Plenty of spots on Georgia’s football team entered the spring a muddle and left it that way, or became even more muddled after four weeks of practices and three scrimmages.
The exception is the offensive line. Four starters were returning anyway, and the open spot now has a clear leader entering the summer. The only question is where he will play.
There’s actually cause for plenty of optimism when it comes to Georgia’s offensive line, and not just this season. Recruiting has gone well recently, with some highly-regarded players set to join the team this summer, and a projected five-star recruit (Ben Cleveland) and four-star (E.J. Price) already committed for the 2016 class.
In the meantime, it’s nice to have all but one starter back from a unit that performed well last year. Because the pressure will be on this year for there not to be a drop-off under new assistant coach Rob Sale.
Yes, the running game will be just fine with Nick Chubb and company, but the passing game is a huge question mark this season. Remember the 2010 season, when everyone figured that however freshman quarterback Aaron Murray performed, you could at least count on his line? Well, it didn’t work out that way. That started a run of years in which the line was inconsistent, a run that finally ended last season.
This year the front five has to be just as good. Here’s how the five spots break down heading into the summer:
STARTER: John Theus, Sr.
TOP BACKUPS: Kendall Baker, R-Fr., and Aulden Bynum, Soph.
OTHERS: Eddie McQuillen, Sr., walk-on.
ON THE WAY: Patrick Allen, Fr.; Sam Madden, Fr.; DeVondre Seymour, Soph.
THE SKINNY: All that uncertainty over whether Theus would play left tackle seems long ago now. He got the job last year, and nailed it down. He will try to have an All-SEC season in 2015 and climb into the first round of the draft.
The greater intrigue, as it is at both tackle spots, is who emerges as the heir apparent. Baker had a strong spring and at one point Sale listed him as the top reserve at both tackle spots. Then Baker got in a car accident, suffering an eye injury when the airbag hit him. He’s okay now, and presumably should be healthy for the summer.
Bynum can play both guard and tackle, and was listed as the second-team left tackle on G-Day. If Baker has the inside track to be one of the second-team tackles, Bynum can push for the second spot.
But so will the freshmen. Allen comes in with the most hype, while Seymour can offer experience at the junior college level. Madden (listed at 6-6 and 350 pounds) has great size, it’s just a matter of how ready he is.
McQuillen, who at 6-8 is the tallest player on the team, missed spring practice after tearing his ACL last year.
STARTER: Brandon Kublanow, Jr., or Isaiah Wynn, Fr.
TOP BACKUPS: Dyshon Sims, Soph.; Josh Cardiello, Soph.
OTHERS: Lamont Galliard, R-Fr.; Michael Scullin, Soph., walk-on.
ON THE WAY: Sage Hardin, Fr.; Madden.
THE SKINNY: It’s pretty much certain that Kublanow will start somewhere, and probable that Wynn will too. Kublanow started every game at left guard last year and, save for some ill-timed penalties, did a solid job.
Wynn got the start at center in all three scrimmages, so it appeared headed in that direction until the final week of practice, when he and Kublanow flipped spots. Wynn offers some upside at guard with his strength and athleticism. So it may come down to how well Kublanow adjusts to center over the summer and in the preseason.
The development of Sims and Cardiello is also worth watching. Galliard moved over from the defensive line midway through spring camp, and drew decent reviews.
Hardin is listed early on as a guard, and he may end up there. Or even at center. But he has the size (6-6, 270) to play all five spots on the line. So does Madden. Georgia got really good size in this year’s offensive line class, now it just needs to go about figuring out how and where to use it.
STARTER: Kublanow or Wynn.
TOP BACKUP: Hunter Long, Sr.
ON THE WAY: Hardin.
THE SKINNY: You can’t quite rule out Long here, as he’s a fifth-year senior who actually has real game snapping experience. (When David Andrews sprained his ankle last year.) Long appeared to have a solid spring, and there wasn’t a huge gap between him and Wynn.
The coaches have also discussed giving Cardiello a shot at center, though most of his reps have come at guard. Hardin could also get a look there.
Some of the decision will come down to what’s better this year, but inevitably there will be an eye to the future as well. Ideally they’d like to have continuity at the position; Georgia has only had two starting centers (Andrews and Ben Jones) over the past seven years.
STARTER: Greg Pyke, Jr.
TOP BACKUPS: Sims.
OTHERS: Jake Edwards, R-Fr.; Galliard; Thomas Swilley, Soph., walk-on.
ON THE WAY: Madden, Hardin.
THE SKINNY: Pyke got some All-SEC votes last year, and has a chance to contend for more honors next year. Behind him comes the question.
Sims will be part of the equation, as will everyone else listed in the left guard competition.
STARTER: Kolton Houston, Sr.
TOP BACKUPS: Baker or Billy Seward, Soph., walk-on.
OTHERS: Alex Essex, R-Fr., walk-on
ON THE WAY: Allen, Seymour, Madden.
THE SKINNY: Houston getting his sixth year of eligibility meant one more year of jokes about how long he’s been around. Sale is his third offensive line coach, for one thing. That’s not a joke, just a factoid. By this point in the breakdown we’re out of creativity. Sorry.
The scholarship numbers on the offensive line are pretty good, but Seward is worth watching after Theus said he had an impressive spring. He’s a bit undersized for tackle (6-3, 270), but apparently makes up for it.
Still, it’s a good bet one of those freshmen emerges as a second-teamer at one or possibly even both tackle spots. Theus and Houston are both heading into their last year, so Sale has to have an eye on 2016.
Next up: Receivers.