Georgia linemen Xavier Truss and Devin Willock are ready for bigger roles

ATHENS – Offensive linemen Xavier Truss and Devin Willock both are massive human beings. Together they stand over 13 feet tall and weigh more than 665 pounds.

As Georgia Bulldogs, they have one career start between them.

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This tells you a couple of things. One, being large doesn’t assure a lineman of playing time at a place like Georgia. And two, the Bulldogs must have had some pretty good linemen playing instead while amassing wins and playing for championships the past few seasons.

In the football vernacular of some old-time coaches, both Truss and Willock are getting ripe on the vine. But there’s a good chance one or both will be in Georgia’s plans this season, if not as a starter, then as a regular.

Each of these players deserves grace for having not played a major role in the Bulldogs’ offensive story to date. Both, after all, came a long way from home to play SEC football at Georgia. Truss is a 6-foot-7, 330-pound fourth-year junior from West Warwick, R.I. Willock, is a 6-7, 335-pound third-year sophomore, hails from New Millford, N.J., right across the Hudson River from New York in the area of Hackensack.

To say there have been cultural adjustments as well as athletic ones would be an understatement.

“I miss lobster, I miss my clam cakes,” Truss said Tuesday after the Bulldogs’ seventh spring practice. “It’s a seafood thing, but I’m half-Italian, too. So, I miss my Italian food.”

Said Willock: “At my high school in Jersey, I was one of the biggest guys. So, I was so used to just being big and having that carry me. Since I’ve been here, I realize how all the little things are going to make a difference, like pad-level, things like that.”

Circumstances are trending toward progress meeting opportunity for both of these young men.

Both have gotten more than a little taste of the action as backups and in low-stress roles late in games against vanquished foes. Truss played in all 15 games as a backup last season and played in six of 10 with one start as a redshirt freshman in 2020. Willock saw action in 13 games a year ago.

But with longtime, stalwart starters Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer graduating and moving on to the NFL this year, Truss and Willock have been getting a lot of first-team snaps in spring practice.

That’s a far cry from having a locked-down job. Then again, every position is kind of up for grabs with Georgia breaking in its third offensive line coach in the past four seasons in Stacy Searels.

“Me and Warren McClendon and a couple of the other guys have been through this transition with a couple of coaches now, so we knew a little of what to expect through all this,” said Truss, who started at left tackle against Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in the 2020 season.

“But getting to meet the man and everything is different. We’re still building a relationship. He’s only been here a couple of months now. So, continuing to build that relationship with him, and the connection with all the players is going to be good, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Georgia has a returning starter at guard in senior Warren Ericson, who started 14 games on the right side last season. But at 6-4, 305, he’ll never be able to match the size Truss or Willock or many of the other linemen vying for snaps at guard this year.

To be clear, there is a massive and intense competition ongoing at both guard spots this spring. The Bulldogs appear to be fairly settled at left and right tackle, where Broderick Jones and McClendon logged hundreds of meaningful reps last season. Likewise, sophomore Sedrick Van Pran seems well entrenched at center.

But Georgia goes three deep on the line across the board, and almost all of the candidates vying for more prominent roles came to UGA with impeccable accolades and enormous expectations. Players such as Amarius Mims and injured-for-now Tate Ratledge are expected to figure into the Bulldogs’ plans as well.

But Truss and Willock insist such competition is anything but acrimonious. They’re both coming off a season in which they’ve seen firsthand the importance of togetherness and of being ready to contribute on short notice no matter what might be their expected role.

“I’m just trying to do my part,” Willock said. ”That’s all I’m trying to do at the end of the day. I mean, I’ve got to be the best version of myself and my best version for Georgia. So, if I’m the best version of myself, then I can be the best version for the team, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just looking to battle.”

In the case of Truss, he’s working at both guard positions and at tackle. So, three weeks in, it’s already been a whirlwind spring for him.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “Iron sharpens iron. Obviously, whoever’s playing best is going to be in that position. I’m not too worried about competition between the O-linemen, just as long as me as a player is playing to the best of my ability. And if that’s to the standard of the Georgia line, then I’m going to be in there.”

Spoken like a man who has been around a while.