From Kirby Smart’s vantage point, Pat Allen has started to find his groove.
A third-year sophomore, Allen has taken reps with Georgia’s first-team offense at left guard this spring. Compared to last season, Smart said, Allen “is more comfortable” doing what the coaches ask of him. Smart believes part of Allen’s newfound comfort level is simply because he “understands what he’s doing better.”
And Allen has shown that on the field this spring as Smart praised Allen’s physical attitude. That has translated into Allen routinely having his way with the Bulldogs’ defensive linemen.
The reason for that success, however, is something Smart has yet to pin down.
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“I don’t know if we’re playing softer up front or if we’re more physical on the offensive line,” Smart said. “I don’t know which one that is. It’s hard to tell when you go against yourself all the time. I do know that Pat is getting more movement on some guys than he’s gotten in the past at guard.”
Despite the growth he’s seen from Allen this spring, Smart still found areas that needed fine-tuning.
“Pat, he’s got to grow up and do some things passing off twitch that he’s just not comfortable (with),” Smart said. “He’s never had to do it that fast. When it’s Davin (Bellamy) and ‘Zo’ (Lorenzo Carter) doing it to you, it’s different than the threes and fours doing it to you. It’s good he’s getting good work.”
Smart said the same went for Lamont Gaillard. A fourth-year junior, Gaillard started all 13 games at right guard last season. This spring, he moved to center.
Smart says the transition has gone well thus far.
“It’s new for him. It’s kind of like being the quarterback of the offensive line,” Smart said. “He has to make calls, make decisions. Obviously, (Brandon) Kublanow was so great at that because he had done it for, I don’t know, 100 games it seemed like he’d been playing.”
Despite the nature of being the offensive line's play-caller, Smart noted it’s not as if the role is “completely new” to Gaillard.
“When you’re a guard beside Brandon Kublanow you have to know all those calls, too. He’s done a good job of that,” Smart said. “When we get into third down, he sometimes struggles at that but he’ll continue to improve. I think (offensive line) Coach (Sam) Pittman does a good job at that.”
Gaillard isn’t the only lineman getting used to a new position. Dyshon Sims, who started at left guard in two of Georgia’s final three games last season, began the spring at that spot. But it was only a temporary stay as he is now manning right tackle with the first-team.
According to Smart, Sims, who has also seen time at center this spring, is versatile enough to play any position on the line.
“I think the only way to get comfortable with him playing everywhere is to do it with him everywhere,” Smart said. “There’s a theory that he could be a left tackle, too.”
For now, that role belongs to Isaiah Wynn. And that, Smart said, is about the only thing settled at left tackle since spring practice started.
“If Isaiah wasn’t there, who would it be?” Smart asked. “I think there’s a battle going on right now for who the two-spot is. We haven’t done a lot with Isaiah, although you’re probably referring to historically. Isaiah has been the centerpiece at left tackle so far this spring.”
Beyond the starting five, Smart has also been pleased with the progress of those fighting to fill out the two-deep, which includes junior Sean Fogarty and sophomore Chris Barnes at center and sophomore Ben Cleveland at right tackle.
“Fogarty’s done a good job, Ben Cleveland’s done a good job, too,” Smart said. “Chris Barnes is starting to show some progress. I am happy with the growth of those guys. But until it actually produces on the field, that’s when we’ll know for sure.”
In Cleveland’s case specifically, Smart admits he and the rest of the coaching staff “weren’t fair” to the mammoth sophomore earlier in the spring, as he was forced to cross-train at both guard and tackle. After the first week, the coaching staff regrouped and decided to let Cleveland focus solely on right tackle.
And the decision has paid off.
“He had a better week. At the start of Week 3, it’s just tackle,” Smart said. “We want to see where that takes us. He provides a little different element at that right tackle position. He’s a big man. He’s a mountain of a man. We want to get some movement, some run blocking. … He gives us a different flavor there and we want him to go in and compete. He’ll continue to move around but just not right now.”
The constant reshuffling of the line — at least in terms of different players spending time at different spots — won’t change any time soon.
“We’ll continue to move guys around — we want guys to be flexible,” Smart said. “The goal obviously is to get the best five out there. And you say what’s the best five? Is that pass pro or run blocking? Because some guys are better at other things.”