If the Flux Capacitor in Marty McFly’s DeLorean had the potential energy 1.21 Jigawatts, then Sam Pittman and his offensive line (v2.0) has 6.35 Jigawatts of potential energy. That’s downright jiggy, but the key word here is potential.
Seriously, there are some young pups (true freshman?) who are going to have to play early and often and frankly, this is scary. But some of these guys are already very good and they have the potential (there’s that word again) to truly be great. The entire season probably hinges upon the ability this particular unit to gel sooner than later. A fast start to 2017 might portend great things. Zoom zoom!
What we know we have:
We’ve got some seniors. These are the dudes who have been through the wars (internally and externally) for a few seasons now.
Senior guard...or is he a tackle...or is he a guard...Isaiah Wynn could be the most important person on the entire offensive line if you consider his versatility and experience. Wynn is certainly not the prototypical size for a left tackle, but this is where Kirby Smart wants him to play. At 6’ 2”, and about 300 lbs., he lacks ideal height for the position, but has very long arms, quick feet and good leverage. He also likes to compete and can more than hold his own against the best the Conference has to offer. Wynn has bounced around between guard and tackle often in his career out of necessity. Is this the year he can finally settle on a single position and perfect his craft? I believe it is.
Dyshon Sims, a senior out of Lowndes County (6’ 4”, 309), is in the 2-deep at left tackle right behind Wynn and has been working extensively with the first team offensive unit through summer camp, often at right guard. Sims has played often in his career and looks to improve in his second season under Sam Pittman.
Aulden Bynum and Thomas Swilley are seniors and are available if needed. They, too, will have the benefit of being in the same coaching system for a second consecutive season.
Juniors and Sophomores
Junior Lamont Gaillard (6’ 2”, 300) came to Georgia as a defensive line prospect. Since his arrival at Georgia, he’s had 4 different position coaches and is now a full-time center, having shared snaps with graduated Brandon Kublanow. In his 2nd season under Sam Pittman, Gaillard - who showed real flashes last season at right guard - should thrive as he has improved his strength and knowledge of exactly what are his responsibilities as center are - and there are many.
Sean Fogarty (Jr., 6’ 4” 307) has been “pushing” Gaillard throughout the summer and will see the field often this season as he had a solid spring and is obviously earning playing time by his August effort.
JUCO transfer tackle D’Marcus Hayes (Jr., 6’ 6”, 320 - Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) is beginning to show some signs that might elevate him above the 3rd team, but is still transitioning from JUCO ball to the rigors of an SEC August. Consistency in camp has been his biggest issue, but he could be a very big part of the rotation as the season progresses as he gains more knowledge of exactly what to do. He has great size, experience and athleticism.
Junior tackle Kendall Bakers (6’ 6” 290) has also made an impression and could line up at right tackle or guard and might see the field early this season.
Sophomore Pat Allen (6’ 5”, 300) is competing hard this August and has spent time with the first team offensive unit and will play. The question is, how much? Obviously he’s competing and on the cusp of significant playing time heading into ‘17.
Michael Barnett (Soph, 6’ 4” 304) is another converted defensive lineman who hopes to crack the rotation at some point. Sage Hardin (6’ 6” 291) is another tall kid who can play either tackle or guard and big Sam Madden (6’ 6’ 340) is grinding every day.
What I’m beginning to sense is something I haven’t sensed for a very long time: Offensive line depth. It’s a fine thing...
Freshman: Red shirted and True...
Georgia signed some guys in the last recruiting cycle that have put the giddy back in giddyup. There are some redshirt guys who are already getting close. But first, they’ve gotta survive August. Being in the 300 lbs + range in this heat and humidity ain’t no easy thing.
You’ve got to start with big Ben Cleveland: 6’ 6” and (depending on whether he’s entering or leaving any eating establishment) 345 lbs. Ben redshirted last season by design and has been brought along at a deliberate pace. This August, the light might be coming on for a guy who has tremendous strength and hands. Ben will play offensive guard and has road-grader potential, probably on the right side of the line. Many expected Cleveland to waltz right in and start flingin’ defensive tackles aside like a throw pillow, but Ben is still just shy of his 19th birthday. Sam Pittman has a plan here and you will see Ben on the field in 2017.
Solomon Kindley (6’ 4”, 340) nearly burned his redshirt for one play at Mizzou after a sideline gaffe last season, but retained his freshman status. Kindley could be a guy that becomes great rather than just good. He’s powerful and could be a mauler at offensive guard if he keeps working. Kindley actually started the G-Day game with the first team offense. I see his playing time increase as the season progresses.
Chris Barnes (6’ 3”, 290 Lee County) is another kid who redshirted and is getting coached up.
Isaiah Wilson was arguably the cherry in a class full of cherries when the dust settled at the end of the 2017 signing day. Although he is struggling as one might expect with the Georgia heat - he is, after all, a native New Yorker - Wilson is just too big and athletic to not see the field sooner than later, probably ending up at right tackle after cutting his teeth at guard. He’s learning everyday: The play book, how to cope with the climate and college life in general. It’s hard to forget that these kids often find themselves in a strange new land. Anyone who moves like he does at 6’ 7” and around 350 is going to make an impact.
The buzz of the August camp for incoming offensive linemen thus far has been Andrew Thomas out of Pace Academy. Another legitimate tackle (6’ 4’ 333), Thomas has worked at guard and right tackle for much of fall camp. First team offense. That is impressive. Thomas might just be a Day-1 starter. Could he be that rare guy who starts every game he plays at Georgia. Just maybe.
Netori Johnson (6’ 3”, 340) started classes in July and is a little behind the curve on August thus far by most accounts and could be headed for a red-shirt. But Johnson might benefit greatly if this comes to pass. This kid has all the tools: The size, attitude and the hair. Oh, the sweet, sweet hair. Justin Shaffer (6’ 5”, 350) out of Ellenwood, Georgia is another true-freshman who could be headed for a red-shirt season, but has shown recent flashes in practice that has certainly gotten the coaches attention.
What does this all mean?
Georgia’s biggest question mark headed into the 2017 season is, without a doubt, the offensive line. We have very little senior depth, but we are building depth rapidly from the junior class on down.
It will be interesting to see who starts on September 2 vs. Appalachian State, and who will be starting by mid-season. The early games, particularly that date up in South Bend, are worrisome. If we can survive week 2 (I think we will), and if the defense can put the offense in good position to score, things will begin to shake out rapidly by the time the SEC slate begins. The defense might have to carry the team early, but hopefully not through an entire season which was the rule rather than the exception in 2016.
One thing is certain: Except for the true freshman, all returning players are now in year 2 of Sam Pittman’s direction and that alone bodes well. We are bigger and more athletic than we were a season ago.
If I’m an offensive lineman for this team, I only have to look over to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel for inspiration. These guys chose to come back and will risk much to play one more season for the Red and Black. That is incredibly unselfish. What I would do is my very best to open holes for these guys and lead my team to glory. I believe this is part of the message that is being preached everyday. If this line can come together sooner than later and allow our skill players to do what they do, really great things will happen. We have the best corps of running backs in America, possibly the best corps of tight ends anywhere, and our receivers - although young in spots - have also improved similarly to the offensive line via a strong 2017 recruiting cycle and some solid veterans.
Block somebody, fellas. GATA.