A talented contingent will compete for right to carry on Georgia’s rich tradition at center
PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS
Part II: The centers
This is the second in a 15-part series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 18.
ATHENS — Georgia gets little argument these days for its well-deserved reputation as RBU. More quietly, though, the Bulldogs have created a pretty good legacy for producing great centers as well.
Lamont Gaillard is the latest one. The graduating senior from Fayetteville, N.C., really found his niche after converting from defensive line as a redshirt sophomore. He started every game for the Bulldogs these last three seasons and consistently graded out among the team’s top linemen. Accordingly, Gaillard was selected as first-team All-SEC after the season and is busy readying himself now for an NFL future.
Whether he’s drafted or not, Gaillard hopes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and earn himself a spot on an NFL roster. Two of the Bulldogs’ former centers are currently drawing NFL paychecks in Ben Jones of the Tennessee Titans and David Andrews of New England Patriots. Andrews, who you might have seen riding shirtless on a firetruck in a parade in Boston, just earned a Super Bowl ring.
Gaillard succeeded Brandon Kublanow, who got a free-agent look from the Baltimore Ravens. Andrews and Jones started seven consecutive seasons for the Bulldogs from 2008 and 2014. But before all those guys came Fernando Velasco, who played nine seasons with the Steelers, Panthers and Bills before returning to Athens and UGA as assistant director of player development.
So, 2019 stands as one of those rare years where the Bulldogs are going to have a changing of the guard at center. The question is, of course, whether the successor will be able to uphold the rich tradition at the position.
Odds are good that somebody on the roster will be up to the task. Not only have Kirby Smart and line coach Sam Pittman recruited players specifically for the center position like Warren Ericson, but they also discovered last year freshman guard that Trey Hill has a knack for playing it as well.
As always, the position will be decided via competition, and likely by the end of spring practice. If somebody can claim it outright by then, they will likely spend an inordinate amount of time with quarterback Jack Fromm through the summer.
Meanwhile, after upholding Georgia’s center tradition with distinction these last three years, Gaillard is hoping to carry it on at the NFL level. His aim is to get drafted, as eight centers did in 2018, but he’s not currently rated among the elite line prospects that are assured of hearing their name called during the first couple of dars. But as we’ve witnessed recently, there is more than one way to make an NFL team. Jones was a fourth-round draft pick while Andrews was an undrafted free agent. It’s Andrews that is being fitted for a Super Bowl ring.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Gaillard said the week of Georgia’s Sugar Bowl game in New Orleans. “I just want to play football as long as I can.”
Here’s a breakdown of the center position heading into spring ball:
- Returning starter: None.
- Others returning: Trey Hill, 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, soph.; Jamaree Salyer, 6-4, 325, soph.; Warren Ericson, 6-4, 315, R.Fr.,
- Early enrollees: Clay Webb, 6-3, 295, Fr
- On the way: Unknown
- Analysis: On the surface, it would appear this is Hill’s job to lose. It was Hill who saved the day when Gaillard was sidelined with a knee injury early in the win at Kentucky. With no warm-up at all, the Warner Robins resident came off the bench and Georgia’s offense didn’t miss a beat as 9th-ranked Bulldogs dominated the No. 12 Wildcats 34-17 in Lexington, Ky. In fact, there were indications UGA’s interior line showed more inside push with the broadly-built Hill in the center of the formation. Led by D’Andre Swift, Georgia had 331 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground that day. But then the tough-as-nails Gaillard returned the very next week against Auburn and Hill was back on the sideline. Not for long, though. After Cade Mays was hurt, Hill he ended up starting Georgia’s last four games at right guard.
- Bottom line: As always, the Bulldogs decide starting positions and rotations via competition in practice, and that probably goes double for the O-line. Coach Sam Pittman mixes and matches and cross-trains his players throughout the spring, into preseason camp and even into the season in an effort to be sure that he’s utilizing the best five on the offensive line. That can also change depending on strategy and matchups against a particular opponent during the season. For the most part, only the tackle positions manned by Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson seem solidified in that regard, barring injury. Salyer, a 5-star prospect as a guard coming out of high school, has always been viewed as an heir apparent to Gaillard. But then the Bulldogs pulled a major recruiting coup and signed Webb, a 5-star center out of Alabama, and were able to bring him in via early enrollment. Ericson is a pure center through and through, though he also cross-trains at guard. Mays and Justin Shaffer also have been given looks at center. So the competition at center — and the ripple effects at guard – is going to be one of the most intriguing storylines of spring.