Skill players score the touchdowns, get the cheers and have all of the press clippings in their scrapbooks, but it is offensive and defensive lines that allow those backs, receivers, linebackers and quarterbacks to put their skills to work. Kirby Smart said yesterday that he is going to build his team for front to back(s).
I have long argued that the team with the best line play wins most games. Now that UGA’s head coach agrees with me, I’m looking forward to fun times in the future at Sanford Stadium. But there is a catch, offensive linemen rarely show up ready to play in the SEC. In fact, the vast majority of offensive line recruits mature into capable guards, tackles or centers by their redshirt sophomore year. That means two years of training are required for most candidates to secure playing time at a level consistent with championship contention.
Smart said, pointedly, yesterday that he believes championship football begins in the trenches.
“I think as a whole we always have to build from the lines. It’s hard to play good SEC football without great offensive and defensive linemen. I think there’s a lot of skill players within a five-hour radius of here. But I think you have to have great O-lines and D-lines, and that’s where we want to start the building blocks to build a great program.”
The fact is that Georgia purposefully limited offensive line recruiting in the last half of the Richt administration and Richt’s philosophical reliance on signing skill position players at the expense of his offensive line is documented.
“I’ve coached offensive football a long time,” Richt said last week. “I don’t want to make anybody mad at Florida State, but we didn’t have dominating offensive lines, but we had some great skill people that were able to make some great plays.”
Patrick Garbin of Dawgtime Magazine and UGASports.com recently compiled some stats on offensive line recruiting in the Richt era. Garbin found that from 2001 through 2007 Georgia signed 34 offensive linemen (4.86 per class). However, the second half of the Richt era produced 29 offensive line recruits (3.6 per class).
By choosing to recruit more than eight fewer offensive linemen during the second half of his tenure, Richt found himself with a dangerously thin selection of players by 2015. Additionally, Coach Will Friend did not redshirt any of his recruits, therefore, the linemen that were recruited went through the program faster with fewer opportunities to play as seasoned veterans.
We will soon see which philosophy is most successful at UGA. There are clear differences to track as Smart’s career progresses.