ATHENS — Georgia signed two of the most highly regarded offensive linemen in the nation in “5-star” prospects Broderick Jones and Tate Ratledge, but Kirby Smart is keeping the early expectations in check.
“It’d be foolish of me to sit here and think that two of these tackles we just signed are going to walk in here and play,” Smart said on Wednesday at his National Signing Day press conference.
“You guys will print that, but I’m also a realist that that’s probably not going to happen. Based on the history of the SEC, you do the study on how many freshmen offensive tackles have played. That’s tough to find. It’s hard to do.”
Indeed, but Andrew Thomas started all 15 games in 2017, earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors on a Georgia team that played for the national championship.
Thomas is among the four primary starting offensive linemen who are departing the program, leaving noteworthy gaps to be filled, particularly at left tackle.
Many believe that Jones, rated the No. 2 offensive tackle and No. 11 player overall, by the 247Sports Composite, could make a run for the left tackle spot vacated by Thomas.
It’s worth noting that Thomas began his UGA career as a right tackle his first season, reporting at 6-4, 335.
The 6-foot-6 Jones is still in basketball season and at his hoop weight of 285. He figures to be over 300 by the time he reports to UGA, and as athletic as ever.
Smart, however, deflected to redshirt freshmen Xavier Truss and Warren McClendon when asked about the importance of signing Jones, as it related to Thomas and former starting right tackle Isaiah Wilson leaving.
“It was a lot more important a year ago to sign Xavier Truss, (and) it was a lot more important a year ago to sign Warren McClendon,” Smart said. “I’m not a big believer that the next guy is just going to walk in and play for Andrew Thomas and Isaiah.”
Truss, a 6-7, 330-pounder from Warwick, R.I., has had a year in the Bulldogs’ program going up against some of the nation’s top pass rushers in practice every day as Thomas’ backup .
As for Jones and Ratledge, neither are mid-year enrollees, and Smart made it sound as though that factored heavily into his projections.
“If they’re athletic and they’re the best guys or we have injuries, those guys will provide us great depth and I certainly think a lot of these guys we just signed are talented enough to come in and help us,” Smart said. “But they’re not mid-year guys, and they’ll have to come in and compete for it”
Former Alabama All-American Mike Johnson projected Truss as more of a right tackle after he signed with the Bulldogs last year.
Jeff Sentell and Mike Johnson
(2019 scouting report)
Fact is, Smart and new offensive line coach Matt Luke went with Cade Mays at left tackle in the Sugar Bowl rather than Truss.
Sophomore Jamaree Salyer started at right tackle against Baylor and performed at a high enough clip that it’s worth speculating on whether he could move to left tackle in spring drills.
Should Salyer make the flip, Ratledge has the sort of size and power to compete immediately.
Like Jones, he comes in highly rated, the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 37 player overall per 247Sports Composite.
Georgia’s interior offensive line returns experience in Justin Shaffer, Trey Hill and Ben Cleveland. Salyer can also play at guard. Redshirt freshman Clay Webb has also impressed in practice, per his teammates.
But there’s a reason the Bulldogs signed seven offensive linemen.
And the competition will indeed be on when Jones and Ratledge — two of the finest in the nation — arrive on campus.
Until then, Smart is keeping the expectations for them in check and looking to see what Truss and McClendon get done in spring drills.