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Army of nine

ATHENS, Ga. -- While observing Will Friend as he works with his players in practice, it doesn't take long to ascertain that Georgia's offensive line coach employs a decidedly old-school approach in his job.

That doesn't mean, however, that Friend believes he must pick a starting lineup and ask those five linemen to play every significant down until a game is decided. According to Friend, the old philosophy that the starters must grind out every game together in order to develop the proper chemistry is unnecessary when reserves are available who can contribute without any drop-off in production.

"I think that if somebody gets hurt and then another guy hadn't played, that's tough," Friend said. "So you'd like for guys to be able to play, if they can still function and you can still execute and all those things. If there's guys ready, I'd like to play them.

"Now is there something about being the same five and as the game goes on and you start kind of getting a feel, yeah I think that happens, too. But I'd like to play as many people as possible."

A talking point of the Bulldogs' spring practice was that Friend would have more game-ready linemen at his disposal than Georgia has had on its roster in several years.

Not only do the Bulldogs return all five starters, but they also return every key reserve. With backups such as Mark Beard, Austin Long, Xzavier Ward and Watts Dantzler pushing for playing time, Friend might have the luxury of using more players and keeping the starters fresh throughout the game.

That would be an ideal situation, but Friend isn't ready to make any guarantees about using a big rotation -- particularly after a lackluster G-Day game where Bulldogs defenders recorded nine sacks.

"If they're not playing as one of the best five, then they don't need to be in there," Friend said. "You don't have much to stand on."

If the line does move to an eight- or nine-man rotation this fall, it would be a major departure from Friend's previous seasons directing the line. When he first arrived in 2011, starters such as Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson essentially played every key down because of a lack of game-ready reserves behind them. Last season, tackles Kenarious Gates and John Theus, guard Dallas Lee and center David Andrews started all 14 games and guard Chris Burnette started all 12 games for which he was healthy, but reserves Beard and Long won extensive playing time as the season progressed.

Experimentation with a player like Beard, who was a raw prospect when he arrived in January as a junior college transfer, paid off later in the year, when Burnette missed time with a shoulder injury.

"I thought there may be a chance where we were going to need Mark as the year went on. So it was, 'Hey, let's go let him play early and go with it and play ball,' " Friend said. "And I think that helped him, where at the end of the year ... it was like a game or two he had to start where if he hadn't done any of that, I don't know if he would have been ready. So I think if guys can play, you need to let them play. That's the only way you can tell."

During the spring, Friend flirted with a number of player combinations while both attempting to find the best possible starting lineup and also preparing them for various game situations this fall. Around three or four linemen -- particularly Gates, who has played every position except center -- lined up at multiple spots just in case.

All of that should benefit Georgia's offense in the fall, as it could have a solid core of linemen who can jump into the lineup and flourish.

One point remained clear at the end of spring practice, however, that could prevent a springtime talking point from becoming reality. Friend might like to rotate more than five players, but he has no intention of rewarding unproductive play in order to fulfill that desire.

"Whoever's ready I'll play," he said. "But you don't want to play people who aren't ready."