Big line has little in way of depth

ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia starting offensive line's status as the heaviest in college or pro football is a staple statistic for announcing teams during Bulldogs telecasts.

But what the 18th-ranked Bulldogs have in sheer size they lack in numbers.

After starting guard Dallas Lee broke his leg last week against Florida, the Bulldogs are down to only five offensive linemen who have played with any regularity.

"I wouldn't say we're scared, but we do know it's something we need to be aware of," starting guard Chris Burnette said. "We have to make sure we can stay as healthy as possible, because we've seen in the past one guy go down, and we'll have somebody else step up real easily. Right now it's a little less certain who we have to step up."

Burnette and fellow guard Kenarious Gates both missed time because of injuries early in the season, but Lee's steady play helped bridge the gap during their absences.

Now that Lee is out of the picture -- most likely for the rest of the regular season -- the next players off the bench would probably be freshmen, starting with David Andrews.

The center from Wesleyan in Norcross, Ga., has turned heads since he arrived on campus and is senior Ben Jones' likely successor next year. For now Andrews plays sparingly, but he would be the first man in if any of the Bulldogs' starters suffered an injury.

"He actually started out pretty well, honestly from the very beginning during camp," Burnette said. "He had a real good grasp of the playbook, and he played hard all the time. So I feel like it makes sense for him to be the next guy off the bench. And also, just mentally I feel like he's more ready than some of the other guys.

"Hopefully we won't have to resort to having him come up because of somebody getting injured, but it definitely would be good in the future for depth [for him to play]."

While they haven't played much in games, Andrews and the other second-teamers have endured a trial by fire in practice because of the line's depth issues. If the Bulldogs had a full complement of linemen available, the freshmen might be redshirts practicing on the scout team instead of learning Georgia's actual offensive scheme.

Instead they're getting a small taste of SEC competition by practicing against Georgia's starting defense that ranks seventh in the nation in yards allowed at 267 per game.

"Those Tuesdays and Wednesdays are when I really try to prove I can do this, especially when we're going against the defense," Andrews said. "Those are our starters, so if I can show I'm good against them, so that's what I'm trying to do. It's just a week-by-week thing of trying to get better. No one's as good as they need to be, and I'm nowhere even close to where I need to be, so I just keep trying to get better."

Offensive line coach Will Friend said Andrews would fill in at center if Jones were injured or if one of the guards suffered an injury and Jones shifted to guard. Gates would shift to tackle, Jones to guard and Andrews to center if one of the starting tackles, Cordy Glenn or Justin Anderson, went down.

That is not a scenario anyone within the program wants to consider.

"We'd have to sit there and really think hard about what to do, but let's hope and pray nothing like that happens," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

The remaining backups in that instance would be true freshmen Watts Dantzler at tackle and Hunter Long at guard. Both players debuted in the Bulldogs' 59-0 rout over Coastal Carolina early in the season but have not played since.

"They've done some good things," Friend said of Dantzler and Long's progress. "They've got to continue to work. It's a long deal. It takes time for an offensive lineman, and they've just got to keep pushing through it. They've done some things better, but they've got a long way to go still."

With their SEC East hopes still intact and with key conference games remaining against Auburn and Kentucky, the Bulldogs would no doubt prefer to build a big early lead against New Mexico State in this weekend's homecoming game and move most of the starters to the sideline.

That would provide some relief for the starters, but the Bulldogs know it would be only temporary. Georgia's line will contend with depth issues for the rest of the season and can only hope nothing catastrophic happens.

"We're just going to try to take it game by game," Burnette said, "and just pray that everybody stays good."

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