ATHENS – As Isaiah Wilson has walked Georgia’s campus this summer, surely football fans who have recognized him – and he’s hard to miss – have wondered to themselves: Are you really going to be the savior to our offensive line?
Wilson, 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, is sort of the Jacob Eason of this year’s team: He’s a freshman from far away (Brooklyn, N.Y.) in Wilson’s case), he was a ballyhooed recruit, and he’s seen as an instant fix to Georgia’s offense.
But much like Eason last year, it’s not assured that Wilson will start. Which is why we’re putting an asterisk – rather, a slash mark – next to his name on this post.
Maybe Wilson comes in and earns a starting spot at right tackle. (Or somewhere else, depending on how the chips fall.) Or maybe Andrew Thomas ends up being the freshman tackle who forces his way into the lineup. Or maybe redshirt freshman Ben Cleveland lives up to last season’s hype. Or maybe it’s junior college transfer D’Marcus Hayes.
Georgia’s offensive line was a weak link on last year’s team, and then lost three starters. But the signing of Wilson was a coup, snatching him away from Michigan, Alabama and practically everybody else in the country. So it seemed obvious to some he’d walk right into a starting spot.
We shall see. For most of spring ball, the coaches seemed content with how things were going on the line. Then an uneven performance on G-Day left fans concerned. Well, it was just one scrimmage. Still, the one spot that, even during the good times in spring, seemed up for grabs was right tackle. It’s not that it was reserved for Wilson, or anyone else. It was no one grabbed it.
So maybe Wilson does. Or maybe it’s Thomas, or Cleveland or Hayes, or someone else. This much, however, is certain:
Any young new starters on Georgia’s line will be closely watched, to see if they are the saviors.
Reminder: This is not purely a ranking of Georgia’s best players. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success in 2017 based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at their positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
New starting center Lamont Gaillard was No. 12.
Wide receiver (it appears) Mecole Hardman came in at No. 11.
No. 10 was defensive lineman Trent Thompson.
No. 9 was underappreciated safety Dominick Sanders.
No. 8 was the kicker, whoever it ends up being.
WHY HE’S IMPORTANT: Georgia doesn’t need to have a veteran or even a dominant line in order for the offense to succeed. We pointed out in the Isaiah Wynn post the other day that the 2012 team, whose offense was the best in school history, didn’t have the most experienced or recognized line in school history. But … the two new starters on that 2012 line were a future Super Bowl starting center (David Andrews) and a 5-star freshman right tackle (John Theus). So history and logic would dictate Georgia can’t just cobble together a capable line from just the returning pieces. Someone like Wilson, or Thomas, or Hayes or Cleveland, needs to step in and have an immediate impact.
FACTOID: In the past decade, only three true freshmen have been starters on Georgia’s offensive line: Theus in 2012 at right tackle, Cordy Glenn in 2008 at left guard and Trinton Sturdivant in 2007 at left tackle.
BEST CASE: Wilson – or Thomas, or Cleveland or Hayes – locks down the right tackle spot and has a solid season, allowing the other spots to also have more stability. (Wynn at left tackle, Lamont Gaillard at center, and at least going by the spring, Pat Allen and Solomon Kindley at guard.) But versatile senior Dyshon Sims could also be a factor somewhere. Either way, if one of these newcomers can lock down right tackle, it makes the other pieces go more smoothly.
WORST CASE: No one locks down right tackle, things don’t go smoothly and Sam Pittman has to play musical chairs, to the detriment of the line and the entire offense.
FINAL WORD: Pittman is so well-regarded in the industry, it would be a surprise if he didn’t push the right buttons and see big improvement in Georgia’s line this year. But he’ll have to do it with less experienced players than last year. So it’s no sure thing.