There’s a lot of buzz about Georgia’s freshman class. Fans talk excitedly about which first-year players might make the biggest impact and at what positions. Will it be Michael Chigbu or Terry Godwin who gets on the field first with the receivers? Will Trent Thompson start on the defensive line? Which freshman defensive back will be the first in a game?
But you won’t hear such talk with the offensive linemen. At least not at moment as the five starters are settled and injury free.
That’s not an issue for the freshmen who play that position, however. Both Pat Allen and Sage Hardin came to Georgia highly-touted and highly-recommended. But for now they’re content to watch and learn.
“It’s amazing to see those guys work,” said Allen, a four-star tackle out of Reisterstown, Md. “It’s amazing to see the whole team work, actually. They’re consistent, and it’s great to sit there and see those guys work.”
Georgia returns four starters on the offensive front in left tackle John Theus, right tackle Kolton Houston, right guard Greg Pyke and center Brandon Kublanow. Kublanow started at left guard last season but now that job belongs to sophomore Isaiah Wynn, who has pretty much owned it since moving there from center this summer.
Said Hardin, another four-star rated recruit out of Atlanta’s Marist School: “As you get closer to the season, you’ve got to develop your starters as much as possible. They’ve got to get their paycheck; they’ve got to win the games. Right now I’m not that guy, but hopefully some day I can be that guy. So I just have to practice on my own.”
It’s not as though these guys are resigned to redshirt years. As every season reveals, depth is only as good as the next day’s injury list. But traditionally offensive linemen need a year or two to develop before they’re thrown into the SEC trenches to face the best defensive fronts in the country.
For Allen, who has been working at tackle, it has been a struggle to keep up his weight. He reported at 300 pounds but quickly dropped a bunch while enduring the Bulldogs’ high-octane summer conditioning workouts.
“I’m working to stay consistent,” Allen said. “My nutritionist, she makes sure that I eat. Breakfast, two plates; lunch, two plates; dinner, two plates; snack, two plates. That’s consistent. … Conditioning was crazy at first. I thought I was gonna to die the first week.”
For Hardin, it has been a struggle just to absorb all the concepts. That’s because coach Rob Sale has literally worked the 6-6, 290-pounder at every position along the line, including center.
“The biggest thing is just putting one concept with another,” Hardin said. “The offense is not that sophisticated if you look at the big picture. If you don’t understand the entire scheme, it can hinder your performance. If you focus on the big picture and why the ball goes where it goes and why this person goes to this position, it helps you grasp all the positions.”
Neither has written off the possibility of getting some playing time in this first season. But for now at least, that’s not top priority.
Hardin’s first one-on-one with senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins convinced him that he still has much work to do before he’s ready to be an every-down player. Jenkins used a swift upper cut move to blow by him in “a second or two.”
“The first thing I said was, ‘whoa, this is what college is like,'” Hardin said with a laugh. “Going against a premier guy like Jordan Jenkins, he’s one of the most respected defensive ends in the entire country. Now I’m set to go against him in my first college football play. Yeah, it was a little bit of a transition. But it gave me an idea of what the speed of college is going to be. … Getting accustomed to the speed from high school to college is such a big jump.”