ATLANTA - Criticism of Georgia Tech's offensive line tends to be one-sided this spring.
As in the left side.
The Yellow Jackets return three starters from a unit that produced the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rusher and player of the year last fall. But one is the center and the other two will line up to his right, giving new meaning to the football term "unbalanced line."
"It's a beginning, a start," offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris said. "The big concern is finding out what kind of chemistry we'll have. Chemistry means a lot up there."
Few lines mix together as well as Georgia Tech's has in recent years. Tailback P.J. Daniels led the ACC with 1,447 yards last season. Two years ago, Tony Hollings led the nation in rushing before tearing a knee ligament in the Yellow Jackets' fourth game of the season.
But the two best blockers on those lines - center Hugh Reilly and left tackle Nat Dorsey - will not return in 2004.
Reilly captained the group the previous three seasons, playing every single snap in 2003. And Dorsey was one of the nation's best offensive linemen, prompting his early departure for the National Football League. The junior is expected to be taken in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft next month.
Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey shuffled his line in the off-season to address those departures. Andy Tidwell-Neal moved from left guard to center to replace Reilly. Right guard Brad Honeycutt and right tackle Kyle Wallace are returning starters.
The competition for the two left-side positions is wide open, particularly since Leon Robinson reinjured his surgically repaired wrist on opening day of spring practice and has not worked out since. Robinson started at left guard two years ago but missed most of last season with injuries.
"Leon has not proven he can stay healthy, so there are two spots to fill," Gailey said. "If he's healthy, that's his spot, and we're in good shape. But at tackle, we have to find somebody."
Kenton Johnson is likely that somebody. Johnson transferred to Georgia Tech from Morris Brown last summer when the financially troubled school folded its athletic teams. He subbed for Dorsey and Wallace last fall, and while he can't match their upper body strength, Gailey is confident Johnson can grow into the position.
Wallace is the line's rock. He has started 25 games in his career and is a respected run blocker. Daniels, a former walk-on, wore a path over the right side of the offensive line in recording the second-best season for a running back in Georgia Tech history.
And he's sure he'll have the same opportunities this fall.
"Hey, I'm confident in those guys," Daniels said. "You have to have confidence in your line to open holes for you. You have to trust them."
Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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