Bulldogs offensive lineman Ben Cleveland shaking off the rust this spring

Bulldogs offensive lineman Ben Cleveland shaking off the rust this spring

April 18th, 2019 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia redshirt junior Ben Cleveland (74) has been fighting this spring to reclaim his starting spot at right guard, which he held late in the 2017 season and early last season.

Photo by Perry McIntyre/Georgia

At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Georgia redshirt junior offensive lineman Ben Cleveland is quite the monstrosity to handle.

"Ben is massive," Bulldogs junior defensive end Justin Young, who is 6-4 and 275 pounds, said this week in a news conference. "Once he gets his hands on you, it's basically over with."

Cleveland entered last season entrenched as the starting right guard, a position he held for the first four games. During that fourth game, a 43-29 triumph at Missouri, he fractured his left fibula (calf bone) and was sidelined until mid-November.

His return to the offensive line consisted of just two snaps in the 27-10 victory over Auburn, with playing shield on the punt team occupying the rest of Cleveland's season. Cleveland explained that being a shield is more a matter of taking up space than having to move defenders, and he prefers looking at the pleasant side of last year's experience.

"Me being out allowed us to grow more depth," Cleveland said this week. "That's only going to help us in the long run."

Depth emerged last year in the form of freshmen Cade Mays and Jamaree Salyer, who were five-star signees in the 2018 class. Cleveland this spring has been vying with Mays and Salyer to reclaim his starting status at right guard as head coach Kirby Smart, offensive coordinator James Coley and offensive line coach Sam Pittman seek the best combination.

Offensive line is an unquestioned strength of the Bulldogs, and it's not a question of whether Cleveland will contribute but how much. The former four-star prospect out of Stephens County High School in Toccoa, about an hour's drive north of Athens, redshirted in 2016 and broke into the starting lineup for the final five games of the 2017 season.

Those final five contests included wins over Auburn in the Southeastern Conference championship and Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl before the Bulldogs lost the national championship game to Alabama.

"I think I'm back," Cleveland said. "It was a little tough at the beginning of spring, because I had not taken a full-speed rep in six or seven months. It was difficult coming back, but I think I've knocked some of the rust off."

The Bulldogs held their final spring practice Thursday before Saturday afternoon's G-Day game, which will start at 2 and be televised by the SEC Network. The forecast for G-Day is overcast skies and a high of only 54 degrees.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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