ATHENS – The average August temperature in Rhode Island, where Tyler Catalina spent the previous three years, is 71.
The first few days of Georgia’s preseason camp this month the temperature was, well, not 71.
“I think he noticed it’s a little hotter down here,” fellow offensive lineman Greg Pyke said, smiling a bit wryly. Pyke is from Maryland. “I’m trying to fly around out there but it’s still hot. I’ve been down here for five years, so it still affects me.”
The weather may or may not have had something to do with Catalina having a somewhat slow start to his one preseason at Georgia. But very quickly since then Catalina has arrived right where he was expected: Verging on a starting spot at left tackle.
Catalina was working with the first team on Wednesday, as he had the previous two days. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s earned a spot, but at minimum he’s one of three players competing for the final two spots on the line.
The starting five is still a source of intrigue – and some secrecy. Nick Chubb, during his media session, mentioned “we have five great offensive linemen,” and a reporter asked half-jokingly if Chubb would list them.
“List? Isaiah Wynn, Greg Pyke, (Brandon) Kublanow – oh I don’t know,” Chubb said, stopping himself and smiling. “You almost got me there.”
Wynn, Pyke and Kublanow are the three whose spots are secured. Catalina is competing with guards Dyshon Sims and Lamont Gaillard; if Catalina wins the left tackle spot then Wynn will slide to left guard, with either Sims or Gaillard at right guard.
Catalina is trying to make the unusual leap from the FCS level to the SEC. He already has SEC size, at 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, and has been filling that out with technique and confidence.
“He really believes he can play and block these guys in this league,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “He blocks our guys in this practice, so he plays with a little bit of confidence and swagger. He’s very strong. He’s a physical presence that we need there, that can move people and block people.”
Catalina – who was not made available to the media – has also picked up the offense, according to Smart.
“We’re excited about where he is,” Smart said. “But we’re not ready to anoint or make anybody a starter just yet, because those guys are rotating still.”
So Catalina has some work to do. But after getting used to the heat, it appears he’s figuring the rest out too.
“He’s becoming more relaxed around us,” Pyke said. “We return three starters, but he’s been able to get in that role and vocalize with other guys, push other guys, which is good to see.”