ATHENS – Saturday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium is going to be a big one for everybody, but especially for Georgia’s offensive line.
Bulldogs’ coach Kirby Smart said he challenged that unit in particular to show him something when the team conducts its first full-scale scrimmage of preseason camp this weekend. Apparently they’ve been struggling so far, which hasn’t been helped by the absence of starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn and the dominance of defensive lineman Trent Thompson and inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
“I would say we’ve got to play more physical to improve on the offensive line, not only this year but so far this camp,” Smart said in a 10-minute briefing following the two-hour practice. “We still have not done that compared to what I thought we did earlier in the spring. A lot of that probably has to do with Trenton and Roquan. We’re not where we need to be to be able to run the ball efficiently. Hopefully the answers to that will come by scrimmage one, scrimmage two.”
Thompson and Smith each missed spring practice with medical issues. Both are considered all-star candidates this season and are playing like it in camp.
Georgia completed its 10th of a possible 29 preseason practices opportunities on Thursday. It was a full-pads, full-contact workout. They’ll conduct a closed practice on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s scrimmage.
The offense has been having to operate without its best offensive lineman for the last four days now. Smart has declined to provide any details about what has sidelined the 6-2, 300-pound senior other than to say it’s “an illness.” But he reiterated on Thursday that he’s not overly concerned about Wynn not being available and indicated he expects him to be eventually.
“I still feel good about him,” Smart said. “He’s got a little bit of an illness and should be fine. He’s here. He’s just not out there during those periods. It’s something I just can’t disclose but we think he’s going to be fine.”
The absence of Wynn, the most experienced and reliable of Georgia’s offensive linemen, had created “a lot of moving parts” up front, Smart said. But that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing.
It has forced line coach Sam Pittman to try some different looks. One of them the coaching staff appears to like in particular has been true freshman Andrew Thomas at left guard.
“Andrew has worked at guard but he also has to work at tackle because of Isaiah not being there,” Smart said. “The good news is he’s a pretty bright kid. He has been working at left guard some as well as Pat Allen.”
On Thursday, Dyshon Sims, D’Marcus Hayes and Kendall Baker all were getting repetitions at Wynn’s left-tackle spot. Pat Allen has been taking snaps at Sims’ right tackle position, and both of them are competing there with redshirt freshman Ben Cleveland and 5-star freshman Isaiah Wilson.
Smart said Wilson had his best practice to date on Wednesday but said he would “reserve judgment” about Thursday until he watched the video.
“I think that’s the competition,” Smart said of right tackle. “It’s really going to be more about how they do in the scrimmage, whether Isaiah can go in the scrimmage. I still don’t know that. That’s hard to answer. Dyshon is a very flexible part. He can play a lot of positions. When Isaiah comes back, we certainly feel good about him at left tackle. That’s kind of the blessing in disguise about all this We’re finding out about other guys. It bothers me the continuity of the offense is not getting what it needs with Isaiah out. I think they would be gaining more confidence with him in.”
Another area that will get a hard look on Saturday is the kicking game. The Bulldogs have intense battles going on at place-kicker and punter. Incumbent place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is battling with graduate transfer David Marvin to keep that job, and Marshall Long is trying to stave off the advances of graduate transfer Cameron Nizialek.
Smart provided some handicapping of those races on Thursday.
“We have a lot better competition than we did last year. The competition is driving each person every day, to raise their level. It’s well thought of that high stress situations create your best. Those guys, they’re like assassins. They got one shot. It’s all they got. They’re getting those kind of hit or miss opportunities every day.
“I think Cam’s doing a good job with the punting. He’s leading that charge. Marshall is still competing with him. The other field goal kicking and kickoff situation is really tight. Those two guys are neck and neck, competing with each other. But it’s still early.”