March 20, 2013

Friend staying focused

One might think that offensive line coach Will Friend would be on cruise control for the spring.

After all, despite the fact Chris Burnette and John Theus are out recovering from off-season surgery, Georgia will have all five of its starters back for the fall and arguably more depth than they've had in recent years.

Not quite.

"I think they've got to get a lot better than what they did the first part of spring," Friend said after practice Tuesday. "Yeah, they know more, they've been in the system but they've got to be better than what they were today. With me, it's always about what you did today, and I didn't think today was a very good practice so we'll see how they come back Thursday."

Friend will continue keeping a close eye on senior Kenarious Gates and Mark Beard, who besides being the two of Georgia's most versatile linemen, are continuing their battle to see who will be Georgia's starting left tackle next fall.

Gates started 12 games at the position last year, while Beard opened in two when Burnette missed two contest forcing Gates to slide over to right guard during his absence.

It's that kind of versatility that Friends love his linemen to have, although when it comes to left tackle, a choice will have to be made.

"Ken is versatile, he's played every position here but center so he can bring that to you in a lot of different spots. He's a smart guy, he's got some size to him and not a bad athlete," Friend said. "Those are things he brings to the table and he's got a lot of experience. We've been productive with him playing different roles for us so that's a big plus."

Beard brings his own special talent to the field.

"Mark has some athletic ability. You'd like him to be more consistent. He's way better than he was this time a year ago," he said. "We've just got to keep him going in the right direction but I think Mark's a tough kid. He played through some injuries and he cares. Both are outstanding kids and that helps a lot, that's a big key to being an offensive lineman, being a team guy and both of those guys are."

Although he won't be playing left tackle, Theus may be joining Beard and Gates on the practice field soon.

The sophomore has missed Georgia's first four days of spring drills while recovering from off-season foot surgery, but is apparently getting close to returning.

"I think we're right around the corner getting him in," Friend said. "(Tuesday) he did some agility work today so he's right there. We're close, you know?"

With Theus and Burnette out, Austin Long has made the most of his opportunity.

The Memphis native has battled injury throughout his career, but has been healthy for the better part of a year now and is ready to be a major contributor this fall.

"Austin had a good bowl practice, and then broke his hand the last day we were here or whatever it was," Friend said. "I was really ready to play him that game because I think Chris needed to get back well. He had played the last half of the season, maybe longer, banged up."

As for early enrollees Josh Cardiello and Aulden Bynum, it's definitely been a learning experience.

"They're spinning, and trying to figure out what to do, who to block. It's hard when you're trying out who to block and how to block them. They're having to deal with that but I think they're getting a little bit. They'll get better and better as we go," Friend said. "But them being here early is a big plus because when they come for fall camp they won't have to go through what they're going through right now."