How the offensive line will shake out is one question heading into the start of preseason practices.
“Y’all love that, don’t you?” said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo on Wednesday when asked about decisions regarding the line. “Who the best five are. That’s what we’ve got to decide.”
The depth chart heading into preseason practice shows Xzavier Ward ahead of returning starter John Theus at right tackle with the rest of the starting unit on the line made up starters from last year: Kenarious Gates at left tackle, Dallas Lee at left guard, David Andrews at center and Chris Burnette at right guard.
“They’re a smart group that can handle a lot of stuff,” Bobo said. “That’s another reason we have success on offense is because of their knowledge.”
Theus, a true sophomore, and Ward, a redshirt sophomore, will battle for the position in August.
“After spring practice, Xzavier Ward was No. 1,” Bobo said. “We’ll practice the first day and Xzavier Ward and John Theus will both get reps with the first team at right tackle.
“And it will be an ongoing battle there and an ongoing battle at a lot of our places and positions. … Nobody’s guaranteed anything just because they started so many games last year. You’ve got to earn what’s on the field.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray was asked last week what he expected the first five to look like.
“I don’t work with them, they work out like at 7 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “I mean, they’re all healthy, they’re all looking good. I don’t know what coach (Will) Friend’s plans are at all. I would guess how we finished the season off, but who knows? I know they’re all going to push each other pretty hard.”
Competition can provide a push.
There are options at left tackle, as well, with Gates, Mark Beard and Theus,
“It’s good to have competition,” Bobo said. “You want to find more than one guy that can play tackle. It might be that rotation. It might be Gates and Beard and Theus. They may all play it some and you’re able to slide Gates inside.”
There aren’t many guaranteed spots on defense with only four starters returning.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham addressed Wednesday how he might replace Josh Harvey-Clemons in the secondary during his one-game suspension and said that 336-pound redshirt freshman John Taylor might be a factor at nose guard.
Harvey-Clemons won’t be on the field for the opener Aug. 31 at Clemson after an incident involving marijuana in a dorm room.
At strong safety, Corey Moore, junior college transfer Shaq Fluker and Connor Norman are candidates.
“We’re going to evaluate all of those guys at the safety position,” Grantham said.
Damian Swann has played the nickel position that Harvey-Clemons worked at “and we’ll continue to give him some snaps there and just see how some of the newer guys between (Shaq) Wiggins and (Brendan) Langley come along.”
Wiggins and Langley are both freshmen.
If Swann is the nickel, Wiggins and Langley would get looks at cornerback in the five-defensive-back package.
Mike Thornton, Chris Mayes and John Atkins enter the preseason as the pecking order at nose.
“That thing was written in pencil, though,” Grantham said. “There’s nothing that says we couldn’t erase a guy and put Jonathan Taylor in there if we wanted to.”
Taylor, a redshirt freshman, showed productivity in the spring.
“We’re going to find a way to get him on the field and make some plays,” Grantham said.