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(Cassie Wright/UGA Athletics)
The Georgia Bulldogs have had some great offensive tackles over the years. They may not have had a greater one than Andrew Thomas, who is a junior and draft eligible this season.

Georgia Bulldogs sporting two of their finest offensive tackles in school history

PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

Part IV: The offensive tackles

This is the fourth in a 15-part series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which begins on March 19.

ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs have had some great offensive tackles over the years. They have not had many better than Andrew Thomas. They might’ve never had a better pair than Thomas and Isaiah Wilson.

Time eventually will vet that out, as it always does. In the meantime, the Bulldogs’ offensive bookends enter the spring as well-seasoned veterans with some pretty impressive video for NFL scouts. There may be some concerns or question marks about other positions coming into the 2019 season, but offensive tackle is not one of them. There probably isn’t a position more locked down and solidified than than that one, which typically bodes well for an offense.

Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings knows who Andrew Thomas is:

That’s assuming the duo stays well on the injury front. Though he started 13 of Georgia’s 14 games last season, Thomas played hurt essentially the entire season. He suffered an ankle injury in a roll-up against South Carolina in the season’s second week, sat out the next week, aggravated it several times throughout the year and played with that other less chronicled maladies all season.

Thomas still managed to earn first-team All-SEC honors a year after being named a freshman All-American while starting all 15 games at right tackle in the run to the 2017 National Championship Game. Between potential and past performance, the thought is Thomas could go down as one of the Bulldogs’ greatest ever.

“Yeah, I’d say so. He’s a really good player,” said Matt Stinchcomb, a college football analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network and a really good player in his own right, being enshrined in the Collegiate Football Hall of Fame last December. “Even early on in his freshman year, the game wasn’t moving too fast for him. You’ll see players with great physical talent but the game’s just clicking too fast for them. That’s never been the case for Andrew. He always looks like he belongs.”

To include Thomas on the list of Georgia’s greatest tackles ever is an ambitious proposition. The Bulldogs have some truly great ones over the years. The school has produced nine All-Americans at the position in the last 44 years, including Isaiah Wynn, who would become a first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 2018.

GEORGIA’S ALL-AMERICAN TACKLES

  • 2017 — Isaiah Wynn
  • 2002 — Jon Stinchcomb
  • 1998 — Matt Stinchcomb
  • 1993 — Bernard Williams
  • 1986 — Wilbur Strozier
  • 1980 — Jeff Harper
  • 1976 — Mike “Moon Pie” Wilson
  • 1974 — Craig “Sky” Hertwig
  • 1964 — Ray Rissmiller

One of Georgia’s greatest tackles of all time didn’t earn All-America honors or play pro ball. That was Trinton Sturdivant, who started every game at left tackle as a true freshman for the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs in 2007. But Sturdivant suffered three knee injuries in his career and eventually had to give up the game.

It is, after all, a treacherous and physically demanding position to play.

“As I understand it, Andrew muscled his way through quite a few injuries,” Stinchcomb said. “That gets lost in the conversation a lot of the time. Football is a physical game and there’s no more physical a position than offensive line. You’re almost always playing hurt. So I think we got cheated on Andrew last season, and he still had a really good year.”

Isaiah Wilson-UGA football-Georgia football
Isaiah Wilson started every game and played more than 95 percent of the snaps at right tackle this season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

So did Wilson. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound sophomore started every game as a redshirt freshman last year. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native needed some time to acclimate to Southern heat and the raw athleticism of SEC football. But with more experience and continued improvement in pass protection, Wilson could be eyeing All-SEC and All-America honors in 2019 as well.

The combination of the two coupled with some quality depth behind them should give offensive coordinator James Coley and quarterback Jake Fromm the confidence and optimism to produce a balanced and unpredictable offensive attack. With Thomas back to protect the blindside, Fromm should be able to keep his eyes downfield.

“Jonah Williams of Alabama was as sound and complete of an offensive tackle from a technical standpoint as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stinchcomb said. “I think Andrew could be comparable because he’s always prepared and never panics.”

Let’s take a closer look at Georgia’s tackles heading into spring ball:

TACKLES

  • Returning starters: Two — LT Andrew Thomas, 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, junior; RT Isaiah Wilson, 6-7, 345, R.Soph.
  • Others returning: Cade Mays, 6-6, 318, soph.; D’Marcus Hayes, 6-5, 315, R.Jr.; Justin Shaffer, 6-4, 330, junior; Ben Cleveland, 6-6, 340, junior; Owen Condon, 6-7, 310, R.Fr.
  • Early enrollees: Warren McClendon, 6-4½, 320, freshman
  • On the way: Xavier Truss, 6-7, 330, freshman.
  • Analysis: This is arguably the most talented and settled position for the Bulldogs in 2019. However, just as important as taking advantage of the resident skills and physical size of Thomas and Wilson is for offensive line coach Sam Pittman to identify future talent and develop depth for the immediate and long-term future of the offense. Both Thomas and Wilson will be draft eligible after the 2019 campaign and have commanded enough notice to receive significant enticements from the NFL as underclassmen. There would appear to be no shortage of candidates to carry on the legacy as the Bulldogs and Pittman have recruited linemen at the highest level. The challenge will be balancing the desire to keep Thomas and Wilson on the field for every possible snap with giving those waiting in the wings the opportunity to get on the field and gain valuable experience while showing their worth.
  • Bottom line:  The tackles, along with a solid offensive line across the board, should give coordinator James Coley and Georgia’s offensive brain trust the confidence to be versatile and a little more fast-and-loose on offense in 2019. The Bulldogs were third among SEC teams — behind Alabama (1.0 pg) and Florida (1.38) — and 24th nationally in sacks allowed (1.43). Better protection for junior quarterback Jake Fromm, who is also working hard on improved mobility and downfield accuracy, should give Georgia the option of being more of a quick-strike unit when desired. However, running the football and controlling the clock will continue to be the foundation of what the Bulldogs are trying to accomplish, and Thomas and Wilson are keystone pieces to that end.

UP NEXT: After Isaac Nauta’s early exit, what will tight end position look like and how will it be utilized in 2019?

SPRING FOOTBALL PRIMER