ATHENS — Kirby Smart was asked this week about Georgia’s offensive line, and before he slipped into coach-speak, he managed one sentence of … well, almost not coach-speak.
The question was whether Smart felt certain about a few starters on the O-line heading into the summer.
“I feel good about a few,” Smart said, hesitantly. “But to be honest I feel like every job we have is open, and that includes every position.”
Second sentence: Coachspeak. (We shall not list all the spots that realistically are not open.)
First sentence: Open to interpretation. Is “a few” two, or three, or four? And to what extent should Georgia “feel good” even about the expected starters?
The feeling was good nearly all spring about the offensive line, which supposedly was pushing around the defense during first-team work in scrimmages and practice. Then came G-Day, and there wasn’t as much pushing around. So where does that leave everything? The feeling here is that two spots are basically set, one has a heavy (literally) favorite, a fourth has a slight favorite, and one is wide open.
Here’s the breakdown:
- First team after spring: Isaiah Wynn, Sr.
- Top contenders: D’Marcus Hayes, Jr.
- On the way: Isaiah Wilson, Fr.; Andrew Thomas, Fr.
- Analysis: This is one of the two spots that seems basically set. Wynn, a two-year starter at left guard, with some experience at left tackle, was put there at the start of spring, and was adamant that he thinks he will be there when the season starts. Hayes, the junior college transfer, got a look at both tackle spots, and while he could push this preseason at right tackle, it’s hard to see him or anyone supplanting Wynn.
- Prediction: Wynn is the left tackle, barring an injury or a change of heart by the coaches.
- First team after spring: Pat Allen, Soph.
- Top contenders: Kendall Baker, Jr.; Dyshon Sims, Sr.
- On the way: Netori Johnson, Fr.; Justin Shaffer, Fr.
- Analysis: This is the “slight favorite” spot. Allen, who redshirted in 2015 and then hardly played last year, had a good offseason, then a good spring, and will enter the preseason in solid position. Whether he holds the spot may not depend entirely on him. Johnson and Shaffer could have something to do with it. But Allen also could be impacted by the right tackle situation. (More on that later.) If Sims isn’t the right tackle, he could compete with Allen to start at left guard.
- Prediction: Allen is the starter against Appalachian State, but his grip on the job won’t be strong.
- First team after spring: Lamont Gaillard, Jr.
- Top contenders: Sims, Chris Barnes, R-Fr.; Sean Fogarty, Jr. (walk-on).
- On the way: None.
- Analysis: Gaillard’s spot is about as secure as Wynn’s. The coaches pinpointed Gaillard as the heir apparent last year, as he was starting at right guard, and nothing happened this spring to change that. The versatile Sims again looms as a potential replacement, while Barnes will be eyed as a potential long-term answer. But the coaches hope Gaillard takes the job and locks it down over the next two years.
- Prediction: Gaillard is the starter. This isn’t a spot you just tinker with unless an injury or something else unforeseen occurs.
- First team after spring: Solomon Kindley, R-Fr.
- Top contenders: Aulden Bynum, Sr.; Sims.
- On the way: Johnson, Shaffer.
- Analysis: Kindley was this close to playing last year — well, he actually did, for that one play against Missouri, but the NCAA still granted Georgia’s waiver for a redshirt. Kindley, who is listed at 341 pounds, was put at right guard when spring practice began and didn’t give the position up. There’s always a chance that someone else could push him — once again let’s mention Sims, who we’re not done mentioning — as well as the two freshmen. But the sense out of spring is Kindley would have to do a lot to lose the spot. Maybe Georgia isn’t as big as it would like at tackle, but having a massive but athletic guard helps make up for that.
- Prediction: Kindley starts against Appalachian State, and the next week against Notre Dame.
- First team after spring: Sims.
- Top contenders: Ben Cleveland, R-Fr.; Hayes.
- On the way: Wilson; Thomas
- Analysis: And this is where it gets really interesting, and wide open. Sims, a senior who was the sixth man on last year’s line, saw his stock suffer the most this spring, as he went from first-team left guard on the first day, to first-team left right tackle, but then struggled with the pass rush on G-Day. That would appear to leave the door wide open to either Hayes, Wilson or Thomas, and perhaps also Cleveland, who didn’t play on G-Day because of injury, but did better this spring after being moved from right guard. Sims still has time to earn the job. But here’s the thing: If the veterans hold down the other four spots, then the coaches might feel more comfortable letting a newcomer play in one spot.
- Prediction: Wilson is the starter. That’s not a very confident pick. It really could be any of five people.
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Next: Receivers and tight ends.
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