Spring football: Georgia’s O-line once again reason for optimism

Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran will anchor the offensive line. (Jason Getz file photo / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran will anchor the offensive line. (Jason Getz file photo / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

SPRING PREVIEW 2023: OFFENSIVE LINE

ATHENS — A year ago, the Georgia Bulldogs were wondering if Broderick Jones could hold up as the full-time left tackle and what in the world they might do at left guard.

The Bulldogs had just lost longtime starters Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer to the NFL. Jones had played well as a backup to Salyer at left tackle, but he was an unknown commodity as an everyday starter. And Xavier Truss came to Georgia as a tackle, but could he make the move inside and would he embrace it?

There were other questions. Could Tate Ratledge make it back to previous form from a Lisfranc fracture? And what about Stacy Searels? Was the veteran line coach coming to Georgia as a retread, or could he sustain the high level of play established under Sam Pittman and Matt Luke?

Those questions seem silly now, especially about Searels.

“I knew what type of program coach (Kirby) Smart was running,” Searels said as the Bulldogs were preparing for the national championship game in Los Angeles. “I’d experienced it before with coach (Nick) Saban at LSU, the structure and the competitiveness of the program. … The recruiting has been outstanding. That’s one reason we can play so many guys every game. We’ve got depth.”

Georgia flourished on the offensive line in 2022. The Bulldogs allowed only nine sacks in 15 games. They averaged 5.5 yards an attempt running the football. They passed for nearly 300 yards per game. They put up 41.3 points an outing.

And they stayed healthy. Searels had to alter his starting lineup only four times. Notably, two of those came in the College Football Playoff.

The only wonder, in retrospect, is how in the world did the group NOT win the Joe Moore Award. The truth is, the Bulldogs should have. And now, after watching that group’s selection committee ship its gaudy trophy to Michigan the past two years, the award has been rendered an unfunny joke.

Nevertheless, center Sedrick Van Pran already has pronounced that winning the award is a goal for the 2023 offensive line. He said as much when he announced that he was returning to Georgia for a fourth season.

If the Bulldogs can somehow secure that trophy this year, Van Pran will be a big reason. It also will mean that they came through with new starters at the tackle positions.

THE BREAKDOWN:

  • Returning starters: C Sedrick Van Pran (6-foot-4, 310, Jr.), LG Xavier Truss (6-7, 320, Sr.), RG Tate Ratledge (6-6, 315, So.)
  • Starters lost: LT Broderick Jones (NFL), RT Warren McClendon (NFL)
  • All eyes on: Amarius Mims, Jr.; Earnest Greene, R-Fr.
  • Outlook: Georgia is having to replace starters at both tackle positions but seems about as well-suited as possible to make that transition. They’re set at right tackle with the return of Mims. The 6-7, 330-pound junior started both playoff games there after 37-game starter McClendon suffered a knee sprain in the SEC Championship game. According to Pro Football Focus, Mims was Georgia’s highest-graded lineman in the semifinal win over Ohio State. The biggest question in the spring is whether Mims will stay there. He’ll certainly be given a look at left tackle and could settle there if he outperforms other candidates for that position. However, the hope inside the Butts-Mehre Building is that Greene will come through on the left side. The 6-4, 330-pound Los Angeles resident showed great promise at the position last spring before a hamstring injury and eventual back surgery sidelined him for the 2022 campaign. Greene is fully healthy now and reportedly is impressing again during pre-spring preparations. … There are many other options. Austin Blaske played the most of the backups with appearances in nine games. Dylan Fairchild, Chad Lindberg, Micah Morris and Jared Wilson all played in four or more contests. … But, unquestionably, Van Pran’s return is the most critical this season. Van Pran will be one of the favorites for the Rimington Trophy, which goes annually to the nation’s top center, and will help immensely with the transition at quarterback. … This is expected to be an inspired group for the Bulldogs. Like the rest of the team, the offensive line has vowed to “Do It for Dev” and has dedicated the 2023 season to the memory of its fallen teammate, Devin Willock, No. 77. Willock was killed in the Jan. 15 car crash that also took the life of recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy. Make no mistake about it, though, Georgia also will miss Willock sorely on the field. He was one of the Bulldogs’ most versatile linemen last season, making starts at both guard positions and also working regularly at tackle. He would have been a major factor in 2023.
  • Up next: Defensive line

This is part 2 of an eight-part series breaking down each position group as the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs get ready to start spring practice March 14. The Bulldogs will conduct 15 practices over 32 days, culminating with the annual G-Day spring intrasquad game April 15 at Sanford Stadium.

PREVIOUSLY

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