Georgia Bulldogs: Austin Long

Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll review the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the past decade.

Today, we'll look at No. 1: the 2009 group that was built around a couple of stars and a larger group of key contributors on one of the best teams of the Mark Richt era (2012).

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAaron Murray enjoyed a record-setting career at Georgia.
The stars: You have to start with Aaron Murray: a four-year starter at quarterback who went on to set every significant SEC career passing record. The only All-American out of the class was tight end Orson Charles, who left after a standout 2011 season where he was a finalist for the John Mackey Award. But there were multiple All-SEC honorees (including Murray, Charles, offensive guard Chris Burnette and tight end Arthur Lynch) and future NFL players (so far including Charles, receiver Marlon Brown, safety Shawn Williams, nose guard Kwame Geathers, and defensive lineman Abry Jones with more to come in May) within the group.

The contributors: The strength of this group is its depth. More than half of the signees became at least part-time starters at some point and a dozen were valuable members of the 2012 team that finished fifth in the national rankings. Guards Burnette and Dallas Lee started for most of the past three seasons, Williams was one of the emotional leaders of the 2012 club, linebacker Michael Gilliard was one of the team's leading tacklers in 2011, and Brown and Rantavious Wooten overcame injury-filled careers to enjoy solid senior seasons. Brown was one of the highest-rated players in the class, but his impressive 2012 helped him finally break through and become an undrafted free agent signee with the Baltimore Ravens -- and then one of the top rookie receivers of the 2013 season.

The letdowns: There were some notable departures in this group, starting with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who eventually became a two-year starter at LSU after getting dismissed before his second season at UGA. Washaun Ealey, who led the team in rushing for two seasons, also parted ways with the Bulldogs before the 2011 season. In addition, ESPN 150 signee Dexter Moody never enrolled and cornerback Jordan Love and defensive linemen Montez Robinson and Derrick Lott left Athens early in their careers. Offensive lineman Austin Long was a huge recruit, but struggled with numerous health issues before finally contributing as a reserve in 2012. He left the team over an academic issue before the 2013 season. The off-field issues that robbed UGA of Ealey, Moody and Mettenberger's services are perhaps the biggest disappointments in this class, although the Bulldogs did just fine with Todd Gurley and Murray instead.

The results: There was more star power in other classes, and perhaps one or two of them will still catch up to this bunch before their time at Georgia is over, but the 2009 group was full of blue-collar players who produced for at least two seasons in Athens. The program was at a low point early in the class' tenure, but the group helped Georgia bounce back with consecutive division titles and seasons with at least 10 wins. Their time at UGA ended in disappointing fashion as injuries crippled a 2013 team that started in the top five. Nonetheless, the program is once again on solid footing thanks in large part to this group's on-field production and leadership.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite all the offseason handwringing about how Georgia’s offensive line depth chart might change this season, Will Friend still trotted out the exact same starting five for Thursday’s first preseason practice that he deployed in nearly all 14 games last fall.

But it was quickly evident that the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach seems ready to follow through on using a handful of players who were not regulars in 2012 -- with a number of substitutions during team running drills showing off depth that Georgia has not enjoyed along the line in some time.

“[It’s the best in my career] by far. Not even close,” said fifth-year senior right guard Chris Burnette, who returned to the starting lineup on Thursday after missing spring practice while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. “I remember there was one time, probably going into [2010], where we were getting really thin on numbers and a lot of guys had to crosstrain and play first and second team or second and third team, all that kind of stuff. So it’s good to finally have a good amount of numbers, and not just have numbers, but guys who can actually contribute.”

When the Bulldogs opened Thursday’s practice, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee manned the left tackle and guard spots, respectively, with David Andrews lined up at center. On the right side were All-SEC pick Burnette and tackle John Theus, who was listed behind Xzavier Ward on the team’s summer depth chart despite having started every game last year as a true freshman.

Ward worked with the starting unit before long, as offensive coordinator Mike Bobo recently predicted would happen, and a number of players filtered onto the line as the drill continued -- including guards Kolton Houston and Greg Pyke and tackle Mark Beard.

For now, Houston -- recently reinstated by the NCAA after a three-year battle to regain his eligibility -- will practice at left guard, although that position does not appear to be set in stone.

“I don’t know if Coach Friend has totally nailed down where everybody is going to be, but starting out he’ll be at the left guard position,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said before practice. “He’s going to cross train and he’ll know the right guard position. He’s athletic enough to play tackle, as well. We don’t want to give him too much, but day one he’s sitting at No. 2 left guard.”

The one notable absence was guard Austin Long, whose academic status remains in question, but otherwise the key linemen who appeared set to play roles in Friend’s rotation earned early opportunities on Thursday.

Over the next few weeks of camp, Friend and company will attempt to nail down whether that returning lineup will remain intact and which of the reserves to include in their plans.

“Who the best five are, that’s what we’ve got to decide,” Bobo said.

For the first time in years, however, Georgia’s offensive line should have more than just a starting five and few reliable alternatives. For a player such as Burnette, who was around in much leaner times, the line’s depth difference is easily detectable.

“I think it’s good to have so many guys who can contribute in so many different ways,” Burnette said. “Regardless of what the final lineup ends up being, I feel like we’re going to have the five best guys, literally, on the field that help us win games. I’m just excited to see how it all pans out and to see how dudes compete this fall camp and leading into the season.”

Post-spring position review: OL 

April, 19, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. Today we examine the offensive line:

Returning players/stats: Chris Burnette, Sr. (12 starts in 2012); Kenarious Gates, Sr. (14 starts); Dallas Lee, Sr. (14 starts); David Andrews, Jr. (14 starts); Mark Beard, Jr. (Two starts); John Theus, So. (14 starts); Austin Long, Sr.; Watts Dantzler, Jr.; Zach DeBell, So.; Hunter Long, Jr.; Xzavier Ward, So.; Greg Pyke, RFr.

Newcomers: Brandon Kublanow, Fr. (ESPN's No. 145 overall prospect in 2013, No. 2 center. Expected to enroll this summer); Aulden Bynum, Fr. (No. 47 OT. Enrolled in January); Josh Cardiello, Fr. (No. 21 OG. Enrolled in January); DeVondre Seymour, Fr. (No. 14 OT. Could enroll this summer)

UGA OL to watch: John Theus 

April, 19, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Although he started every game at right tackle last season as a true freshman, that doesn’t mean John Theus will remain there this fall.

Offensive line coach Will Friend wasn’t ready to proclaim him a starter at the end of spring practice, at all, but a more reasonable question is probably whether the sophomore starts at left or right tackle. Because it would be a considerable upset if Theus loses a starting spot at any point in his career.

Last season, Theus became the third true freshman offensive tackle to start Georgia’s season opener since freshmen became eligible to play in 1973. And while he wasn’t perfect, he won multiple freshman All-America rosters and validated the excitement that accompanied his signing with Georgia more than a year ago.


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ATHENS, Ga. -- Hutson Mason is not a rookie, but he felt like one in some ways during Saturday’s G-Day game.

After redshirting last fall -- his third season in college -- to gain a year of separation between himself and fourth-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray, Mason had to shake off some jitters entering his first competitive game in a year.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Dale Zanine/US PresswireQuarterback Hutson Mason redshirted last season and treated G-Day like a comeback.
“Coming into this, I was treating this like a game for me because it’s been so long that I’ve really emotionally and mentally been like, ‘Hey man, this is game day,’ ” said Mason, who led the Black team to a comeback 23-17 victory over the Red. “I wanted to kind of see how my body would react being out there with 40,000 people. It’s not quite like game day, but you kind of get your body back into that feeling and getting ready.”

It was not a perfect day for the redshirt junior. The Black punted on his first three drives and he scrambled and threw an interception to freshman linebacker Reggie Carter at midfield on his fourth.

“I thought that the pick earlier was the worst decision that I’ve made at Georgia, but definitely this spring,” Mason said. “That was just pathetic. I’ve got to throw the ball away.”

But Mason improved as the day progressed. He threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jonathon Rumph in the second quarter and drove the Black to two field goals in the fourth quarter to provide the six-point margin of victory.

Mason completed 16 for 27 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“We slung it around today pretty well and we had a juco guy in Rumph, so he doesn’t really know what he’s doing,” Mason said. “So I was really just happy for the guys to step up and make the most of their opportunities when they needed to.”

G-Day all-stars: Every spring game has its surprise standouts.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia Bulldogs are enjoying spring break after having their first three practices of spring camp last week. As we wait for the players to return to Athens and resume camp life, we will take a moment to answer the questions from our readers in our weekly DawgNation mailbag.

Cappy_88: Radi, give me a 2012 roster player (outside of Jordan Jenkins, Ray Drew, and Josh Harvey-Clemons) who you think will have a breakout year in 2013 and why?


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ATHENS, Ga. -- The big news out of Athens this week concerned raises for each of Mark Richt’s football assistants -- including a big raise and new three-year contract for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Bobo received a $240,000 pay bump to $575,000 per year and assistants Will Friend and Tony Ball also got sizable raises, but all nine Richt assistants received a pay increase of some sort.

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UGA spring preview: 5 positions to watch 

February, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Coaches always emphasize the importance of competition during spring practice, and there will certainly be more than enough at Georgia once the Bulldogs start spring drills on March 2.

The competition on the defensive side of the ball will be the story of the spring, as coordinator Todd Grantham and company work to find replacements for the 12 departed regulars who figured heavily into the Bulldogs’ defensive plans last fall.

Here are five positions that bear close watching this spring:

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Georgia Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- In reviewing Georgia’s seven recruiting classes since 2006 -- when ESPN entered the recruiting game -- last week, we opined that the Bulldogs’ 2009 haul was the best of the bunch. As the various member sites from Recruiting Nation collectively review their schools’ 2009 classes today, let’s take a closer look at what made that group so special.


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Position scouting report: OG/C 

January, 22, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and project how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s offensive guards and centers.

2012 two-deep depth chart:
LG: Dallas Lee (Jr.), Kenarious Gates (Jr.)
RG: Chris Burnette (Jr.), Lee (Jr.)

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By the numbers: UGA classes since 2006 

January, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s last seven recruiting classes and what they managed to accomplish in college and beyond:

2006
ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4

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Position scouting report: OT 

January, 17, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and project how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s offensive tackles:

2012 two-deep depth chart:
LT: Kenarious Gates (Jr.), Mark Beard (So.)
RT: John Theus (Fr.), Watts Dantzler (So.)

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About Them Dawgs: Mark Beard

December, 27, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Georgia’s Capital One Bowl date with Nebraska, we will review the season for a key Bulldogs player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at offensive lineman Mark Beard.

No. 79 Mark Beard
Sophomore/Offensive line

Role in 2012: After enrolling at Georgia in January, the junior college transfer became one of the Bulldogs’ top offensive line reserves in his first season at UGA.

The good: Beard appeared in all 13 games and started twice at left tackle. He initially shuffled between guard and tackle after he arrived at Georgia, but eventually seemed to find a home on the edge. By the end of the season, his improved play had caused offensive line coach Will Friend to develop a three-man rotation on the left side of the line that featured Beard, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee.

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About Them Dawgs: Dallas Lee

December, 23, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Georgia’s Capital One Bowl date with Nebraska, we will review the season for a key Bulldogs player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at left guard Dallas Lee.

No. 64 Dallas Lee
Junior/Offensive guard


Role in 2012: One of the returning starters on a rebuilding offensive line, Lee and his line mates enjoyed a productive season in which they exceeded modest expectations.

The good: A season after starting seven of the eight games in which he played -- he missed the rest of the season after breaking his leg against Florida -- Lee has started all 13 games at guard this season. It was not uncommon to see Lee or fellow guard Chris Burnette pull and lead tailbacks Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall through a hole for a big gain, as the line’s steady improvement helped power a largely effective running game.

The bad: It’s not necessarily all that bad, but Lee lost some playing time at points as Georgia’s coaches experimented with different rotations. In the most frequent lineup change, Kenarious Gates would shift to Lee’s spot at left guard with Mark Beard taking over for Gates at left tackle. There were also times that Lee shifted to right guard to fill in for an injured Burnette. And reserve Austin Long has started to see time along the line here and there.

Crystal ball: Georgia’s coaches have made it clear that not only will there be open competition for starting spots along the line for the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl against Nebraska, but spring practice will require the starting linemen to prove they deserve to keep their spots. Lee will be a senior in 2013 and has started 20 of the last 21 games in which he participated, so he seems to be a likely starter next fall. But keep an eye on the position battles during spring and preseason practices to see if any of the reserves continue their pushes for additional playing time.

UGA midseason report card: OL 

October, 11, 2012
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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is at the halfway mark, and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We'll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- The public opinion of Georgia’s offensive line was, for a time, much more positive than it is today, after the Bulldogs’ numerous breakdowns led directly to a 35-7 loss at South Carolina.

Will Friend’s rebuilt line had been surprisingly effective in the first five games, paving the way for Georgia to rank among the nation’s most explosive offenses.

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