ATHENS — When Georgia’s first-team offensive line trotted onto the field last week, the five starters averaged 323.6 pounds, according to the team roster. Very impressive. And when the second-teamers trotted out, they weighed an average of 321.6 pounds. Also very impressive.
Both units weigh in heavier than last season’s offensive line, and even heavier than the Georgia lines that powered a record-breaking offense earlier this decade.
So big things, in every way, must be ahead for Georgia along the line this season, right? Well, not necessarily, according to the Bulldogs coach.
“Size doesn’t excite me. What’s inside that helmet does,” said Kirby Smart, immediately pivoting to the one starter lost from the 2017 team. “You know, the first time I saw Isaiah Wynn I didn’t exactly get excited, but I was pretty disappointed when he left. So it’s not a matter of how they look all the time. It’s more about how they play.”
Wynn was listed 6-foot-2 and 302 pounds. Every one of Georgia’s current first- and second-team offensive linemen are taller and heavier, as are several of the third-teamers. And yet Wynn was so good at left tackle that Georgia was 19-2 with him manning the position. He could be an NFL first-round draft pick later this month.
David Andrews also was considered too small (6-2, 295 pounds) when Georgia made him its starting center in 2012. The Bulldogs proceeded to go 30-10 and set numerous school offensive records with Andrews anchoring the line. He’s now the starting center for the New England Patriots.
“I look at David Andrews and see what he’s been able to do,” Smart said. “He’s certainly not an overpowering, oversized guy. He’s very intelligent and knows leverage. The centers I’ve been around that are very good have a lot better feet than maybe size.”
This doesn’t mean that Smart and offensive line coach Sam Pittman are de-emphasizing big offensive linemen. They’re not, which is why the aforementioned temporary first and second units are so big:
First team: Andrew Thomas (320), Kendall Baker (305), Lamont Gaillard (308), Ben Cleveland (340), Isaiah Wilson (345)
Second team: D’Marcus Hayes (315), Trey Hill (330), Warren Ericson (315), Solomon Kindley (330), Cade Mays (318)
That doesn’t count 5-star recruit Jamaree Salyer (6-4, 325 pounds), who arrives this summer and will compete along the offensive line. Three other freshmen — Hill, Ericson and Mays — are already enrolled and pushing for playing time.
“They can look up to me because I did the same thing,” said Thomas, who started as a freshman last season. “They’re kind of up on me because they early enrolled. But all three of those guys are doing really well right now. They’re learning fast, and they’re working hard.”
But if they’re going to play early then they’re going to need more than size. That’s Smart’s point: He also wants good technique and personal drive.
“If you asked every defensive lineman that Isaiah [Wynn] faced in the SEC season, they’d say he was one of the fiercest competitors, physical guys there is,” Smart said. “Our defensive line didn’t want to go against him. They’d rather go against Ben Cleveland and Isaiah Wilson, because they can get up under them.
“So it’s not a matter of size alone. Size gives you the ability to stay in front of the quarterback and keep people off. But your bend and flexibility and the power you create is a lot more important that your size.”
That’s why the smallest player on the two-deep — Gaillard — has a great chance to retain his job. Actually, Smart pointed out, Gaillard isn’t that small, it just seems that way next to the guards. More importantly, Gaillard is a two-year starter and a leader on the line.
“It’s not like we’re sitting here saying we gotta get a bigger center,” Smart said. “Again, we want an effective center. It doesn’t come down to size.”