ATHENS — Before each of the last two seasons, at least a few Georgia players opted to return for their senior seasons to make another run at glory. If the Bulldogs find themselves back in the championship hunt, most think the return of Sedrick Van Pran will be a big reason.
Barring injury, the center from New Orleans is poised to resume a streak of 30 consecutive starts for the Bulldogs this fall. Van Pran’s presence on Woodruff Practice Fields this spring is crucial as the Bulldogs seek to replace both starting tackles on offense.
“The players view ‘Sed’ as that guy,” said senior defensive tackle Zion Logue, a key piece on Georgia’s defense. “Sed’s been driven to be that guy ever since he stepped on campus. … He’s that voice that you want at the center position of your offense. He’s the second quarterback.”
That makes Van Pran a critical piece, especially when one considers the Bulldogs will establish a new No. 1 quarterback this season. Having exhausted six seasons of eligibility, quarterback Stetson Bennett had no choice but to move on to the NFL.
This spring, the Bulldogs are splitting the No. 1 reps between redshirt junior Carson Beck and redshirt sophomore Brock Vandagriff, neither of whom has a start in their career. Redshirt freshman Gunner Stockton is getting a few looks in practice as well.
Whoever is taking snaps, it will be refreshing for them to know that it will be Van Pran delivering the ball to them and calling shots up front.
“That’s another leader,” tackle Warren McClendon told reporters after his Pro Day workout last week. “For him to come back, that’s a lot of game reps, a lot of leadership. He was a big part of the national championship team. That (offensive line) room, they’re not young, but they’re kind of young reps-wise. So, that’ll be good for everyone.”
Van Pran responds to such praise with a shrug. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound lineman has made humility an art form while earning a pair of national championship rings for his humongous hands.
But there’s no denying that he has been and certainly will be one of the best in the game at his position this season. He earned second-team All-SEC honors last year, but he’ll enter his senior season as one of the favorites for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to college football’s top center.
That, Van Pran said, is not why he came back.
“Love for the ‘G,’” he said after practice last Thursday. “Nobody is bigger than the team, absolutely nobody. To say that I’m the piece that could help this team accomplish anything is unfair to my teammates.”
To hear him talk, one would think Van Pran’s starting job is not even certain. The truth is, nothing on Georgia’s roster is more certain.
But how the Bulldogs mesh overall on the offensive line will go a long way toward determining the team’s offensive success this year. Georgia will replace projected first-round draft pick Broderick Jones at left tackle and McClendon, a starter of 37 consecutive games, at right tackle.
Amarius Mims started the final two games of 2022 when McClendon was hobbled with a knee injury. Whether he returns at that spot or moves to left tackle will be one of the questions line coach Stacy Searels has to answer this spring. But the Bulldogs also feel confident that redshirt junior Austin Blaske and redshirt freshman Earnest Greene can man the all-important position.
Again, all that will be worked out through competition in practice. The Bulldogs have completed three of 15 they’ll have this spring, then get another 25 to 28 practice opportunities in August.
Van Pran is making no predictions.
“Nobody has a guaranteed starting spot; nobody has solidified themselves in this offense yet,” he said. “When you go to add all those new pieces, you have to add chemistry. And with a new offensive coordinator (Mike Bobo) and his tendencies and what he likes to call in different situations, things like that, to an extent it is all new.”
Van Pran’s presence stands as one reason Georgia should open 2023 with a Top 5 preseason ranking for a fifth consecutive season. Like Nolan Smith and Kenny McIntosh last year and James Cook, Zamir White, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt before the 2021 season, the return of senior leadership can be a predictor of future success. Running back Kendall Milton and defensive tackles Nazir Stackhouse and Logue made similar decisions this year.
“It means the world to this team,” Milton said last week. “Me and Sedrick actually lived across the hall from each other. During that time, we would have these little talks. I knew what he wanted; he knew what I wanted. He wanted the opportunity to leave one last mark and go out with a bang.”
Here are some other key thoughts Van Pran shared last week:
On Bobo succeeding Todd Monken as offensive coordinator this year …
“I think coach Bobo has done a tremendous job stepping in. I think he’s given us a lot of energy. I think he knows what he’s talking about and has a lot of different things he presents. To be honest, it’s been really, really fun to have the challenge of these new people around. The way we talk about it is, ‘new offense, new team.’”
On his advice for Georgia’s quarterbacks as they compete for the starting job …
“Be themselves, that’s the biggest thing. These are guys that we’ve all been around and taken reps with at some point. So, honestly, it’s nothing new, just making sure those guys are confident to go out there and play their game. It’s not that big of an adjustment.”
On the possibility of contending for an unprecedented third consecutive national championship …
“We haven’t earned anything, this team in particular. So, what are we going to do to earn it? It’s the same concept, different delivery. Last year it may have been, ‘That (2021) team did that, and those guys aren’t here to help you. What are you going to do about it?’ As opposed to this year: ‘Those last two teams were special, and those guys made their mark. What are you going to do to make your mark?’ Same concept but different delivery.”
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
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