Sunday, July 30, 2017

Will Georgia's Offensive Line Really Be Better This Year?

It's one of the central story lines of this off-season/pre-season, and will likely continue to be as the 2017 season progresses. Will the Bulldogs' much-maligned O-Line be adequate, or, dare we dream, good?

The prevailing opinion is that they'd pretty much have to be. After all, to the untrained and trained eye alike, the 2016 O-Line was about as poor as there's been in recent memory. The sacks and pressures per drop back were abysmal, and the lack of any consistent push or opening of holes (get your mind out of the gutter) was beyond frustrating.

Unfortunately, there's little substance to that rationale.

So, what can we look at to say, "yes, they'll be better," or, "I have no reason to think it won't be more of the same?"

Start with O-Line coach Sam Pittman. To this point, he's proven to be a great recruiter of talent. Georgia's 2017 haul was possibly the best in terms of "ranked" linemen in Georgia history. The Dawgs have not had an offensive lineman drafted in the first round in nearly 15 years, but the odds are good that will change once these guys (Wilson, Thomas, Johnson, Schaeffer, Hayes) reach their junior or senior years.

Pittman has also garnered a great deal of respect from many of the lines he's coached in the past. He's averaged better than one player per year being drafted, and many of his lines at Arkansas and Tennessee led or were near the top in fewest sacks allowed, to go along with potent running games.So, the know-how is definitely there.

Moving along to the more important piece of the puzzle: The Players.

Last year seemed to be a hodge-podge, makeshift line. You had your best guard in Greg Pyke forced to play Right Tackle, and you had to bring in a transfer from Rhode Island to play possibly the most important line position at Left Tackle. You also had a guy who, despite the fact that his knowledge or effort could never be questioned, was overmatched at Center. Lastly, you had seemingly undersized Guards to complete the fail.

OK, so there's a rundown of how you end up with a sub-par line, but how's that piece going to be fixed?

For starters, it would appear Isaiah Wynn has got a stranglehold on the LT spot. He "started" there throughout spring, and has put on another 15lbs of good weight. Many thought he was the better option last year, but was needed at guard. The knock on Wynn is his height. At 6'2", he has far from the ideal size typically found in LTs. However, many suggest he has more length, with a wingspan typically seen among your 6'4"-6'5" tackles.

Next, you've got a huge upgrade in terms of size at guard. Solomon Kindley will have a chance to hold off the 2 incoming freshmen at one spot. He played one snap last year before ultimately being granted a redshirt season. At upwards of 345lbs, he has 50 lbs. on Dyshon Sims who started last year. He also has been one of those guys spoken of as having a "nasty streak" in him, so hopefully that helps.

Move to Right Tackle. This one should be interesting. Many expect either JC transfer Demarcus Hayes, or incoming 5-star Isaiah Wilson to ultimately win the job. Either would figure to be an upgrade from last year, since tackle has been their natural positions for far longer than Pyke. Both have prototypical size, with Wilson being obviously the biggest lineman on campus.

For me, though, the linchpin of the line may be at center. It's tough to automatically assume that Lamont Gaillard will be an upgrade from Kublanow. He's listed at virtually the same exact size, though some have suggested he's both more athletic (which makes sense, as he's a converted D-Lineman) and stronger. If he can be more stalwart than Kublanow, then I think this year's line will take a big step forward.

Overall, if nothing else, we should have an upgrade in overall size in terms of weight and length. We should also have a line that has folks playing at positions for which they are best suited.

I don't think the talent along with experience is quite there to predict a great O-Line, but I expect Sam Pittman to have more and better pieces to work with this year, and I expect him to craft a line that can at least be relied upon to run an efficient offense.

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