Looking back, Greg Pyke doesn’t blame Rob Sale for benching him.
Georgia was coming off of a brutal 27-3 loss to Florida, in which the offensive line had a tough outing. The end result, before the following week’s game against Kentucky, was for the offensive line to shift players around. Three players moved to new positions – John Theus, Kolton Houston and Isaiah Wynn. Brandon Kublanow stayed put at center.
Only one, Pyke, was removed from the starting lineup. It was a somewhat surprising move at the time, considering Pyke entered the 2015 season as a potential candidate to leave early for the NFL draft. But here he was, being benched in favor for Dyshon Sims after eight games.
Pyke said it was the right call for Sale, Georgia’s previous offensive line coach, to make.
"Coach Sale didn’t think I was playing up to par," Pyke said. "I totally agree with that. You have to go out there and earn your spot every day. It was a coach’s call and I agree with it. I’m not going to sit there and argue that I should be starting or playing. He’s going to put the best five in there to help this team win. It’s not about me at all. It’s about the team."
Pyke, who played the entire 2015 season at right guard, ended up earning his starting spot back a week later against Auburn. A knee injury, however, would sideline him for the Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech games. He returned for the TaxSlayer Bowl against Penn State, in which he started at right guard.
With spring football beginning this week, Pyke has undergone a transformation of his own, much like the program itself. Pyke, a starter at right guard the previous two seasons, has moved to right tackle for the first two practices. It’s definitely a transition with plenty of changes – Pyke said he’s now on an island instead of holding space for the tackles and helping the center.
The position switch was something offensive line coach Sam Pittman presented Pyke early on when they first met.
"When Coach Pittman first came in I went and talked to him as soon as he got on campus," Pyke said. "We talked about where everyone was from last year, the returners and who’s coming in. He asked, 'Are you up to the challenge of playing tackle?' I said, 'Yes sir, wherever you need me I’ll happily play.'"
While Pyke is starting the spring at right tackle, it may not be where he ultimately ends up.
Georgia is bringing in offensive tackle Tyler Catalina, a graduate transfer from Rhode Island, who very well could push for a starting spot. Rising sophomore Kendall Baker, who’s been working as a first-team left tackle, and freshman Ben Cleveland could also factor into the coaching staff’s final decision when it’s all said and done.
"Throughout the spring we’re going to work different groupings there," head coach Kirby Smart said. "I think it’s important to cross-train because we cannot anticipate injuries, and they ultimately will happen in the offensive line and the front. We’ve got to be ready and more prepared to handle those situations as they come up."
Pyke is now working with his third offensive line coach in as many seasons, having gone from Will Friend to Sale to Pittman. The most recent change can be seen as a fresh start in some ways. Pyke has the chance to impress a new coaching staff that needs him to perform well, especially considering the lack of depth up front. He also gets the chance to shed last season's struggles off and start anew at a different position.
And by learning under Pittman, an offensive line coach who boasts a tremendous track record, Pyke could potentially return to his sophomore-season form.
As for having to go through yet another position coach change, Pyke said it comes with the territory of playing for a major-college program. But now that last season is in the past, Pyke believes better days are ahead.
"You have to deal with the cards you’re dealt and make the most of it," Pyke said. "You definitely have to make that connection. The offensive line, it’s definitely a brotherhood up front. You can’t have a lot of bickering between coaches or players. You have to buy in and that’s what Coach Smart is doing here. He wants everyone to buy in."