ATHENS – Kirby Smart, who so far isn’t all rainbows and unicorns when talking about his team, actually sounded kind of happy about the state of his offensive line, at least when he was asked about it at SEC media days.
“I feel much better now going into fall camp having watched what we had in spring and watched those guys improve under Coach (Sam) Pittman’s tutelage. And Tyler Catalina coming in as a transfer, we hope to give us some competition there for a starting job,” Smart said. “I think the toughest job is staying injury free and trying to find eight guys, nine guys to rotate in there.”
The key there was the last sentence: When a coach talks about avoiding injuries and building depth, that means he likes his starting five.
The question now is where everybody goes. Brandon Kublanow, the only senior returning starter, is also the only one who, barring something cataclysmic, will have a definite position: Center.
Every other spot could see some movement before the North Carolina game. The coaches have a set lineup they’ll come out with on the first day of preseason practice, but there will be a month, especially the first two scrimmages, to see if there should be tinkering.
“I’m sure some things will move,” Kublanow said. “That’s how it always is in fall camp, you’ve got guys shuffling everywhere.”
Still, Georgia’s offensive line – at least as far as who will be out there for the opener – offers a lot more certainty than the rest of the skill position.
Here’s how the offensive line breaks down:
- Returning starter: Isaiah Wynn, Jr.
- Top competition: Tyler Catalina, Sr.
- The rest: Kendall Baker, Jr.; Aulden Bynum, Jr.; Sage Hardin, R-Fr.
- The skinny: Wynn, initially groomed to be last year’s center, played guard then moved out to left tackle for the latter part of 2015, as part of a larger tinkering of the lineup. The line played better after that. So will Wynn stick at left tackle, despite “only” being 6-foot-2 and 278 pounds, and Smart and Pittman’s stated preference for bigger linemen? Wynn may not be huge, but he makes up for it in athleticism and technique. That doesn’t mean he won’t still end up at guard. At minimum, he offers great versatility.
- Prediction: Wynn is the left tackle, though Catalina could also end up there. It would be an upset if the blind-side blocker isn’t one of those two.
- Returning starter: None.
- Top candidate: Dyshon Sims, Jr.
- Top competition: Lamont Gaillard, Soph.
- The rest: Ben Cleveland, Fr.; Thomas Swilley, Jr. (walk-on); Billy Seward, Jr.
- The skinny: This seems to be the fifth spot in the starting lineup, as in the one most still up in the air. Sims will enter camp with the edge, although the coaches liked what they saw out of Gaillard, the former defensive lineman. Cleveland worked second-team left guard most of camp, and at his massive stature (6-6, 345) would be intriguing as an interior lineman. Sims (or Gaillard, if he beats out Sims) could also move to right guard if the coaches decide to shuffle things up.
- Prediction: Sims is the left guard, with Gaillard the sixth man on the line, able to play center and both guard spots.
- Returning starter: Brandon Kublanow, Sr.
- Top competition: Gaillard.
- The rest: TBD.
- The skinny: Gaillard might be groomed to be next year’s starting center. He’d have two years of eligibility left to do it. Wynn snapped for a bit so he could be an emergency option as well. If we get really, really bored in camp it will be worth watching who else is getting a look, such as who’s the third-team center, to see if anybody else is on the radar.
- Prediction: Kublanow starting at center and Terry Godwin at receiver are pretty much the only two guarantees for this offense overall. Even then, Kublanow’s experience at guard could come in handy down the road.
- Returning starter: Greg Pyke, Sr.
- Top competition: Gaillard.
- The rest: Sam Madden, R-Fr.; Solomon Kindley, Fr.; Chris Barnes, Fr.; Carson Hall, Sr. (walk-on)
- The skinny: Pyke’s spot could potentially dictate what the rest of the lineup looks like. Is he better at right guard, his starting position the last two years? Or is he suited at right tackle, where he worked in the spring. The indications over the summer were that Pyke was headed back to guard, but even if that’s the case on Day 1, it won’t be set in stone. He’ll just be starting somewhere, that’s for certain. A lot could depend on Catalina, who’s expected to play well enough to earn a starting spot – but what if he doesn’t?
- Prediction: Pyke is at right guard, but gets a lot of work at right tackle just in case.
- Returning starter: None
- Top candidate: Tyler Catalina, Sr.
- Top competition: Pyke
- The rest: Pat Allen, R-Fr.; Mirko Jurkovic, R-Fr.
- The skinny: The belief here has long been that Smart and Pittman didn’t fly up to see Catalina in the middle of spring practice so they could see Massachusetts. The transfer from Rhode Island is going to be given every chance to earn a starting position at one of the two tackle positions. If he doesn’t, then Pyke would likely move back to tackle, with Gaillard sliding into a starting spot. But also keep an eye out for Allen, Baker and some of the other younger tackles; whatever happens this year, as many as three starting spots will be up for grabs in 2017, with Kublanow, Catalina and Pyke being seniors.
- Prediction: Catalina starts at right tackle, though the other scenario – Catalina at left tackle, Wynn to guard and Pyke to right tackle – is also still a possibility.
Next: Defensive line.