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Development of Tate Ratledge critical for Georgia offensive line
Jamaree Salyer proved in 2020 that he is a good offensive lineman and a capable option at left tackle. He didn’t earn All-SEC honors, but he was far from the biggest worry on Georgia’s offensive line.
Pro Football Focus actually rates Salyer as the No. 4 returning offensive tackle, thanks to his 2020 play.
But Salyer’s future might not be at left tackle. And that might be what’s best for the offensive line. Pro Football Focus also pointed out Salyer did not surrender a single pressure in the 40 pass-blocking snaps he took at left guard in Georgia’s win over Cincinnati.
The left guard position is likely where Salyer will play on Sundays. In theory, it should be where he plays for Georgia in 2021.
But there’s another potential guard with a high ceiling that might keep Salyer at left tackle. That would be redshirt freshman Tate Ratledge.
The prevailing thought for much of the offseason was that Xavier Truss, Broderick Jones and Amarius Mims would battle it out at left tackle and allow Salyer to move inside to left guard and Justin Shaffer over to right guard.
During spring practice things didn’t play out according to plan. Salyer missed a handful of practices, limiting his availability come G-Day. With the trio of left tackle options, Truss seemed to have the best spring but he hasn’t done enough to make it a slam dunk he’ll be Georgia’s left tackle when the Bulldogs open against Clemson.
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Ratledge meanwhile really emerged at right guard. He saw action in just one game as a freshman, and head coach Kirby Smart says the biggest worry with Ratledge at this point is just his lack of experience.
“He’s growing up. He needed a lot of reps,” Smart said. “He’s getting a lot of reps, continuing to work in there. We think he’s powerful, intelligent, still inexperienced. Experience is the greatest attribute you can get when it comes to the SEC.”
Smart then proceeded to give Ratledge all the first-team reps at the right guard spot in Georgia’s G-Day scrimmage. The same could not be said for Truss, Shaffer or Salyer, as the three rotated. Truss and Salyer both took snaps at left tackle in the scrimmage for Georgia. Curiously, Jones only took snaps at right tackle when playing with the second-team offense.
Related: Georgia offensive lineman Tate Ratledge showing why he’ll be known for more than his mullet
It was far from a perfect day for Ratledge or the offensive line, as quarterback JT Daniels was sacked four times on the afternoon. That area will have to get cleaned up, especially against what should be a stout Clemson front.
If there is anything to be seriously gleaned from Georgia’s final spring scrimmage, it’s that Georgia wants Ratledge to be a factor of some kind on its offensive line in the 2021 season.
Whether or not that comes in a starting role will be determined by how Ratledge develops between now and the Clemson game. He will have a much more normal offseason compared to what he went through last year when he arrived in Athens in the middle of the pandemic. That alone should help his development.
Georgia has always liked to have more than five capable offensive linemen, with players such as Cade Mays and likely 2021 starting center Warren Ericson serving in that role in each of the past two seasons.
At the very least, Ratledge appears destined for that role. He has the athleticism and strength to play along the offensive line and serve as the sixth offensive lineman. In the event someone goes down, Ratledge would likely be the first man in off the bench.
“Tate’s been in the thick of it, he’s tough, he’s got a physical presence, he’s strong and does a great job in the weight room,” Smart said of Ratledge after the spring game. “In the SEC, you’ve got to have a firm pocket and you’ve got to be able to move people.
“You’re going to go against the best defensive lines every year in our conference and you’ve got to have some mass. You’ve got to have some guys who can sustain heavy rushers and we think Tate does a good job with that.”
The 2020 season also showed once again that just because you start the first series of the first game does not mean you will remain there for the remainder of the season. Owen Condon got the start at right tackle against Arkansas. He was replaced mid-game by Warren McClendon, who went on to earn Freshman All-American honors along with starting the final nine games of the 2020 season.