It’s the age-old debate: quality or quantity? For the Georgia offensive line, the answer is both.
The Bulldogs boast one of the deepest offensive line units in the nation, with four and five-star recruits stacked two and three deep across the line. Through four games and a handful of injuries, that depth has allowed Georgia to maintain dominance in the trenches.
Sophomore Cade Mays has been shuffling between right guard and tackle all year, sliding to the outside when starting tackle Isaiah Wilson went down with a leg injury in practice before the Murray State game. Sophomore Jamaree Salyer also saw some time at the right tackle spot.
Wilson didn’t return until Sept. 21 against Notre Dame, when he started the second half at right tackle after not playing in the first half. Mays then shifted back to right guard.
Also in that game, starting left guard Solomon Kindley went down with a left ankle injury and did not return to the game. Junior Justin Shaffer came in and played the rest of the game, nearly three quarters in a hotly contested top-10 matchup.
Through all this, Georgia ranks 12th in the country and first in the SEC in rushing at 253 yards per game. With all the shuffling around against the Fighting Irish, the Bulldogs still ran for 152 yards in a 23-17 win.
“I think it just shows our talent across the board,” junior left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “When somebody goes down, we have somebody that’s just as good, maybe even better that can come in and do their job pretty well.”
The depth of the group is largely due to the recruiting efforts of offensive line coach Sam Pittman. His pom-pom waving, “Yessir!” Twitter videos have become commonplace as he lands five-star after five-star.
One has to look no further than Thomas’ career to see how the depth of the group has developed. As a freshman in 2017, he was thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle from game one on a unit that struggled mightily in 2016.
Now, Thomas is a future first-round NFL pick entrenched on a line that has talent littered across the depth chart.
“If you’re starting on this offensive line, you’re really good at your position,” Thomas said. “There’s so many guys that are good, I feel like a lot of them would start at other schools. Some of our second team guys would start at other schools.”
Last season, Thomas went down with a sprained ankle against South Carolina and was replaced by Mays. He said in those situations, it’s the starter’s job to rally the troops and remind them that the show goes on regardless of who’s in the game.
Sophomore center Trey Hill also got to experience the “adrenaline rush” of entering a game when former center Lamont Gaillard went down against Kentucky last year. Pittman treats each player in practice like they’re going to play in the game, and that’s the expectation the players hold for themselves too.
“Whoever gets in, I think they should play like they’re the ones all the time,” Hill said.
Indeed, some of the backups are reminiscent of the players they’re replacing. Shaffer seems likely to start in place of Kindley on Saturday at Tennessee, and Thomas said his physicality and chip on his shoulder reminds him of Kindley.
The depth of the offensive line will be no less of a factor for Georgia moving forward. Seven SEC games remain before a matchup with Georgia Tech, and there’s a possible SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoff berth looming after that.
Head coach Kirby Smart said shuffling offensive linemen is something every team has to deal with, particularly as the season goes on. But for Georgia, the quality of the quantity at offensive line will greatly benefit the Bulldogs as they look to remain dominant up front.
“We’ve got depth,” Hill said. “I feel like whoever we get in there at the time, they’re going to get the job done.”