ATHENS — Kirby Smart makes it clear it all starts up front, and there might not be a more valuable offensive line position than left tackle.

Earnest Greene lll, a redshirt sophomore, is the second-year starter at that left tackle position at Georgia who is responsible for protecting the quarterback’s blind side in the pass game.

“He prides himself on being an elite offensive tackle, and he works that way,” Smart said of Greene, who chose UGA over Ohio State when the schools were recruiting the 6-foot-4, 320-pound prospect out of St. John Bosco, a national championship high school program in Southern California’s Trinity League.

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“How did he play for a redshirt freshman? He played pretty good, considering he held up and did good things at probably the hardest position to play in all of college football. I want him to be better this year.”

Greene will need to be for the Bulldogs to maximize their offense, quarterbacked by Carson Beck.

“You hang your run game and the production of your quarterback on your offensive line,” Smart noted, “which we’ve been pretty consistent at.”

Greene, who redshirted his first season at UGA on account of a hamstring injury and back surgery, says he’s making great strides improving this spring.

“Going into this year, it’s easier from the mental standpoint,” Greene said. “I’ve always said it takes football to get in football shape — you can do all the conditioning you want to, but it takes football.

“You can take as many walk-through reps, as much film as you need to study, but it takes live reps on the field to get comfortable.”

Greene fared well most of last season with one notable exception, getting beat by projected first-round Alabama draft pick Dallas Turner for a sack that led to a missed field goal in the 27-24 SEC Championship Game loss.

This season’s version of Greene won’t be giving up that sort of play.

“You can’t block anybody unless you can stay in front of them, I take pride in being good with my technique,” Greene said. “A false step can be the difference — so I have to stay on top of my technique.”

Smart pointed out that Greene will get plenty of work against some of the nation’s most talented young players this offseason.

“There are times where I still think he gets maxed up with guys. Mykel [Williams] goes with him, Damon [Wilson Jr.] goes with him, Jalon [Walker] goes with him,” Smart said.

“Those are great battles for him to get better. The top SEC pass rushers he’s going to have to go up against? That’s great competition for him.”

Greene said that’s one of the reasons he chose Georgia, along with Smart’s reputation for recruiting and developing elite offensive linemen in the program.

“That 2019 year, they had Andrew Thomas, Isaiah Wilson and Solomon Kindley,” Greene said. “I realized if I want to take this seriously, this is where I have to go.”

Greene has grown into one of Georgia’s most promising young leaders, building on a skillset that first-round NFL draft pick Broderick Jones impressed from the jump.

“I felt like coming in, Earnest was ready,” Jones said last spring. “He was very physical, heavy hands, good pass sets, good run blocker, good finisher. He showed all the attributes it takes to play in the SEC.”

And there’s still more to come.