Georgia’s offensive line will look much different than it did last year after three players decided to enter the NFL Draft a year early, and one transferred out of the program. Still, to fifth-year senior Ben Cleveland, thinks the unit looks as productive as ever.
The Toccoa, Ga. native spoke with the media Thursday and discussed his expectations heading in to the upcoming season.
“I’m definitely very pleasantly surprised where we’ve ended up so far,” said Cleveland. “It was kind of difficult not having a spring ball, and stuff like that. It put a lot of stress on all of us to learn this new offense, and pick up on everything in a lot shorter amount of time than what we would normally have. I think our guys have handled it extremely well. We’ve been progressing every single day. I think we’re way ahead of where most people think we should be.”
The program will have to replace both starting tackles in Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson from last year, both of whom were selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Bulldogs will also need someone to fill in for Solomon Kindley at left guard after he departed to the NFL as well. Cade Mays, who left the program and transferred to Tennessee, split time at right guard, but his production will still be missed.
Yet, the Bulldogs return Cleveland, who’s slotted to start at right guard as well as Trey Hill at center. There’s also Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer, who both have several starts apiece under their belts. Plus, the unit has a ton of younger guys returning that have experience as well several talented freshman out out the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class.
Cleveland explained that the current conditions have impacted the freshman the most.
“It’s been kind of tough hanging out with COVID-19 going on, getting to develop that good relationship outside of football. It’s tough to get 30 guys together at somebody’s house or something like that,” said Cleveland. “It’s been kind of tough. Really and truly, it has been just working away around every body, being on the field whenever we have that chance to be around one another in the same area.
“Try and develop relationships like that, and I know it’s not the best situation to be in or anything of that nature, but we kind of have to do what we can. At the end of the day, these guys are family. We’ve got to do what we can to make them feel like family even though they have only been here a few months.”
The former four-star prospect signed with UGA as apart of the 2016 recruiting class and enrolled early. Cleveland redshirted his freshman year and has since then seen action in 42 games since arriving in Athens. He definitely knows what it takes to push through hard times, especially in a situation like this.
Still, when asked about his time at Georgia, he showed appreciation to the fact that he’s been here that long.
“..Parts of me sometimes wish I had taken school a little more serious and stuff like that,” said Cleveland. “Obviously, it has taken me so long to get a degree. I should have had that a couple of years ago. But, the relationships and stuff that have been built—they will never be able to be replaced just with these guys from here.
Cleveland will start his senior campaign competing against his former offensive line coach Sam Pittman, which is something that doesn’t happen ever so often.
“I appreciate all of these coaches and everything that they’ve done for [me] the last five years,” he said. “It’s really just a lot of good relationships have been made over these last few years, and I’m sure they’ll continue to carry on after this next year is over.”