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Curtis Compton / AJC
Georgia offensive line coach takes a moment with Warren Ericson (50).

Matt Luke explains Georgia offensive line shuffle, what lies ahead

ATHENS — Georgia offensive line coach Matt Luke Is just as excited about the Bulldogs offensive line as anyone else.

Even if he’s not exactly sure how it will look come Sept. 4 against Clemson in Charlotte, N.C.

RELATED: Kirby Smart previews Georgia spring football

One takeaway from Luke’s presentation on Tuesday was that Jamaree Salyer, Justin Shaffer and Warren Ericson figure to be in the mix.

“Guys like Jamaree [Salyer] coming back, and [Justin] Shaffer and Warren Ericson, they have been doing a great job of leading,” Luke said during the Zoom session, asked about the timeline for determining a starting lineup.

“I think, with guys that have some experience, it does give you a little bit of flexibility.”

UGA’s starting point is a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl lineup with Xavier Truss at left tackle, Slyer at left guard, Ericson at center, Shaffer at right guard and Freshman All-American Warren McClendon at right tackle.

But the team doesn’t hit the field for spring football practices until March 16, and that’s when the competition will amp up and the offseason strength, conditioning and skill gains can be measured.

Georgia 5-star recruits like Broderick Jones and Clay Webb are being asked about, while former Top 150-rated prospects Tate Ratledge, Sedrick Van Pran and Chad Lindberg want to make a push just like last season’s opening game starter, Owen Condon.

And then there are some who believe incoming 5-star freshman Amarius Mims can get in the mix once recovered from labrum surgery that will limit him in the spring.

Luke, Kirby Smart’s “associate head coach,” knows how to manage an offensive line room as well as anyone, and he makes it clear there’s no substitute for the hard work that’s ahead.

The best way for guys to get better at football is to go play football,” said Luke, who was the Ole Miss head coach before Smart hired him to replace current Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman. “To go get those reps, it is invaluable. Losing guys like Trey [Hill] and Ben [Cleveland] that have had a bunch of reps. Those reps will be huge for us moving forward.”

They were certainly valuable in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Top 10 Cincinnati, which featured one of the top defensive fronts in college football last season.

It’s fair to say Georgia’s offensive line got roughed up a bit more than anyone could have anticipated with Hill and Cleveland both missing from the game, and the line shuffled.

Luke indicated it was growing pains, as much as anything.

“To me, that was just a starting point, (and) now you move forward,” Luke said. “You have 15 practices in the spring, then you have all summer, then you have fall camp.

“It is some experience, like for Xavier [Truss], he got his feet wet. You are looking to build off of that in these practices and obviously summer and fall camp, so you are excited that you can really build off of that experience.”

The competition is real, and it’s on, every day of the offseason workouts.

But it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and Luke is giving a watchful eye over the progress of all of his players with the goal of putting the best five on the field come Sept. 4.

RELATED: Clemson football ‘grown men’ committed to title reload

That’s where it gets back to Shaffer, Salyer and Ericson.

I think, anytime you have some flexibility with guys like Jamaree [Salyer] that can play multiple spots, and [Justin] Shaffer and Warren [Ericson] that can play multiple spots, it gives you some flexibility,” Luke said.

“Obviously, competition is huge at every position. Anytime that you have competition, I think that is what makes Georgia special, the ability to have competition at those positions. It makes everybody better.”

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