The options are many for Georgia Bulldogs at offensive guard, and they’re all good ones
PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS
Part III: The guards
This is the third 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 the week of March 18.
ATHENS — Oh, the possibilities.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind when the discussion turns to Georgia’s offensive guards. There are a lot of different ways offensive line coach Sam Pittman can attack the position, and none of them seem to be a bad option.
The possibilities feature a virtual who’s who of college football recruiting over the last few years — Ben Cleveland, Cade Mays, Trey Hill, Jamaree Salyer, Clay Webb. All of them were either 5-star prospects or rated among the Top 10 at their respective positions coming out of high school. And not all of those guys won the right to be on the field extensively last season.
Solomon Kindley, now a rising junior, started every game at left guard in 2018. Folks forget that the 6-foot-4, 340-pound behemoth exited Jacksonville’s Raines High School as a relative pedestrian 3-star prospect. But now he enters his third year having played in all 29 games the last two seasons, including 21 as a starter. All of those starts last season came at left guard, while all came at right the previous season.
But that doesn’t mean Kindley is automatically going to have the job in 2019. He’ll have to fend off a large group of large men seeking to get on the field as well.
And size is where this group separates itself from guards Georgia has played in years past. In the three seasons prior to the arrival of Pittman and head coach Kirby Smart in 2016, the Bulldogs’ starting guards averaged 6-3.5 in height and 303 pounds. The nine candidates for playing time at guard this season average 6-5 and 326 pounds, give or take a few protein shakes.
Smart’s stated initiative when he took the Georgia job was to get bigger and more physical on the O-line. The Bulldogs have done that and then some.
Let’s break down the guard position heading into spring ball:
- Returning starters: Two — LG Solomon Kindley, 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, R.Jr.; RG Cade Mays, 6-6, 320, soph.
- Others returning: Ben Cleveland, 6-6, 340, R.Jr.; Trey Hill, 6-4, 330, soph.; Jamaree Salyer, 6-4, 325, soph.; Justin Shaffer, 6-4, 335, junior; Owen Condon, 6-7, 320, R.Fr.; Warren Ericson, 6-4, 315, R.Fr.;
- Early enrollees: Clay Webb, 6-3, 295, Fr.
- On the way: 2019 signees Warren McClendon (6-4.5, 320) and Xavier Truss (6-7, 330) are expected to play tackle
- Analysis: The most intriguing competition here is going to come at right guard. That’s where Ben Cleveland began the season as pretty much an undisputed starter. But then he suffered a broken leg in the fourth game of the year at Missouri and never figured into the primary rotation again. That’s when Mays took over and started the next six games as a true freshman. However, he, too was bitten by the injury bug (shoulder) and was unable to play the last four games of the season. Georgia then turned to the true freshman Hill, who finished out the season as the starter at right guard. But Salyer, Shaffer and Condon all got reps at both guard positions, and each will eyeing more playing time a year later. That could be at right guard, left guard, center or tackle.
- Bottom line: If the prospects were any brighter at the guard position, Pittman will have to wear shades on the sideline (and often does, as a matter of fact). There are a myriad of options and combination possibilities and they’re all good. Health, as always, will play a big part in it. Cleveland appeared to be coming into his own when he suffered the leg injury, then Mays did the same before getting sidelined, then Hill. All logged high grades with their play on the field when they were healthy, so the task in the spring will be to determine which player represents the best of the best. That’s at right guard. Kindley appears to have a stranglehold on the left guard position after starting all 14 games a year ago. He and tackle Andrew Thomas provide Georgia with one of the most formidable left flanks in football. Kindley at times struggled in pass protection, so improvement in that area will only solidify his position and enhance his professional prospects.