Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at Georgia’s offensive line for the 2020 season
Every Tuesday, we’re going to take a deep dive on every Georgia position in the run-up to the 2020 season. Georgia figures to have one of the most talented teams in the country and the Bulldogs have a number of talented players across the board. But there are still some questions that have to be answered if the Bulldogs are to achieve their end goals.
This week we take a look at the offensive line position.
PLUS: Year three of Jamaree Salyer
If there’s going to be a star on the offensive line this year, it might be Salyer. After patiently waiting to make an impact, Salyer started at right tackle in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.
Heading into the offseason, Salyer was expected to man one of the tackle spots, though it was largely believed that would be the right tackle spot.
We never got a chance to see what Salyer looked like during spring practice, but we have gotten a chance to see how Salyer has transformed his body. And that transformation should excite Georgia fans about his prospects.
Salyer has dropped his weight to under 315 pounds, a sharp drop from the 2019 season when Salyer was at times close to 345 pounds. He’s been training with Andrew Thomas and through it all Salyer has looked like a new player and someone who is capable of playing at the left tackle spot.
Dating back to his time as a 5-star prospect as a member of the 2018 signing class, expectations have always been high for Salyer. And heading into the 2020 season, it looks like he’s positioned himself to be a leader for the offensive line.
Minus: Replacing two first-round draft picks
The offensive line was a clear strength for Georgia in past seasons. When you have two first-round picks in Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, that tends to be a reason why. But now Georgia has to replace both its left and right tackle. Thomas was a three-year starter, while Wilson manned the right tackle spot for the past two seasons.
Replacing them won’t be easy. And unlike replacing Solomon Kindley at guard, there isn’t a ready-made replacement for either player. Salyer will very likely get the first crack at replacing Thomas at the left tackle spot. He could also be a capable replacement for Wilson at right tackle, as Salyer backed up Wilson during the 2019 season.
The battle to be the other starting tackle is pretty wide open. There are two returning options in Warren McClendon and Xavier Truss. Both players redshirted during the 2019 season.
Earlier this offseason, Kirby Smart stressed the importance of signing both members as a part of the 2019 recruiting class in preparation for the departures of Thomas and Wilson.
“Well it was a lot more important a year ago to sign Xavier Truss,” Smart said. “It was a lot more important a year ago to sign Warren McClendon because when you have Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, you understand that there’s an opportunity for these guys to leave.”
“I’m not a big believer that the next guy is just going to walk in and play for Andrew Thomas and Isaiah.”
There’s also incoming freshman Broderick Jones. He’s the No. 2 ranked offensive tackle in the 2020 recruiting cycle and was a huge pick-up for new offensive line coach Matt Luke. It’s rare for a freshman to start on the offensive line, but if there’s a prospect who might be able to do so, Jones figures to have as good a shot as any.
PLUS: Solid up the middle
While Georgia did see Kindley get drafted and Cade Mays transfer to Tennessee, the middle of the Georgia offensive line figures to be in much better shape heading into the 2020 season than the tackle spots.
Trey Hill returns after starting all 14 games at the center position in 2019. He also has starting experience at guard dating back to the 2018 season. There’s also Ben Cleveland, who returns for his final year. He’s started multiple games for the Bulldogs over the course of the past three seasons and figures to be the favorite to man the right guard spot.
The first player expected to get a crack at replacing Kindley at the left guard figures to be Justin Shaffer. He does have starting experience, as he replaced an injured Kindley during the 2019 season. Shaffer did suffer a season-ending neck injury last year but all indications are that the senior will be good to go this year.
There’s also Warren Ericson, who started at right guard for Cleveland in the Sugar Bowl. He also has the versatility to play center as well. And don’t be surprised to see freshman Sedrick Van Pran pushing for playing time as well during the 2020 season.
Minus: New leadership
In addition to replacing three starters, Georgia’s offensive line will also be under new management as Sam Pittman is now the head coach at Arkansas.
This will be the first season under Smart that Pittman is not leading the offensive line. He’s long been regarded as one of the top position coaches in the country. And given the lack of spring practices, the transition to Luke might be a little bumpy.
Luke, the former head coach at Ole Miss, did get a jump start on his duties as he replaced Pittman during the Sugar Bowl as the offensive line coach. Luke was beloved by his former players at Ole Miss, and while replacing Pittman won’t be easy, it’s hard to think of a better guy to do it than Luke.
One interesting change to watch with Luke now in charge is to see if there are any tweaks to the way the position is handled. Pittman tended to favor a bigger line, but based on Salyers’ weight loss, Luke might prefer a slimmer, more athletic offensive line. It will be interesting to see if or how that might help the Georgia passing offense, which struggled to close the season.
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