Massive line is key for No. 3 Georgia’s rebuild on offense
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — 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.”