How many games must Kirby Smart win in 2017 to continue his positive recruiting momentum and tamp down sparks of discontent inside the fanbase? The number of wins may not be as important as getting to the SEC Championship Game. However, a trip to Atlanta in December will be directly dependent on how well the Dawgs’ rebuilt offensive line performs. Of course, line play is always the fundamental building block of a championship offense.
After Spring 2016, the offensive staff was forced to recruit a graduate transfer from Rhode Island to fill a hole in Georgia’s roster at left tackle. At least, for this year the Dawgs appear to be settled at that critical position with senior Isaiah Wynn moving over from guard. Wynn has bulked-up since the beginning of last season, now weighing in at over 300 pounds. His experience (26 career starts) should allow him to provide the protection needed for Jacob Eason’s blind side. It is his job to lose.
Left tackle is the key offensive line position in a pro-style offense, and Georgia had no true tackles ready to step up in 2017. Smart and Company were forced to turn to the junior college ranks to secure depth at the position. Highly-regarded JUCO tackle, D’Marcus Hayes (6-5/315) improved steadily during spring drills and should be ready to contribute quality minutes after summer and fall practice gives him more time to absorb the playbook.
Georgia had a great offensive line recruiting class in 2017, and left guard is a position that could see one of those heralded freshmen nail down a starting role. It is always difficult to project a rookie as a starter along the offensive line in the SEC. Offensive linemen must master skills that are position-specific and take time to acquire/perfect. That said, Natori Johnson could play himself into a starting role at left guard. The Cedar Grove High School star with his trademark rainbow hair color has the size (6-3/330 estimated fall camp weight) and athletic ability to break into the lineup early. At a minimum, he will get significant playing time.
Redshirt sophomore Pat Allen took a huge step forward during spring training. In fact, before spring drills began I had considered Allen a likely transfer candidate. However, his practice performance earned him a starting role in the 2017 G-Day game. If Allen continues to progress, he could easily be the starter at left guard for the kickoff with Appalachian State, but I’m going with the bigger and more athletic Johnson.
Lamont Gaillard appears to be the choice at center, becoming the third starter in three years at the position. Dyshon Sims will be a backup at multiple positions along the line, including center, and watch for Sean Fogarty (Savannah State transfer) to slip into the mix in the center of the line.
Redshirt freshman Soloman Kindley is my starter at right guard. The staff wanted to get playing time for Kindley in 2016 (he played one down), but nagging injuries prevented his use. Kindley is enormous and athletic. He is going to be a valuable addition starting this year.
Backups at right guard could include true freshman Justin Shaffer and redshirt freshman Chris Barnes.
Depth at right tackle will also feature Georgia’s young but talented players. I am projecting Isaiah Wilson, the standout recruit from New York, to win the starting job. Senior Dyshon Sims, redshirt freshman Ben Cleveland, senior Aulden Bynum and true freshman Andrew Thomas will all vie for playing time.
Having so many freshmen as potential contributors along the offensive line is usually a signal that a team is at least year away from challenging for a division championship. However, if offensive line guru Sam Pittman can mold his youngsters into a stable unit, getting to the SEC Championship Game is a real possibility, but don’t overlook the “if.”