Once upon a time, the offensive line was a major question mark for Georgia’s football program.
Now that the 2017 season has come and gone, no one is concerned about this group moving forward. This was a unit that dominated most of its opponents to the tune of 258.4 rushing yards per game. Four starters are slated to return, which will only add confidence that next season’s group will keep up its production.
More importantly, Georgia has become strong in numbers on the offensive line.
Ten offensive linemen have joined the Georgia football program in the recruiting classes of 2017 and 2018. That kind of depth is needed at a position that deals with contact every single play.
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They left: Isaiah Wynn, Dyshon Sims, Aulden Bynum
They return: Andrew Thomas (Soph.), Kendall Baker (Sr.), Lamont Gaillard (Sr.), Ben Cleveland (Soph.), Solomon Kindley (Soph.), Isaiah Wilson (R-Fr.), Justin Shaffer (Soph.), Pat Allen (Jr.), Netori Johnson (R-Fr.), D’Marcus Hayes (Jr.), Sean Fogarty (Sr.), Chris Barnes (Soph.), Sam Madden (Jr.)
Enrolled early: Cade Mays, Trey Hill, Warren Ericson
On the way: Jamaree Salyer, Owen Condon
What to watch: With Wynn gone, Thomas, who had a standout season at right tackle as a true freshman, will move to the other side of the line and begin the spring as the presumed starter at left tackle. Thomas impressed Georgia’s coaching staff early last summer and was running with the first team by the middle of the preseason.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman was complimentary of Thomas’ development in high school at Atlanta's Pace Academy, which helped prepare him to play early as a college freshman.
“He’s not the strongest guy in the room but he’s one of the smartest guys in the room and he’s got that demeanor about him that he hates losing,” Pittman said.
Thomas will look to be the left-side anchor Wynn was for the Bulldogs this past season.
Other than Thomas, Gaillard is the only other player who can be considered 100 percent safe when it comes to offseason competition. Gaillard proved to be a difference-maker at center, which led to him to consider the NFL draft before electing to return.
Baker put in a great junior season and is easily the favorite at left guard. But Pittman, and head coach Kirby Smart, will likely look to push him further with some competition before Salyer adds more of that in the summer. But the top competitions to watch up front are on the right side of the line. At right guard, Cleveland will look to hold on to the starting spot over Kindley. Cleveland surpassed Kindley on the depth chart for the final five games of the 2017 season.
With Thomas moving to left tackle, right tackle will feature a new face. Wilson, a 2017 five-star, is expected to battle Mays, a 2018 five-star, for the starting job.
Outlook: Georgia is in great shape with its offensive line. It’s not easy to lose a potential NFL first-rounder in Wynn, but the Bulldogs have done a great job in stockpiling offensive line talent. The competition at right tackle will be intriguing because it could be the second year in a row a freshman – redshirt or true – ends up starting the season opener.