Mas­sive line is key for No. 3 Ge­or­gia’s re­build on of­fense

Calhoun Times - - SPORTS SATURDAY - By Charles Odum

— A mas­sive front five should help Ge­or­gia ad­just to some dra­matic changes on of­fense.

The pro­jected starters on No. 3 Ge­or­gia’s of­fen­sive line in Satur­day’s opener against Austin Peay have an av­er­age weight of more than 320 pounds. Four of the five are 6-foot-5 or taller.

Eli­jah Holy­field, one of the tail­backs look­ing to re­place 2017 se­niors Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, says the line forms a beau­ti­ful moun­tain of red jer­seys.

“They open big holes so I love them,” Holy­field said last week. “They’re su­per big. They cover peo­ple up. It’s al­most a run­ning back’s dream. When you’re run­ning, you don’t see noth­ing but your guys.”

D’An­dre Swift is ex­pected to open the sea­son as the start­ing tail­back. Holy­field, Brian Her­rien and fresh­man James Cook are among the other op­tions.

Ge­or­gia’s only lost starter on the of­fen­sive line from 2017 was sig­nif­i­cant. Left tackle Isa­iah Wynn, the No. 23 over­all pick in this year’s NFL draft by the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, was the line’s leader.

The of­fense lost Wynn, Michel, Chubb and wide re­ceiver Javon Wims in the draft. The huge line is ex­pected to help Ge­or­gia’s hopes for a smooth tran­si­tion.

When cen­ter Lamont Gail­lard glances in one direc­tion, he sees right guard Ben Cleve­land (6-6, 335) and right tackle Isa­iah Wil­son (6-7, 340).

“Ob­vi­ously we’re both big and strong,” Cleve­land said. “That right side can be some­thing spe­cial. ... I feel like as long as we con­tinue to work to­gether we can be un­stop­pable as a front five.”

Left tackle An­drew Thomas (6-5, 320) and left guard Ken­dall Baker (6-6, 305) also are ex­pected to start.

Per­haps the best news for Ge­or­gia is that some of those pro­jected starters have been pushed by a sim­i­larly strong sec­ond unit dur­ing pre­sea­son prac­tice. That com­pe­ti­tion could con­tinue into the sea­son.

Ge­or­gia hasn’t named starters or re­leased a depth chart this week, so there could be changes even for the first se­ries of plays on Satur­day.

“The of­fen­sive line com­pe­ti­tion has prob­a­bly been the most heated, maybe other than re­ceiver, that we’ve had,” coach Kirby Smart said Mon­day. “And I think a lot of that has to do with the re­cruit­ing and hav­ing good qual­ity play­ers.”

Gail­lard (6-2, 308) has seen the line grow each year. Smart has de­liv­ered on his pledge to add im­proved size, strength and depth on the unit.

“That def­i­nitely shows what we’re do­ing in re­cruit­ing around here,” Gail­lard said. “Kirby Smart has def­i­nitely done a great job with that. That just shows the process with ev­ery­one want­ing to come to Ge­or­gia.”

Quar­ter­back Jake Fromm (6-2, 220) said he isn’t wor­ried about twin tow­ers on each side of the line ob­struct­ing his view. He said it’s much bet­ter to have the pro­tec­tion pro­vided by the big, tall block­ers.

“I’ve got some big guys up there who can def­i­nitely keep me safe enough and keep me stand­ing up, too,” Fromm said. “As far as see­ing, it’s re­ally no dif­fer­ence whether they’re 6-2 or 6-7 like they are. ... You find a way.”

Cleve­land, ex­pected to play tackle when he signed in 2016, moved into the lineup at guard for the last five games last sea­son. It was a sta­bi­liz­ing move for the line and helped set the foun­da­tion for this sea­son.

An­other key was Gail­lard’s emer­gence as a leader.

“I’ll tell you what he is, he’s re­ally com­pet­i­tive,” Smart said of the se­nior. “When we mess some­thing up, if we don’t do some­thing right on the of­fen­sive line, he gets up­set. It both­ers him. And he wants to com­mand the other of­fen­sive line­men to get it right. And when he de­mands that, we usu­ally have pretty good suc­cess.”

File-JOSHUA L. JONES / The As­so­ci­ated Press

Ge­or­gia of­fen­sive line­man An­drew Thomas lines up for a play dur­ing the Bull­dogs’ spring game back in April. Thomas is ex­pected to start at left tackle this sea­son.

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