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Offensive line to be the Georgia football bigger concern in season-opener against Clemson
Coming out of spring practice, Georgia has two obvious areas of concern: Offensive line and Cornerback.
With cornerback, Georgia has no starting experience on the roster. Jalen Kimber, Ameer Speed and Kelee Ringo emerged during the spring, but those three are still unproven options.
The offensive line has a number of options it can turn to, it just doesn’t know at this point which players make up the best five-man unit
Cornerback figures to be the bigger concern in the early stretches of the season. But in the opening game against what will be a top-5 Clemson team, the offensive line’s performance is going to play a greater role in determining the outcome of the game.
The Bulldogs do bring back at least one player who started at every position on the offensive line in the 2020 season. If Georgia wanted to, it could roll out the same offensive line it did against Cincinnati.
But the Georgia offense did not have its best game that day against the Bearcats. JT Daniels was sacked 3.0 times and Georgia ran for just 45 yards. The Bulldogs came away with the win and Cincinnati was the No. 4 defense in yards per play, but that effort was hardly championship quality.
The biggest key for Georgia’s offensive line is Jamaree Salyer. He’s Georgia’s best offensive lineman. The Bulldogs could play him at left tackle, where he started nine games for Georgia in 2020. But Salyer’s future is at left guard.
Complicating matters for Georgia this spring is that Salyer was limited throughout the 15 practices this spring due to injury.
“We’re not where we need to be with the offensive line,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “If we’re going to be a good team, we’ve got to protect the quarterback and we’ve got to be able to run the ball.”
Georgia wants to find its best five offensive linemen. That is a different task than finding the best left tackle, left guard, center, etc. Salyer and right tackle Warren McClendon are clearly two of those five at this point. Warren Ericson and Justin Shaffer are likely in that group as well for the game against Clemson.
It’s that fifth offensive lineman that right now seems to be the sticking point. It could be Xavier Truss at left tackle, with Salyer sliding into left guard and Shaffer moving to right guard.
Or it could be redshirt freshman Tate Ratledge could step in at right guard, moving Shaffer to left guard and Salyer to left tackle. Ratledge and Truss both worked with the first-team offensive line in Georgia’s spring game.
There are also young players such as Sedrick Van Pran at center and Broderick Jones and Amarius Mims at the tackle spots pushing for playing time. It should be noted though that neither Jones or Mims could unseat Truss in the spring and that Jones did not take a single snap at left tackle in the spring game.
The Bulldogs still have time to figure out who those five players could be, as Georgia will have all summer and the practice month of August to continue to tinker on the offensive line.
“Just getting better every day,” McClendon said on how the offensive line can go about making the necessary strides. “You can always improve. You never reach your ceiling. You can always get better, always learn something. Add another tool to the toolbox.”
Georgia will need those five to be ready to shine from the first snap against Clemson, as the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can boast a defensive line as good as Georgia’s in 2021. The Tigers bring back their entire starting defensive line from a season ago, including former top-10 recruits in Myles Murphy and Bryan Breese.
Related: Devonte Wyatt perfectly illustrates why defensive line is Georgia’s strongest position
This isn’t to downplay the pressing need at cornerback. It still very much is one. This is why you’re likely to see Georgia try and address the need through the transfer portal. The Bulldogs do have two scholarship spots still available and grabbing a cornerback with starting experience seems like an obvious candidate. That isn’t the case with the offensive line, as the Bulldogs have better experience and depth there.
Georgia can mask its issues at cornerback in some ways. In addition to the transfer portal, Georgia also has a pretty talented defense surrounding the inexperienced cornerbacks. The defensive line should be one of the best in the country. Linebacker Nakobe Dean could be the best defensive player in the SEC.