Georgia Bulldogs: Jake Edwards

We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week we will take a look at five position battles worth watching this spring.

The first two installments covered the competitions at safety and defensive line. Today, let's move to the offensive tackles. Georgia lost a longtime starter in left tackle Kenarious Gates and have two part-time starters returning.

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIJohn Theus has started 21 games during his first two seasons at Georgia.
Returning starters: Entering his junior season, John Theus has already started 21 games. He manned the right tackle spot for all 14 games in 2012 and started the last seven games of 2013. He and the versatile Kolton Houston, who started the first six games last season, handled most -- if not all -- of the significant snaps at right tackle last fall.

Departures: Gates was never a star, but he was reliable, closing his career starting 33 consecutive games split between guard and tackle. He was exclusively the Bulldogs' starting left tackle for the last two seasons, so Georgia has a significant hole to fill in protecting new quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.

Returning reserves: This is where things get interesting. We know that rising juniors Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell are tackles, and we assume that Theus and Houston will remain at the position, but position coach Will Friend doesn't hesitate to juggle rotations. Seniors Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler and redshirt freshman Aulden Bynum are each listed as guards, but all of them have the size and ability to play tackle. If Friend doesn't like the way things are shaping up -- or even if he does and simply wants to weigh all of his options -- don't be surprised if he shuffles some of these guys inside and out.

Newcomers: Bynum is the only possible tackle who redshirted last season, but the Bulldogs signed three potential tackles last month in Dyshon Sims, Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards -- none of whom will arrive on campus until the summer.

What to watch: Offensive linemen are accustomed to players at other positions getting all of the attention, but the tackle races rank among the most important position battles for the Bulldogs this spring. Friend's offensive line had an up-and-down season in 2013, but it might get off to a much better start if Theus and Houston -- or a different candidate -- lock down the tackle spots by proving they can handle the job during spring practice. Houston didn't even know if he would be able to play at this time last year thanks to a long-running NCAA eligibility dispute. He definitely looked rusty at times, particularly when trying to anticipate the snap count in noisy road venues. Now he has a season of steady playing time under his belt, and most of the other leading tackle candidates have played in big games as well. Someone simply needs to prove to Friend that he deserves the job. Otherwise, expect to see Georgia continue to rotate players in and out until Friend discovers a combination that he likes.

UGA position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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Georgia doesn't open spring practice until March 18, so we'll use the next few weeks to look ahead to those all-important workouts and preview what to watch once the Bulldogs get started.

Today we continue a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. After touching on the inside linebackers on Monday, we move on to the offensive line group that must replace three starters.

4. Offensive line

[+] EnlargeDavid Andrews
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIDavid Andrews returns to anchor the offensive line.
Battling for No. 1: This is perhaps one of the most interesting position groups to watch this spring. Offensive line coach Will Friend seemed fairly comfortable with most of his lineup last fall, with center David Andrews, left tackle Kenarious Gates and right guard Chris Burnette starting all 13 games and left guard Dallas Lee starting 12. It was the right tackle spot that felt like a revolving door at times, with John Theus starting eight games and Kolton Houston six. With Gates, Burnette and Lee all out of the picture now, there should be plenty of competition to fill their spots -- and just as much at essentially every position but center, where Andrews seems entrenched as a starter. Friend seemed to like what then-freshman Brandon Kublanow brought to the lineup last season at guard, so he might be one candidate to keep an eye on during the spring. But who Friend will insert into the tackle spots seems difficult to predict. Theus and Houston certainly had their ups and downs last season, but they are far and away the most experienced tackles on the roster at this point.

Strength in numbers: Georgia finally has depth along the line that seemed to be lacking for far too long. Guards Watts Dantzler, Mark Beard and Greg Pyke could all be candidates for legitimate playing time -- and maybe even starting jobs – but reserve tackles Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell only add to the mystery at their position, having contributed very little on game day to this point. Reserve center Hunter Long is in a similar situation since rising senior Andrews has taken essentially every significant snap over the last two seasons.

New on the scene: In guard Josh Cardiello and swingman Aulden Bynum, the Bulldogs add two candidates to the rotation after redshirting last fall. Both players participated in spring practice as early enrollees last year, although it was apparent they were unlikely to contribute on a veteran line in the fall. This year's line signees -- tackles Dyshon Sims, Jake Edwards and Kendall Baker and guard Isaiah Wynn -- are not expected on campus until summer, so they will need to have surprisingly strong August camps in order to crack Friend's rotation in the fall. Sims and Wynn, who was the No. 106 overall prospect in the ESPN 300, seem like the most probable contributors among the freshmen.
Georgia has another top-10 class lined up for national signing day, but its final ranking next week could rise or fall depending on how the Bulldogs finish within their own state -- particularly whether they land their top remaining target, Lorenzo Carter.

As it stands, the Bulldogs have commitments from two of the top six players from Georgia, but that's it among the Peach State's collection of elite prospects. Heavily recruited players such as linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State) and quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson) were among those who checked out Georgia before committing elsewhere.

Mark Richt's staff still has a chance to finish on a strong note, however.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Carter
Miller Safrit/ESPNLorenzo Carter is the top remaining recruiting target for Georgia.
The Bulldogs seem to be in good shape to land five-star defensive end Carter (ESPN's No. 14 overall prospect and No. 3 player at his position). Other targets such as ESPN 300 prospect Wesley Green (No. 120 overall, No. 13 cornerback, uncommitted), Bryson Allen-Williams (No. 162 overall, No. 10 outside linebacker, committed to South Carolina) and Andrew Williams (No. 174 overall, No. 17 defensive end, uncommitted) are among those lurking as possible final members of the class.

Otherwise, this recruiting class -- one that could be slightly smaller than normal -- adequately addresses Georgia's immediate needs. Let's look at how Georgia addressed some of those positions:

Secondary: Georgia's weakest position segment last season could use some immediate help -- and it will get it in cornerbacks Shattle Fenteng (No. 3 overall prospect, top cornerback on ESPN's Junior College 50) and Malkom Parrish (No. 77 overall, No. 10 athlete). Georgia recently added three-star athlete Dominick Sanders at corner. Green -- who is scheduled to join Carter and others on a visit to Athens this weekend -- and three-star athletes T.J. Harrell and Tavon Ross remain as targets.

The possible shortcoming here is that safety was an inconsistent position for Georgia last season and the Bulldogs have only three-star prospect Kendall Gant lined up so far.

With Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended to open the season, senior Corey Moore, rising sophomore Quincy Mauger and oft-injured Tray Matthews might be the only early options, but keep an eye on Harrell and Ross between now and signing day.

Running back: With Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall entering their third seasons on campus, Georgia needed insurance policies at tailback.

The Bulldogs locked that up in a big way with the current headliners in this class, Sony Michel (No. 19 overall, No. 2 running back) and Nick Chubb (No. 63 overall, No. 7 running back). It will be interesting to see how Richt's staff juggles a glut of talented ball carriers just a year after injuries to Gurley and Marshall created depth problems.

Tight end: With Ty Flournoy-Smith getting kicked off the team last summer and Arthur Lynch exhausting his eligibility in the fall, Georgia had a need at tight end. Jeb Blazevich (No. 101 overall, No. 2 tight end/H) could become Georgia's next great pass-catching tight end thanks to an impressive combination of size (6-foot-5) and soft hands.

Offensive line: Replenishing the line of scrimmage is always a priority, and with Georgia losing starting guards Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee, signing a top prospect such as Isaiah Wynn (No. 106 overall, No. 6 guard) will be particularly valuable. The Bulldogs are also set to sign four-star tackle Dyshon Sims and three-star prospects Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards.

Receiver: Georgia has plenty of bodies here for 2014, but Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Jonathon Rumph and Michael Erdman will each be seniors and Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell will be fourth-year juniors.

The Bulldogs have secured commitments from ESPN 300 member Shakenneth Williams (No. 297 overall, No. 45 receiver) and three-star prospect Gilbert Johnson. They also are set to re-sign Rico Johnson, who failed to qualify after signing with the Bulldogs last February.

Defensive line/outside linebacker: Keep an eye on this group for the future. If Georgia lands Carter to go along with already-committed Lamont Gaillard (No. 55 overall, No. 4 defensive tackle), that could be the foundation for some outstanding defensive lines in the next couple of seasons.

The Bulldogs return almost everyone along the line from last season, so it is not a glaring immediate need. The 2014 line will be stocked with fourth-year players, though, so this is a good time to restock the depth charts for the future. They already have a commitment from the versatile Keyon Brown (No. 185 overall, No. 19 defensive end), with Carter and Williams potentially joining him. Like Brown, three-star outside linebacker Detric Dukes brings some versatility to the crop of commitments along the line.

Georgia's coaches never gave up on Allen-Williams even after his commitment to South Carolina in April. He insists he will still sign with the Gamecocks, but plans to visit Georgia with Carter and the others this weekend. Stay tuned.

Vols, Dawgs can lean on OL classes 

December, 12, 2013
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In most cases, missing out on the nation’s No. 18 player would be a crushing defeat.

The battle to land David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School), the nation’s No. 2 offensive tackle, had plenty of twists and turns with Tennessee and Georgia each taking a turn in the leader’s spot before he pledged to Florida Thursday. In the end, Sharpe saw an opportunity for early playing time and a lack of depth at tackle in Gainesville he couldn’t pass up.

Many fans are going to flock to social media to complain their beloved Dawgs or Vols missed out here, but they shouldn’t. Looking deeper at each school’s situation shows not landing Sharpe wasn’t a swing and a miss at all.

Roundtable: Dawg Night developments 

July, 15, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- One of Georgia’s biggest recruiting events of the year has come and gone, and the Bulldogs scored at Friday’s Dawg Night camp with four new additions to their 2014 crop of commitments.

Our Kipp Adams and Radi Nabulsi were on hand to cover the camp, getting a first-hand look at the newest Bulldogs commits and more who likely will join them in the coming weeks and months.

That brings us to this week’s roundtable question for our two recruiting gurus: What was the biggest development out of Georgia's Dawg Night camp in your eyes?


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It’s Rankings Week at DawgNation. Each day this week, we’ve ranked some aspect of Georgia’s football program and the teams and players the Bulldogs will face in the 2013 season.

Today we’re ranking Georgia’s top five areas of need in the 2014 recruiting class and some of the players the Bulldogs are pursuing to fill those holes.


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Spring recruiting recap 

June, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- When the spring evaluation period started on April 15, the Georgia Bulldogs trailed most of the other teams in the SEC with only three commitments. By the time the period ended on May 31, Georgia had picked up two more and was poised to have a big June. But no one knew that the first camp of the year would see the Bulldogs double their class.

NEW COMMITS

Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian)
Committed: April 23



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Roundtable: 2014 recruiting needs 

June, 17, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Nick Chubb’s verbal commitment last week was big not only because it added a record-setting rusher to Georgia’s 2014 recruiting class, but also because -- together with a previous commitment from another elite tailback, Sony Michel -- it addressed Georgia’s biggest need in this class.

The Bulldogs have Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, of course, but they will be draft-eligible juniors after the 2014 season. The only other scholarship backs on the roster are brand-new freshmen A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas, so Michel and Chubb will add depth and the talent necessary to keep Georgia’s backfield train on the tracks.

With that recruiting need addressed, it brings us to this week’s DawgNation roundtable question: Now that Georgia has addressed its most glaring need for 2014, running back, what is the next position Mark Richt’s coaching staff should square away for this recruiting class?

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Georgia camp nets new Dawgs 

June, 10, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The Mark Richt camp on Saturday started off slowly with the campers lining up to run 40-yard dashes under the watchful eye of the coaching staff. Once the stop watches were put away, Richt greeted the over 300 campers, telling them, “We are looking for some Bulldogs.” As the players advanced through general football drills to position drills and then into one-on-one matchups, the speed and temperature of the camp climbed upwards. At the end of the day, Richt had found two new commitments and had offered two more the chance to join his team.


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One of the standout performers at the Mark Richt Camp on Saturday earned a coveted in-state offer from the University of Georgia, and he wasted little time in accepting the hard-earned scholarship.

Offensive lineman Jake Edwards (Franklin, Ga./Heard Co.) came into Saturday’s camp with double-digit offers, but after dominating several BCS-caliber defensive linemen in front of assistant coach Will Friend, he got the news he had been hoping for all along.

“Georgia offered me, and I committed to them as well,” Edwards said. “I really love it there and I like all of the coaches. They have a great atmosphere, history and I have been a Georgia fan all of my life, so I wanted to keep it going.”

Edwards, who measured in at 6-foot-4, 282 pounds at the camp, was hoping he could do enough on Saturday to get the offer. When he saw the offensive coordinator walk over to watch him, Edwards knew he was close to achieving his goal.

“I could not hear what Coach Bobo was saying, but I was thinking if I keep on doing well, my dreams could come true and I could get that offer,” Edwards said. “Then at the end they asked me to walk up to the coaches’ office, and I was thinking it might happen. Then it did. I felt like I was in a dream and I was speechless. I am very blessed to be in this position.”

Edwards was told by Mark Richt he had a scholarship to play offensive tackle or guard, depending on what they needed at the time. Richt wanted to go ahead and seal the deal before other schools got Edwards on campus, and he succeeded in his push to add the versatile lineman.

“We were in Coach Richt’s office and he offered me to play both positions," Edwards said, "and when we went to talk with Coach Friend, he spoke with my mom to give her the news. When we came back to his office he said that now I do not have to go to anymore camps so I might as well go ahead and commit. I said I just might and he said well go ahead then and do it, so I went ahead and committed.”

While Edwards had planned on camping at Alabama next, he says that is no longer needed. He did not hold back from expressing his excitement for having the opportunity to play "between the hedges."

“It feels great to be committed to Georgia,” Edwards said. “I never thought it this dream would come true and I never thought I would be able to do this, but it happened and I cannot wait to be up there.”

Edwards gives Georgia seven commitments for the 2014 class, four of whom are prospects in the Peach State. He is the first offensive lineman to pick the Bulldogs, but they lead for others such as Dyshon Sims (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) and ESPN 150 prospect Isaiah Wynn (Saint Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood).

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