Georgia offensive line returning wealth of talent, experience

Georgia offensive line returning wealth of talent, experience

June 17th, 2019 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas (71) and guard Solomon Kindley (66) have combined for 49 career starts and this year will continue to protect quarterback Jake Fromm (11) and provide holes for running back D'Andre Swift (7).

Photo by Perry McIntyre Jr.

A THENS, Ga. — Alabama won college football's national championship in 2017 with a loaded secondary headed by safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, and Clemson cruised to last season's crown largely due to three defensive linemen who recently became NFL first-round draft picks.

Whether Georgia can break through to claim the 2019 national title remains to be seen, but there is no greater embarrassment of riches in the sport right now than what the Bulldogs possess on their offensive front.

"It's unbelievable the amount of talent we have," said redshirt junior Ben Cleveland, who has nine career starts at right guard but had most of his 2018 season derailed by a fractured fibula at Missouri. "We have so much depth that we can roll guys in and out all day long. I know that is something a lot of O-line coaches wish they had."

Georgia's first-team offensive line at the G-Day spring game consisted of junior Andrew Thomas (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) at left tackle, redshirt junior Solomon Kindley (6-4, 330) at left guard, sophomore Trey Hill (6-4, 330) at center, Cleveland (6-6, 340) at right guard and redshirt sophomore Isaiah Wilson (6-7, 345) at right tackle. That quintet relegated sophomores Cade Mays (6-6, 318) and Jamaree Salyer (6-5, 320) to backup status.

Mays was a seven-game starter last season as a freshman, while Salyer was the No. 1 guard nationally in the 2018 signing class and played in 13 games.

"It's incredible having all the experience," junior quarterback Jake Fromm said. "They're the whole nine yards. They're a great unit, and hopefully they'll keep striving to get better. It's important that they don't get comfortable, because they can be the best that there is."

Georgia amassed 464.9 yards a game and 7.1 yards per play last season behind its offensive line that graduated one starter, center Lamont Gaillard, who was a sixth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. That seemingly would leave Hill as the biggest unknown heading into a 2019 season that begins Aug. 31 at Vanderbilt, but Hill's small sample size as Gaillard's replacement was impressive.

Hill started the final four games at right guard last season, but he subbed for an injured Gaillard four plays into the 34-17 triumph at Kentucky and helped the Bulldogs rush 50 times for 331 yards (6.6 per carry) in a contest that decided the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference.

Thomas headlines Sam Pittman's offensive front as a 28-game career starter and having earned Sports Illustrated first-team and Associated Press second-team All-America status last season. Kindley has started 21 career contests, while Wilson played more snaps than any Georgia offensive player a year ago, including 95% during the eight SEC regular-season contests.

Georgia's line last season was a finalist along with Alabama and Oklahoma for the prestigious Joe Moore Award, which was won by the Sooners.

"Can it be a strength of our team? Yeah, but so can a lot of positions," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. "You don't get things off of forecasts and projections. You get them off of doing it, and we have to have those guys go out and play well."

Smart spent nearly a decade as Alabama's defensive coordinator, where he oversaw countless position battles that helped combat any thoughts of complacency. He and Pittman have stockpiled enough talent to where that should be the case in this instance, as Warren Ericson, Justin Shaffer and Owen Condon also finished spring drills on the second team and have hopes of advancing.

There is also Georgia's 2019 signing class that contains center Clay Webb, who was No. 1 nationally at his position.

"The competition helps," Smart said. "We had some great rotations this spring, and guys have competed really hard. We've had great competition at right guard and at right tackle. We've got positions that are up for grabs, and guys are continuing to get better."

Said Cleveland: "I think that keeps everybody level-headed and humble."

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

 


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