ATHENS — Tate Ratledge stood tall behind the podium at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, looking as confident as he sounded.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound redshirt junior guard is among the three returning starters anchoring what’s expected to be one of the most powerful offensive lines of the Kirby Smart era.

It’s a unit that Ratledge says has grown even closer in the wake of the well-documented tragic accident that claimed the lives of recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy and UGA lineman Devin Willock.

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Ratledge revealed a tattoo on his inner right wrist with Willock’s initials, explaining that his former teammate is ingrained with this Georgia football team.

“It’s something that will never leave our minds, he’s one of our brothers, one of our best friends,” Ratledge said. “We have a picture of him in the offensive line room right now, (and) I have this on my wrist for him.

“We always know he’s there with us and taking care of us.”

Ratledge said the Georgia offensive line has been taking care of business this spring, making the most of their time on the field together.

“I think one thing we figured out is that we are good offensive linemen,” Ratledge said following Thursday’s practice, the fifth of the 15 allotted during the spring session.

“We’re deep with a lot of competition going on, just competing every day with a lot of talent.”

Ratledge, who led the UGA guards in snaps played last season, is expected to hold down the right guard position with Xavier Truss returning at left guard and captain Sedrick Van Pran back at center.

Offensive line coach Stacy Searels is working to build a second unit with little to no drop-off, Ratledge said, before proceeding to reel off the embarrassment of riches Georgia has on its interior offensive line.

“Micah Morris, Dylan Fairchild, they’re both really impressive right now,” Ratledge said. “Jared Wilson, he’s an athlete. Physical, he’s smart, there’s a lot. Monroe (Freeling) came in. He’s athletic. He just shows how athletic he is.

“One of Coach Searels goals is to find a starting five and then a backup group where there’s not much drop-off, and right now, we do a lot where everybody gets a lot of reps.”

The Bulldogs have big shoes to fill at offensive tackle, where projected first-round left tackle Broderick Jones and 37-game consecutive starter Warren McClendon did not give up a sack last season.

At present, Amarius Mims is lining up at right tackle, with redshirt freshman Earnest Greene and redshirt junior Austin Blaske are battling at left tackle.

Ratledge made it clear Searels makes sure all of the Georgia offensive linemen understand what’s on the table

“He’s always done a good job being clear with what he wants,” Ratledge said. “He comes every day and coaches, and I have a lot of respect for him.”

Returning offensive line snaps leaders

Sedrick Van Pran, 972

Tate Ratledge, 844

Xavier Truss, 725

Amarius Mims, 385

Austin Blaske, 82

Jared Wilson, 67

The current players who have spoken with the media this spring:

• Ladd McConkey

• Kendall Milton

• Sedrick Van Pran

• Brock Bowers

• Tate Ratledge

• Javon Bullard

• Zion Logue

• Kamari Lassiter

• Smael Mondon