like Beard, Theus (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) and Pyke (6-5, 315) have the size and versatility to potentially play early if necessary.

"We thought we did a good job with guys who are athletic and can play multiple positions and always kind of start them at tackle and can be guards also," Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend said.

Theus in particular has those in and around the Georgia program excited because of his massive potential. Every major program in the country pursued Theus, but he chose to follow his brother Nathan -- a long snapper who redshirted last season -- to Athens.

Theus, who rated as the nation's No. 28 overall prospect in the ESPNU 150, has a similar national profile to some other heavily recruited Bulldogs who became major stars, Richt said.

"Nothing's given, but he's a very talented guy. He's going to definitely throw his hat in the ring," Richt said. "You've got guys like A.J. Greens you've had in the past, Matthew Staffords and all that -- guys at their position that were really highly thought of for a certain reason. Well, John is in that category. His opportunity is going to be the same as those other guys."

There is more than enough opportunity for the newcomers and some of the incumbents to win playing time in the fall.

Following the departure of three seniors -- center Ben Jones and tackles Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson -- who started all 14 games last season, the Bulldogs have only three players on the roster who have started a college game.

Rising junior Kenarious Gates is the most experienced member of the bunch, having played both tackle and guard in 19 games, including 12 starts. Last season guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette received the first considerable playing time of their careers.

Watts Dantzler, David Andrews and Hunter Long played as true freshmen in 2011, while redshirt sophomore Austin Long -- rated as one of the nation's top 50 prospects in the ESPNU 150 when he signed with Georgia in 2009 -- played for the first time after a series of health setbacks.

Others, including guard Kolton Houston, who sat out the 2011 season during an NCAA eligibility dispute, and redshirting freshmen Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell, could also win playing time.

"Xzavier Ward, people kind of forget about guys like that, but Ward's probably put on, like, 40 pounds since he's been here," Richt said. "He's getting healthy and really looks great -- big, tall kid, very lean and athletic.

"Sometimes you bring them in and they are a little bit on the skinny side, but then you get them here with Coach [Joe Tereshinski, Georgia's strength coach] and you put the pounds on them and they get strong and, before you know it, he's competing for you, too."

Without question, the offensive line will be the biggest position of uncertainty when spring practice begins in March, after losing players with the experience of Jones, Glenn and Anderson. The departed senior trio combined to start 125 games in their careers.

The remaining players have a combined 31 starts to their credit, so Friend will be starting nearly from scratch.

That's a possibility that excites a newcomer like Beard, who has played left tackle since seventh grade, but has been pegged by some scouts to possibly play guard in college.

"Coming into spring ball, I've got a good advantage of finding a starting spot somewhere on the offensive line," Beard said. "There's three open spots, so getting accustomed to the weight room and just going out here and working hard, [I can] earn a spot."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.