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Clay Webb should be following the Jamaree Salyer path for Georgia football
In terms of recruiting wins, Clay Webb is on the shortlist of the biggest ones of the Kirby Smart era. In the 2019 recruiting cycle, Georgia beat out the likes of Clemson and home-state Alabama and Auburn to land the 5-star center prospect. It was a huge flex on the part of Smart and then offensive line coach Sam Pittman that they could land a player of Webb’s caliber when the offensive line recruiting was already so strong.
Webb was rated as the No. 1 center for the 2019 class, the No. 26 overall prospect and the No. 2 player in the state of Alabama, with only fellow Bulldog George Pickens being ranked higher out of the Yellowhammer State.
But unlike say Pickens or fellow 2019 5-star signees Nolan Smith, Nakobe Dean and Travon Walker, Webb didn’t make an impact in his freshman season. He was the only 5-star prospect in Georgia’s signing class to redshirt, as he played in just two games.
A big reason that Webb didn’t play in his first season in Athens is because of the guys in front of him. The Bulldogs very likely have three offensive linemen who will be drafted in this month’s NFL draft. A fourth lineman in Cade Mays transferred home to Tennessee, and should he be granted eligibility by the NCAA he’ll likely be a starter there.
So with all the departures, you would figure that Webb seems like a player who could slide into the starting line-up, correct? Factoring in the personnel losses and now that Webb has a full year in the Georgia strength and conditioning program, he would seem like a real candidate to possibly slide into one of the guard spots.
But that — at this moment in time — doesn’t seem all the likely for the 2020 season. Even with the losses, Georgia is still very much set at the center and guard positions. Trey Hill, Ben Cleveland and Justin Shaffer all have more experience than Webb does.
Related: Cover 4: What might the starting offensive line look like versus Virginia?
Even some of the more unknown options might be more intriguing. Warren Ericson got the start for Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and played well, save for one penalty. Even he might be looking at an uphill climb in earning a starting spot.
That’s before mentioning what Georgia might do with Jamaree Salyer this year. He got the start at right tackle in the Sugar Bowl and has the versatility to play across the offensive line. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to even see Salyer get some reps at left tackle this spring, given the Bulldogs have to replace both Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson.
But Webb might want to take note of how Salyer is being discussed now and what his ceiling could end up being. Because a season ago, he was in the exact same spot that Webb finds himself in now on the Georgia depth chart.
Hill was going to be the center for Georgia, while Mays and Cleveland were getting most of the reps at right guard. Thomas, Wilson and Solomon Kindley were all firmly entrenched at their positions. As a starter, there really wasn’t anywhere for Salyer to break in.
But last spring he began working in practice as the back-up at the right tackle position. He wasn’t going to supplant Wilson, but it did help him get more practice reps than he would’ve at guard. When injuries mounted for the Bulldogs during the season, Salyer also found himself thrust into action. While he didn’t play as well as he went on to in the Sugar Bowl, those reps made a difference for Salyer.
Salyer’s teammates last year also took note of how he pushed teammates in workouts and kept a great attitude even if he wasn’t playing.
“Without Jamaree, I don’t think we’d be as successful because he brings something to the field that many people don’t know about,” Kindley said. “Things like brotherhood, family, good energy and vibes.”
When DawgNation pegged their starting offensive lines for the 2020 season-opener against Virginia, each member had Salyer in the line-up. None of us though had Webb on the field with the first unit when the Bulldogs take on Virginia on Sept. 7.
But that hasn’t slowed Webb to this point. When Smart met with reporters last week, he singled out Webb as someone who impressed during offseason workouts.
“Clay Webb was a guy who was really competing hard, did some good things,” Smart said.
Related: Kirby Smart reveals 5 Georgia football players who impressed during offseason workouts
With no spring practice, Webb won’t be able to make up any of the ground to the likes of Shaffer, Cleveland and even Ericson and Salyer. There’s also the fact that in December, Webb was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit stemming from an alleged bullying incident that took place during Webb’s time at Oxford High School.