Most of the players who have been a part of this series have yet to start more than a handful of games for the Red and Black. Offensive lineman Cade Mays on the other hand drew seven starting nods last season. He played so much that it honestly feels a little difficult to believe that he’s only a true sophomore, and that at this time last year it was at least conceivable that he would even redshirt.
But a serious injury to starting guard Ben Cleveland and a productive camp for the freshman from Knoxville meant that Mays played in eleven of fourteen games during 2018, picking up valuable experience. He ultimately would have played in the other three (UMass, Georgia Tech, and Alabama) had Mays himself not suffered a late season shoulder injury.
Mays enters 2019 in a unique role. He actually garnered significant preseason All-SEC attention despite the fact that he may not even start for Coach Sam Pittman. He’s that good, but the guys ahead of him at guard (juniors Solomon Kindley and Ben Cleveland) are at this point just a little more experienced. Finding snaps for as many talented offensive linemen as Georgia has is a good problem.
Thus far in fall camp one way Sam Pittman has solved that problem is by cross-training Mays at guard, tackle, and center. He’s pushing Cleveland and Kindley at the guard spots and, while fellow sophomore Trey Hill looks like the starter at center, Mays has the athleticism and smarts to play that position, too.
This Georgia offensive line has the potential to be the best in college football. But as an old expression popular among football coaches at all levels goes, “potential means you haven’t done it yet.” Mays’ ability to push the likely starting five every day, to guarantee that their spots are never truly safe right on up into January, makes him a key to the development of the unit as a whole.
He should also be a key insurance policy against injury. We saw in both 2017 and 2018 that the delicate ecosystem of even a very good offensive line can be destroyed by injury. The Bulldog rushing attack in particular wasn’t the same when Ben Cleveland went down with a broken leg and had to be replaced by Cade Mays 1.0. I expect that Mays 2.0 would be a significantly better in that position in 2019.
As important as he is to the 2019 unit, Mays’ plug-and-play ability could make him absolutely critical to the 2020 offensive line. Looming in the future for Coaches Smart and Pittman is the specter of their own success making their jobs tougher. Andrew Thomas, Solomon Kindley, Ben Cleveland, and Isaiah Wilson will all be draft-eligible following this season. Thomas would need a horrendously disappointing season not to be a first round selection, and Wilson isn’t far behind him. Both guards have earned mock draft grades in the first three to four rounds, which could make it difficult for them to stay.
For now it’s nice to know that the Red and Black have stockpiled enough talent up front that a player like Mays, who could start on essentially any other offensive line in the SEC, is roving the practice field just looking for a spot. Good problems. We got ‘em. Until later . . .