Georgia Bulldogs’ O-line reloads under new leadership

Georgia's offense is expected to get a lift this year with the return of sophomore Broderick Jones at left tackle. Jones (59) is shown hoisting running back Kendall Milton after Milton's touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead against Arkansas last October. Quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) also will be back for the Bulldogs. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia's offense is expected to get a lift this year with the return of sophomore Broderick Jones at left tackle. Jones (59) is shown hoisting running back Kendall Milton after Milton's touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead against Arkansas last October. Quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) also will be back for the Bulldogs. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

SPRING PREVIEW 2022: OFFENSIVE LINE

ATHENS — Alabama has garnered a lot of headlines – unflattering though they could be perceived – for how the Crimson Tide lost the national championship game to Georgia only because of all the injuries that had befallen the team before and during that contest. Without question, that was a factor in the outcome.

But so was the Bulldogs’ ability to overcome the many injuries UGA encountered on offense all season. Nowhere was that more crucial than what Georgia was able to do on its offensive line.

Let’s review:

  • Junior Warren Ericson, set to start at center, broke his hand in the first scrimmage of preseason camp. He’d get work there, actually switching to snapping the ball left-handed. But, ultimately, he ended up playing guard, because …
  • Redshirt freshman Tate Ratledge suffered the dreaded Lisfranc fracture in his right foot on Georgia’s first offensive series of the season against then-No. 3-ranked Clemson. Ratledge had created the most buzz of all the linemen in preseason camp last August while winning the starting job at right guard over numerous upperclassmen and other highly touted young prospects;
  • With Ratledge out, Ericson went in at right guard against Clemson with his hand still wrapped in a brace. Georgia won 10-3. Ericson would start the next 14 games in a row at right guard;
  • Starting left tackle Jamaree Salyer had to leave the Oct. 9 game at Auburn with a right ankle injury, then played with it in the next two games. Finally, after getting relieved regularly by Broderick Jones and struggling through Georgia’s 34-7 win over Florida, Salyer was shut down by the Bulldogs to let his foot heal;
  • Salyer did not play in the next four games. The redshirt freshman Jones got his first career start against Missouri, and the former five-star prospect from Lithonia would start the next three games as well. The Bulldogs went 4-0 and averaged 46.2 points in those games;
  • Salyer returned for the SEC Championship game against Alabama but was far from healthy. He would split time with Jones the rest of the way. Salyer projects as one of the top 10 linemen to be selected in next month’s NFL draft.

Georgia players did not mention the O-line injuries when quarterback Stetson Bennett was sacked three times and was intercepted twice in their SEC title-game loss to Alabama. They also did not mention them as confetti fell from the ceiling of Lucas Oil Stadium on Jan. 10.

Looking ahead:

  • Returning starters: C Sedrick Van Pran (6-4, 310, RSo.), G Warren Ericson (6-4, 305, Sr.), G Tate Ratledge (6-6, 320, RSo.), T Warren McClendon (6-4, 300, RJr.)
  • All eyes on: Broderick Jones, Amarius Mims
  • Outlook: Why do we list four returning starters from an offensive line that is losing senior starters Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer to the NFL draft? This is why: Ratledge would’ve started all season last year had he stayed healthy, and Ericson started the last 14 games of last season and may or may not start any this coming season. But the array of talent and experience that is coming back on Georgia’s offensive front is what makes this a particularly intriguing position group. That they’ll be under the guidance of first-year line coach Stacy Searels makes it even more interesting. For instance, Jones is not listed as a returning starter, though he started four games last year and may be the Bulldogs’ best overall offensive lineman. What’s fairly certain is Jones will start at left tackle. That was made evident in the national championship game against Alabama. It was when Georgia put the 6-4, 315-pound Jones in at left tackle and moved Salyer inside to guard that the Bulldogs got the ball moving in a fourth quarter it outscored Alabama 20-9. Having started games 9 through 12 at left tackle while Salyer was sidelined, Jones is experienced in addition to being skilled. The real intrigue is going to be on the right side of the line. McClendon has been a block of granite at right tackle, starting the last 25 games and playing 84% of the snaps at that position the last two seasons. But, like Salyer, his NFL future might be inside. And the Bulldogs are looking for ways to get 6-7, 330-pound Mims into the mix. That could be at guard or tackle. That will be Job 1 for Searels to figure out, and he’d like to do so during the 15 practice opportunities that encompass spring ball.
  • Up next: Special teams

PREVIOUSLY

Spring Preview 2022 is a 10-part series that will take a look at each of Georgia’s position groups daily until the Bulldogs open spring practice March 15.