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.