ATHENS — Georgia football’s 2019 national championship hopes come down to the line of scrimmage, where the Bulldogs figure to dominate on offense.
Spring drills start on March 19 leading up to the annual G-Day spring scrimmage on April 20.
Georgia brings back six jumbo linemen with starting experience including returning offense tackles Andrew Thomas (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) and Isaiah Wilson (6-7, 340).
The Bulldogs were named one of the top three offensive lines in the nation last season, via the Joe Moore Award committee.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman was also one of the finalists for the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in the nation.
Alabama All-American Quinnen Williams said at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last week UGA probably had the best offensive line he faced, ranking UGA ahead of Clemson and Oklahoma.
High praise from a rival, but there’s still some work to be done.
As big and experienced as the UGA offensive line figures to be, Coach Kirby Smart knows there’s more to the equation.
“Size doesn’t excite me; what’s inside that helmet does,” Smart said last spring. “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.”
Here are three spring football questions about the Georgia offensive line.
1. How back is Big Ben Cleveland?
The Georgia football film crew put out an impressive video of Cleveland power cleaning 405 pounds in the weight room during offseason drills.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) March 7, 2019
That would seem to indicate Cleveland has recovered to some extent from the broken fibula he suffered against Missouri last September.
But he might not be all the way back until closer to the start of summer workouts.
UGA tight end Charlie Woerner suffered the same injury against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, and he said it took about nine months before he felt completely normal again.
Cleveland got back on the field last season, but an ankle injury complicated his return.
2. Sorting out the middle
Sophomore Trey Hill appears to be a solid bet to start at center, but there will be plenty of competition around him.
Sophomore Jamaree Salyer, the No 1-ranked OG in the 2018 class, played in 12 of 13 games last season and looks to push for a starting spot.
But where? Solomon Kindley is back at left guard, while Cleveland is back at right guard and Cade Mays has proven he can play inside or outside.
Salyer enrolled last summer, giving early enrollees Mays and Hill a head start, and he never quite caught up.
Incoming 5-star offensive line prospect Clay Webb (6-3, 295) will look to find the field at offensive guard, as well.
3. How deep will they go?
Pittman has a good problem on his hands with Georgia’s magnificent offensive line depth.
There’s much to be said with sticking with the same rotation, but as last season proved, depth is a necessity in the rough-and-tumble SEC.
Wilson, at right tackle, was the only UGA offensive lineman not to miss reps on account of injury.
A look into the Bulldogs’ offensive line room reveals Pittman could play as many as seven or eight offensive linemen in each game.
4. How big are they?
Georgia has yet to put out an updated spring roster, but here are the heights and weights of the top returning linemen from the 2018 season:
• LT Andrew Thomas, 6-5, 320
• LG Solomon Kindley, 6-6, 335
• OC Trey Hill, 6-4, 330
• RG Ben Cleveland, 6-6, 335
• RT Isaiah Wilson, 6-7, 340
• OL Cade Mays, 6-6, 318
• OL Jamaree Salyer, 6-4, 325
• OL Justin Shaffer, 6-4, 330
• OL Owen Condon, 6-7, 310
• OL D’Marcus Hayes, 6-5, 315
• OL Clay Webb, 6-3, 295*
• OL Warren McClendon, 6-4, 318*
(*) – incoming freshmen