One of the top talking points throughout the spring was that the offense was besting the defense during practice.
Much of that had to do with the offensive line.
But it may not be as simple as the offensive line improving to the point where it will once again assert its will against most opponents and spring the running game to big gains. While the offensive line’s effort and intensity each practice improved, the defense eventually did catch up.
And the end of the spring, the defense had re-emerged, highlighted by a superb G-Day spring game that resulted in five sacks.
Much remains unknown about Georgia’s offensive line entering the 2017 season. While it struggled through most of the 2016 season, it improved over the final five games. The leap the offensive line takes during preseason practice in August will be integral to Georgia’s early-season offensive success.
Coming out of the spring, here is a look at where the offensive line stands.
Post-spring depth chart
Left tackle: Isaiah Wynn, D'Marcus Hayes
Left guard: Pat Allen, Kendall Baker
Center: Lamont Gaillard, Dyshon Sims
Right guard: Solomon Kindley, Chris Barnes
Right tackle: Sims, Ben Cleveland
Those on the way
Georgia has four high-prized offensive linemen who will be joining the football program at the beginning of June.
The most heralded of the bunch is five-star tackle Isaiah Wilson, who figures to compete for a starting spot the moment he steps foot on campus. Wilson figures to jump into the right tackle battle with Sims and Cleveland and possesses all of the physical tools needed for the position.
At 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, Wilson is mostly muscle and fits the prototype offensive line coach Sam Pittman is looking for.
Georgia will also welcome tackle Andrew Thomas, who had an impressive showing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Thomas, who attended Pace Academy, will immediately bolster depth at tackle.
Along the interior are incoming freshman guards Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer. Both of the Cedar Grove standouts figure to add extra competition to he guard positions.
This is the position group that needs to see the biggest jump in production. In Georgia's first eight games of the 2016 season, the offensive line struggled to find holes for the running backs to run through. Sure, a new scheme and a new philosophy played a part in that. But at the point of attack, the Georgia offensive line was unable to generate a push, which stunted the run game considerably.
Progress was made over the final five games of the season. In the first eight games, Georgia averaged 151.1 yards on the ground -- aided by outliers against North Carolina (289) and South Carolina (326). But over the final five games, Georgia's rushing attack began to click more as it accounted for 219.2 yards per game.
The Bulldogs lost three members of last year's offensive line – Tyler Catalina, Brandon Kublanow and Greg Pyke. But there is a feeling that with it being the second season under Pittman, a jump is about to take place.
While Georgia lost three seniors on its offensive line, the unit should possess more mass up front. Undersized at spots a year ago, Georgia's line should at least look more like the group this coaching staff ideally wants to field.
With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel electing to return for their senior seasons, the offensive line better hope it shows significant improvement. With a veteran defense on the other side of the ball, the offense will likely look to lean on the running game to minimize mistakes and control the clock.
At times in 2016, Georgia couldn’t do that. But the best example of the Bulldogs being able to control the ground game and run out the clock with a lead was in the Liberty Bowl against TCU.
The offensive line wore down the Horned Frogs’ front seven by the fourth quarter and Chubb feasted down the stretch.
Throughout the spring, Smart said he was pleased with the direction his offensive line was heading. Smart is certainly hoping that particular trend continues so the Bulldogs can control the tempo offensively in 2017.