ATHENS — On a team riddled with unknowns, Georgia's football team at least should be able to count on its offensive line: All five starters back. Two seniors, and two juniors, all of whom have started since they were freshmen.
So why was head coach Mark Richt musing last Friday that the line would be "a little bit more of a mystery" going into the season?
The blame lies with an almost freakish onslaught of maladies: Guard Cordy Glenn contracted mononucleosis, center Ben Jones had to get his knee scoped, and tackle Josh Davis missed time when he hurt his ankle.
Everyone is expected back for the Sept. 4 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, and Davis is already back. But in the meantime the Bulldogs are having to go with a mish-mash of players that is either building depth or messing with cohesion, depending on how you look at it.
Left tackle Clint Boling, the unofficial spokesman of the group, counted himself in the no-worries category.
"I've played next to Cordy for two years. Ben's been the center for the past two years. I'm just so used to playing with them," Boling said. "They'll be back probably game week. And having them practice for about a week, I feel like we'll pick up right where we left off."
Quarterback Aaron Murray, a redshirt freshman, wasn't much concerned either. He said Chris Davis, the projected right guard, has gotten snaps at center, and backup center Chris Burnette has done well too.
"It's really been no difference," Murray said. "We have great depth at our offensive line, so it's definitely nice to have Ben in there, but ... it's nice to know that just in case anything happens we have some great backups that are gonna push us through."
Richt sounded a more cautious note. He wasn't necessarily worried about the line itself, but the effect it might have on the offense as a whole.
If Glenn and Jones return in a week, as projected, they still will have missed about three weeks of practice.
"You'd love to have them working together all this time," Richt said. "Partially because you want the line to get used to each other. But the other part is just for the offense in general to gain the confidence that you need as a unit."
The worry, then, is that if the line blocking in practice and scrimmages isn't up to par, it could stunt the development of Murray and the offense as a whole.
"So I think it'll be a little bit more of a mystery going into game one, as to how they're gonna perform," Richt said.
"Whereas if they were practicing every one of those 29 opportunities, everybody would have a little better sense of how it's gonna happen."
If they stay healthy, Boling and Chris Davis should finish this season with the second-most starts in program history.
David Greene holds Georgia's all-time record for starts, 52 from 2001-04. Offensive linemen Kevin Breedlove and Jon Stinchcomb, four-year starters on the line from 1999-2002, are second and third, respectively, at 47 and 46.
The top backup is Trinton Sturdivant, who started all 13 games as a true freshman in 2007 before losing two straight seasons with knee injuries.
Put it all together and if everyone returns to the field it may be the most experienced unit in the country.
"We just want to be one of the best offensive lines in the league, and in the nation," Boling said. "And I think we have the talent to do that."