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Size is a big reason for a different looking Georgia offensive line
Perhaps you’ve noticed a difference between this offensive line and some of the past ones that Kirby Smart has used.
If there’s been a complaint so far about this Georgia team, it has been the play of the offensive line. Specifically when it comes to run blocking. The longest run to date this year has actually come from wide receiver Ladd McConkey. The longest run from a Georgia running back is a 23-yard scamper from James Cook.
There are a couple of reasons why the offensive line — a position that has much as raw talent as any from a recruiting perspective — has not lived up to the championship standard.
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The most interesting explanation for the slow start along the line isn’t the change from Sam Pittman to Matt Luke or Georgia becoming a better passing team.
It has to do with the raw size, or rather the lack of it.
“You go back, we were a bigger, more physical team when we had the two first-round tackles,” Smart said. “Explosive runs are about holds and displacement. If you displace people, you get explosive runs. If you don’t displace people, you don’t get explosive runs.”
It isn’t just in replacing Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson. The entire offensive line is smaller in terms of height and weight.
The 2019 SEC Championship Game saw Georgia start Thomas, Solomon Kindley, Trey Hill, Ben Cleveland and Wilson. In what was Pittman’s final game before becoming the Arkansas head coach, the Georgia offensive line’s average height was 6-foot-5 and had an average weight of 332 pounds. Those numbers were calculated using the heights and weights listed in the 2019 media guide.
For the starting offensive line against Vanderbilt, the average height was 6-foot-4. The average weight was 314 pounds.
“We’re just smaller,” Warren McClendon said. “We don’t have Ben Cleveland, we don’t have Andrew Thomas. We have more quick guys.
To McClendon’s point, Tate Ratledge was the biggest starting offensive lineman for Georgia this year, as he checked in at 6-foot-6 and weighed 320 pounds. But Ratledge broke his foot on the first drive of the season. Warren Ericson to this point has been his replacement. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds.
As far as the tackles, Jamaree Salyer at left tackle and Warren McClendon at right tackle have been Georgia’s most consistent players on the offensive line. And for all the concerns about the running game, Georgia has given up just 2.0 sacks through the first four games.
Salyer though never imagined himself being a tackle. He’s now doing so for the second season in a row, after starting nine games at left tackle in 2020.
“I was rated as a guard coming out of high school,” Salyer said. “Me being, 6-3, 6-4 and having the body type that I do, I would have never predicted that I play tackle in college.”
Despite the lack of traditional size, Smart continues to play Salyer at tackle.
“He played at a high-level last year and did a good job against some really good pass rusher so it’s not that he can’t play guard, because he’s played good football at tackle,” Smart said. “That’s not an easy place to play in this league, it’s probably the most exposed position.”
While Pittman was well-regarded as a recruiter, Luke has done just as good a job. The Bulldogs signed six offensive line prospects who were top-100 prospects in either the 2020 or 2021 cycle. The cupboard continues to be well-stocked in Athens
Two of those prospects have the potential to become the next Thomas and Wilson in Broderick Jones and Amarius Mims. Jones is much closer to seeing the field, as he’s rotated in at both left and right tackle during competitive portions of the last three games.
Related: How an ‘improved’ Broderick Jones impacts a reshuffled Georgia football offensive line