ATHENS – Greg Pyke has arrived at the point that may have been the plan all along. It was just a very rocky trip along the way.
This time last year, it was easy to game out Pyke’s career at Georgia and see him moving from right guard – where he was a preseason second-team All-SEC pick – to one of the tackle spots as a senior. That is, if Pyke didn’t leave early for the NFL.
Then came a near-disastrous junior season for the Maryland native, who struggled enough that he was benched late in the year. The coaching staff was turned over, and Pyke found himself sitting across from new offensive line coach Sam Pittman, a man he didn’t know.
Pyke recounted the conversation this way:
“Are you up to the challenge of playing tackle?” Pittman said.
“Yes sir, wherever you need me I’ll play,” Pyke said.
So after all that, Pyke is indeed at right tackle, at least as Georgia begins spring practice.
“I definitely think I learned something from it. Your job is not safe every day,” Pyke said. “You have to go out there and play and win that spot at the end of every practice so you’re able to go and play in the game.”
Pyke started every game at right guard as a sophomore in 2014, and the first eight games of last year. But as Georgia’s offense continued to struggle, including in the interior running game, the coaches decided to blow up the starting five.
The odd man out was Pyke, relegated to the bench.
“Coach (Rob) Sale didn’t feel like I was playing up to par, and I totally agree with that,” Pyke said, referring to the previous offensive line coach. “You have to go out there and earn your spot every day. It was the coach’s call and I agree with it.”
Pyke eventually earned his job back, starting twice more, including the bowl game. Pittman had been hired by then, and from watching Pyke at practices and against Penn State apparently liked enough of what he saw.
It’s a reminder that coaches tend to see similar things. Pyke (6-foot-6 and 313 pounds) projected as a potential tackle for a while, but ended up at guard more because Georgia was set at those spots. Now both tackle spots are open with John Theus and Kolton Houston’s eligibilities up.
Theus and Houston have been back in town this week for UGA’s pro day. So Pyke hit them up for some advice on playing tackle. He’s also gotten a crash course at the first week of spring practice, going up against outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.
“As a guard you’re kinda holding space for the tackles, looking out there to help the center and the tackles,” Pyke said. “But now you’re kinda out there on the island, and you’ve got to definitely earn your scholarship out there.”
When Pyke first got his scholarship to Georgia, he spent his first year redshirting, and his second moving between scout team and second team. Things got very eventful after that.
Like the other offensive linemen, Pyke is now on his third offensive coordinator and third offensive line coach in as many years. What’s been hurt in continuity may have been made up for by learning experience.
“SEC football is definitely a business,” Pyke said. “You can’t be like: Oh, coach, we really like this guy and want him to stay. The players don’t have any say in that, you just have to deal with the cards you’re dealt and make the most of it. You definitely have to make that connection, and definitely as an offensive line that’s definitely a brotherhood up front.
“You definitely can’t have a lot of bickering between coaches and players. You just have to buy in, and that’s what coach (Kirby) Smart is doing here, he wants everyone to buy in.”
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