There are very few questions concerning the offensive line at the University of Georgia. The big, beefy experienced group is expected to be one of the team’s strengths this season, which begins Aug. 31 at Vanderbilt.
“We’re real deep on the O-line,” said Cade Mays, a 6-foot-6, 318-pound sophomore from Knoxville, Tenn. “And we’re just out there competing every day and making the most of our reps. We’re just doing everything we can.”
The Bulldogs return four of five starters. Andrew Thomas (6-5, 320) and Isaiah Wilson (6-7, 340) appear to have locked up their spots at tackle. Solomon Kindley (6-6, 335) and Ben Cleveland (6-6, 345) are expected to start at guard. Trey Hill (6-4, 330) is expected to start at center. There’s a lot of experience in that huddle.
“We’re reminded of it every day, realizing that everyone is replaceable because we have so much talent,” Cleveland said. “One guy can get pushed out just as easy as the next, so we think about it constantly, just how great our coaches have done bringing new guys in and putting guys where they need to be.”
Mays has played guard and tackle, but has been cross-trained to play center, if needed. Coach Sam Pittman saw something in Mays one day at practice and made the move. Georgia graduated senior center Lamont Gaillard from last year’s Sugar Bowl team.
Mays played in 11 games last year, missing three with an injury, and played 75 percent of the team’s offensive plays during SEC competition. He was one of four winners of the team’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year awards.
The versatility of Mays has been obvious. He can also play the left and right sides of the line.
“I like being useful,” Mays said. “If anything happens, I’m the guy that can be plugged in. Anything that happens, I’m the guy. It’s definitely helped me to learn the center spot. It’s helped me learn the offense better, knowing what everybody else is doing. I don’t think it’s slowed me down. I think it’s picked my game up and elevated it to a new level.”
The depth is always important on the offensive line. Cleveland broke his left fibula last year against Missouri and Kindley and Thomas both missed time with injuries. Jamaree Salyer was expected to help at center and guard, but his availability may be limited by an injury. He was seen in a walking boot after practice on Tuesday.
Thomas has emerged as a leader on the line while having a good preseason camp.
“(Thomas’) ability to lead and play hard longer has been good,” coach Kirby Smart said. “He has to really be physical and be that right tackle that we need him to be. I’m pleased with him as a leader. He’s played more consistently, I think, because he’s in better shape. He doesn’t get tired or winded and give up cheap sacks.
“He has bought into the whole culture of ‘I have to be a great player.’ He has to do all the things that require him to be a great player. We are trying to get a little better at everything and he is a guy that has bought into that.”