UGA’s Isaiah Wynn embraces challenges of left tackle

UGA sophomore Isaiah Wynn (77) has been getting a lot of attention from coaches at practice as he gets set to start his second game at left tackle against the hard-charging Auburn Tigers.

ATHENS — Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn insists he’s not worried or nervous about the challenge that awaits him this weekend.  To be clear, it’s a significant one.

Wynn was switched from left guard to left tackle before the Kentucky game last week. And while it represents a physical relocation of just a few feet, physically and philosophically, it’s a miles-away move.

Wynn did quite well in his initial test. In fact, he graded well enough to make the Bulldogs’ “Victor’s Club” after last Saturday’s 27-3 win. But all due respect to Kentucky’s defensive ends, Wynn’s challenge will be raised a couple of notches this Saturday.

Auburn’s Carl Lawson and the Tigers’ other edge rushers represent duel of a different degree.

“No, not at all, not all,” Wynn said of any angst he might be feeling.  “(Lawson) presents a big challenge for me. This is only going to be my second week, but I’m looking forward to stepping up and helping my team win. He’s definitely a big, powerful guy.”

Anybody who follows football — or watches movies, for that matter — knows the special importance of left tackle in an offense. His chief charge is to protect a right-handed quarterback’s “blind side.”

Michael Oher did it so well at Ole Miss — and so naturally — they made a movie about it. But Oher and most others who play the position have something Wynn does not have: Great size, and length, in particular.

Oher, now an NFL veteran, is 6-foot-5, 315-pounds. Wynn, sophomore from St. Petersburg, Fla., is 6-2, 278.

“One thing he has that really helps him is his athleticism,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Wynn. “He’s very quick and is a very good pass protector. He’s got very long arms. I remember Jamie Dukes about a thousand years ago at Florida State. He was only about 6-feet tall but had really long arms. He could pass protect as well as anybody because he could hold people at bay, and that’s half the battle.”

A lot of people have wondered this season what’s wrong with Auburn’s defense. The Tigers — a preseason pick to win the SEC — enters Saturday’s game in last place in the Western Division largely because they’re last in the league in total defense (430.6 ypg).

But much of that has to do with Lawson missing six games with a hip injury. Though he has battled injuries throughout his short career — he missed all of last season — the 6-2, 260-pound pass-rushing specialist from Alpharetta entered Auburn as the nation’s No. 1-ranked defensive end, according to 247Sports.com.

Lawson returned to action two weeks ago. He had five tackles last Saturday in the Tigers’ 26-10 win at Texas A&M.

“Since he’s been back, they’re only giving up 18 points a game,” Richt noted. “So I think his presence is being felt already. I know it takes more than one guy to play defense for sure, but he’s a guy that is very dynamic as a pass rusher and run-stuffer and everything else that you’d want in a guy playing that position.”

Georgia completely reshuffled its offensive line after its 27-3 loss to Florida on Oct. 31 capped its most horrific month of offensive football in years. That unit was responsible for only 9.7 points a game for the four contests, three of them losses.

By all accounts, senior John Theus had not played poorly at left tackle during that stretch. But in an attempt to get the five best players on the field, Theus moved back to right tackle, where he played his first two seasons, right tackle Kolton Houston moved to left guard, where he’d also played before, Dyshon Sims was inserted at right guard, and Wynn moved to left tackle. Only center Brandon Kublanow remained at his same position.

The experiment worked well against the Wildcats as Georgia rushed for a season-high 300 yards.

“We’re all working to be a cohesive unit,” Wynn said.  “On some plays I was kind of, well, I didn’t think I did as good. After I got my grade back I felt like I did pretty good.”

Wynn said he hadn’t played left tackle since high school and only worked at the position in one-on-one drills during Georgia’s preseason camp. But like most linemen, he enjoys the challenge and prestige of playing left tackle.

“It’s fun,” he said. “As far as pass protection at left tackle, you always have that speed factor. A guy can be really fast on you and just then instantly go to (a) power (rush). So it’s kind of hard at tackle to both kick back and settle down, as opposed to being at guard where you can immediately get your hands on them. We’re (working) on that a lot in practice and hone down on that.”

Wynn has leaned hard on Theus and Georgia’s other tackles for advice.

“I think Isaiah did awesome for his first time,” said the 6-6, 303-pound Theus. “He’s a great athlete, he’s got a lot of natural ability. He’s not the tallest guy but he’s pretty long in the arms. So I thought he did a pretty good job and there’s some more stuff we’re working on. The more he plays the more comfortable he’ll get. We all know that.”

The real test for both Wynn and the O-line comes this Saturday. not that much of a change-up

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