- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- By this point of preseason practice, it appears as though Georgia’s coaching staff has settled on its starting offensive line.
The second team, however, remains in a bit of upheaval.
The Bulldogs shifted things around with the backups at Saturday morning’s practice, moving left tackle Austin Long to right guard, left guard Mark Beard to left tackle and right guard Watts Dantzler to left guard.
“[Offensive line coach Will] Friend wanted to see Beard on the edge a little bit,” Georgia coach Mark Richt explained. “He’s athletic and we thought maybe going inside might help Long. We don’t know. So we thought we’d just take a peek.”
Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo both said in recent interviews that Long struggled a bit during camp, which also contributed to the move, with the coaches wondering whether a move inside might spark a more consistent performance.
“He hasn’t played well enough to compete for that starting position at this point,” Richt said. “And he’s just got to keep fighting to get in position to if we call on him in a ballgame, he’s ready to do it. So that’s been the plan. And Coach Friend just wanted to see how Mark handled the edge.
“And again, sometimes even a guy like Watts, his height, his length, you’d say he’s a tackle. But sometimes you put a guy in there inside and it changes for the better for him, too, so I’ll be interested to see what Coach Friend thinks about just his initial reaction to that move.”
Richt said he liked what he saw of Beard at tackle. The junior college transfer played tackle exclusively prior to his arrival at Georgia, so he had a comfort level at the position prior to becoming a Bulldog.
“It looked like he has the quick twitch to pass set and be in position,” Richt said. “He’s got a little ways to go with blocking people out there in space, but I thought what I saw of his just raw ability, it looked like he could do it.”
Building versatility: Senior Cornelius Washington worked with the outside linebackers during the early portion of Saturday’s practice that was open to the media.
The move is not particularly shocking, as he played it for the last two seasons and Georgia’s coaches have insisted even after moving him to defensive end during spring practice that they would like for him to be able to play both positions depending on the situation.
With expected starter Chase Vasser sitting out the first two games on suspension, the coaches also want to make sure Washington can still play outside linebacker if needed.
“We want versatility,” Richt said. “We know that by cross-training people we can create depth if we have injuries and things of that nature. It’s obvious now that Chase won’t be playing the first couple ballgames, so we’ve just got to make sure we’ve got enough guys that know what to do at different positions.”
That is an ongoing theme with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense. He has players who work at both cornerback and safety, players who play inside and outside linebacker and defensive linemen who work at end, tackle and nose guard.
The element of surprise is a valuable component of Grantham’s 3-4 scheme, said defensive end Garrison Smith, who also works at tackle when the Bulldogs use four down linemen.
“The way our defense is, you can be anywhere,” Smith said. “It’s really not a set lineup. It’s just whatever happens happens. Even if you look at last year, how the lineups were, it never was a certain person playing a certain position. You might play everywhere.
“You might have John Jenkins at middle linebacker, free safety,” he joked, referring to the Bulldogs’ 360-pound nose guard. “It’s just that type of defense.”
Regarding Rome: Richt said he wants to see a greater level of effort in practice from redshirt freshman tight end Jay Rome.
“He’s made more plays in the passing game than he has in the run game,” Richt said. “I don’t think Jay has practiced as hard as he needs to to really become a great player. He’s learning. He’s like a lot of young guys -- you’ve got to learn the tempo and what it takes. So he’s just got to make sure that every day he comes to work to get better at everything he does.”
Rome made two catches for 32 yards in Wednesday’s team scrimmage and made a highlight-reel touchdown catch in the Bulldogs’ spring game, but Richt pointed out that there is more to playing the position well than recording the occasional big catch.
“I’m not saying he’s mastered the route-running and ball-catching, either, but he’s shown up in the stats,” Richt said. “In the spring game and all that kind of thing, he made a really fine play and he’s got ability. But it’s got to be an every-day, every-play type thing in order to get to the point where he can master his position.
“He’s got a ways to go, but like I said, he’s young. It’s somewhat understandable, but we’re counting on him right now to get ready to play.”
1dSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson