ATHENS -- Although University of Georgia coach Jim Donnan has yet to release his team's depth chart for next Saturday's season opener against Utah State, the Bulldogs appear to have one advantage that the 1998 squad did not always enjoy -- more able bodies on the offensive line.
So, even with the graduation of starting tackles Matt Stinchcomb (Raiders) and Chris Terry (Panthers) to the NFL, the coaches haven't encountered any problems finding plenty of talent, something that has enabled the Bulldogs to absorb those two losses better than originally feared.
"Right now, our goal is to have three tackles, three guards and two centers ready to go," Offensive line coach Pat Watson said. "Hopefully, we can do that. I think we're close. We're not there yet, but it's my expectation with a little more work this week and next, we can put some people in there and feel like we won't have such a drop off."
That's great news for Jonas Jennings.
After opening last season as Georgia's starting right guard, the 6-foot-4, 302-pound junior became the Bulldogs' emergency center when starter Miles Luckie went down week No. 4 against LSU. Jennings returned to guard three weeks later, but also helped fill in at left tackle, a position he was moved full-time to during the spring.
"Whatever I have to do, I'll do. But right now, it's basically better for the team for me to be at left tackle," said Jennings, whose job it will be to protect quarterback Quincy Carter's blindside. "It's something I've got to do. I guess I wouldn't mind moving if I had to. But on the other hand, I don't, because that would mean somebody else is hurt."
However, with six redshirt freshman returning, plus the addition of true freshman Kevin Breedlove and Alex Jackson, finding quality backup support shouldn't be a problem. Potentially, it's a group that could develop into one of the Bulldogs' stronger offensive lines.
Where they fit in is the question, although four-fifths of the starting lineup is probably already set.
Besides Jennings, Luckie and senior left guard Steve Herndon return as Georgia's other two full-time starters from a season ago, while junior Reggie Stargill (6-2, 281) opened at right guard against Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech and should be the starter next week against the Aggies.
At right tackle, Kelvin Williams (6-5, 297) was slated to open for the Bulldogs, but the senior only returned to practice Wednesday after suffering a leg injury which coaches admit has impeded his progress. Enter redshirt freshman Jon Stinchcomb, brother of Matt, who was moved to right tackle from left guard during the spring.
At 6-5 and 275 pounds, the redshirt freshman has done nothing but impress, and should the season begin today, would likely get the opening nod.
"I'm feeling more and more comfortable," Stinchcomb said. "It's all a matter of getting comfortable, and the more I practice, the more comfortable I get. Right now, just getting some game experience is the big thing."
If Donnan could go back in time, Stinchcomb already would. The Georgia coach now says he regrets having redshirted Stinchcomb, and his failure to do so is one reason he doesn't intend to make the same mistake with Breedlove is developing quickly, as is redshirt freshman George Foster.
"Kevin's getting better and better," said Watson said of the 6-5, 295-pounder, who is battling fellow redshirts Chad Young (6-4, 301) and Keith Stephens (6-1, 330) for the right to backup Stargill at right guard. "He's done a real good job. It's a tough situation having to go against our No. 1 defense, particularly with all the movement he's seeing. But he's handling it well."
Meanwhile, a nicked ankle has kept Jackson from fulfilling the greatness that many believe is in store for this 6-5, 310-pounder from Quincy, Fla., who along with Foster and Clint Larkin, are battling it out to backup Jennings.
"Anytime you're a freshman and miss reps like he has, it's going to hurt," Watson said. "Everything's multiplied. It's hurt him a little bit."
Behind Herndon, junior Brad Register (6-5, 281) and sophomore Randall Kendrick (6-4, 281) will be the top backups, while sophomore Curt McGill (6-3, 273) and junior Brady Pate (6-5, 273) will both be ready in case Luckie (6-0, 288) goes down.
"We had depth last year, but our offense is so in-depth and a lot of guys really weren't ready to play on the SEC level," said Jennings. "But yeah, these guys look good. However, it's a different game in front of 80-something thousand. So until they get out in front of that kind of crowd, it's kind of hard to tell.
"But then again, in going against our defense, it gives you a good feeling because they're able to hold their own. Right now, it's more fundamentals than anything. But those guys are good, there's no question about that."