New Offensive line coach Sam Pittman will certainly have his work cut out for him this off-season as he must re-tool a unit that lost some key senior leadership and, at times, underachieved in 2015. This is why he was hired.
Pittman, the former Arkansas offensive line coach, was a priority hire by Kirby Smart. A strong recruiter who is beloved by former players with a stellar reputation for developing talent, Pittman will inherit an offensive line that will require experimentation this spring to overcome the key losses of perennial starters John Theus and Kolton Houston.
Tackles. Looking for some
Losing John Theus and not having an identified backup at Left Tackle is the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately, Sam Pittman was able to gain the services of former University of Rhode Island left tackle Tyler Catalina, who has a single year of eligibility as a graduate transfer and will be counted on right away. Catalina had already signed financial aid papers with Iowa State, but after a whirlwind recruitment and subsequent weekend trip to Athens, he ultimately chose Georgia.
You can't beat a weekend trip to downtown Athens for recrootin' and such...
At 6'5", 315 lbs, this kid has the size, but playing against the other animals in the SEC is a different kind of zoo. Catalina has seen a lot of college football action and is a mature, veteran player who will be counted on immediately. Florida wanted him. We got him. Gators Eat Boogers.
Isaiah Wynn (6' 3", 290 - Lakewood, St. Petersburg, FL) started the last 5 games of 2015 at left tackle and acquitted himself very well against some very good rush ends. Being a shade under 6 '3" ain't exactly how a prototypical left tackle is drawn up in the laboratory. If Catalina works at at left, Wynn may slide over to the right side of the line. Pittman is going to have to find out what he has in a hurry.
Kendall Baker (r-FR 6' 6", 312 - Marist, Atlanta) has limited playing time, but has the size to be an option.
Sage Hardin (SO 6' 6", 283 - Marist, Atlanta) has not seen any action and will have a chance to impress.
Greg Pyke (SR, 6' 6", 313 - Baltimore, MD) might have to get a look at one of the tackle positions. He's already entrenched at right Guard and is a bona fide pro-prospect at this position. We know what he can do as a guard, but is his footwork good enough to pivot and plant to gain leverage for rush ends?
Aulden Bynum (JR 6' 5", 275 - Valdosta, GA) has been in the system for a few years now but might be ready for his close-up as perhaps the #2 guy at tackle...probably left side.
Highly recruited Pat Allen (6' 5", 300 - Reisterstown, MD) will certainly get a good look at either tackle spot. He's too good an athlete not to. Allen should be in the rotation at some point in 2016.
Chris Barnes (6' 3", 270Leesburg, GA - Lee Co) and Solomon Kindley (6' 5", 330 - Jacksonville - Raines) are a couple of true frosh that are most likely redshirt candidates.
We've Got Guards. And a Center.
Senior Brandon Kublanow leads the line in career starts. Out of necessity, he slid over to center and did struggle at times in 2015 playing a new position (who didn't along the line?) and might be a candidate for some of the aforementioned experimentation - by getting some reps at his natural position at guard. Kublanow's backup, Hunter Long, has also exhausted that funny little thing called eligibility. Identifying "The Bull's" new backup or a new center altogether will be interesting.
Greg Pyke returns for one last season and, next to Kublanow, has the most starts on the line. If the tackle experiment doesn't work out, Pyke is a known commodity, excelling at times at right guard..
Dyshon Sims (JR, 6' 4", 305 - Valdosta - Lowndes Co.) is probably a lock to start at left guard, given his ability and experience and is a Sam Pittman "type of guy." He is set for a big year.
Lamont Gaillard (SO, 6' 2", 300) was recruited to play on the defensive side of the ball out of Fayetteville, North Carolina's Pine Forest High School. Last season was all about transition and training. This season, he will be counted on most likely as Dyshon Sims' backup at left guard. Another player with not much playing experience and a chance to prove something this spring.
Sam Madden is listed at 6' 6" and a shade south of 350. Out of New Jersey, he was a late addition in the 2015 recruiting cycle and is another body type that is favored by Pittman. He'll probably get a serious look at left guard and is one to watch for depth today, a starter in a season or two.
Mirko Jirkovich (r-RF, 6' 5", 275 - South Bend, IN) suffered a knee injury that ended his season in 2015 before it began. With a frame that begs for more weight to be added, he could provide more depth at guard, but is probably another season away from making a real contribution (I hope he proves me wrong).
Ben Cleveland (FR, 6' 6", 320 - Toccoa, GA - Stephens, Co.) is not only Jacob Eason's new BFF, but can provide you with any number of squirrel recipes from memory. And it takes a lot of squirrels to become a 6' 6' 320 pound lineman. The question is: What position? He's got the size to play tackle or guard. If he grows any more, he might play tackle and guard. Sam Pittman has to be licking his chops at the prospect of coaching this prospect. But that's the rub: Right now, that is what he is: raw, unrefined talent. However, his potential is sky-high and he might be counted on to step in sooner than later.
Has Sam Pittman found a stop-gap player with Tyler Catalina? Will some guys who have been playing guard work out at either tackle spot if needed? How soon will Ben Cleveland contribute as a true freshman? There are many more questions than answers at this point and with the season 180 days away, what transpires in terms of evaluations during the next month or so is absolutely critical.
Of all the positions under scrutiny between now and G-Day, offensive line in my estimation is the most intriguing. Not only because of the shuffling that will have to take place, especially at tackle, but the new philosophy of the position coach who is already earning his pay and - hopefully - bringing real positive change and stabilization to a position that never seemed to be in-sync during the Mark Richt era.
@UGAfootball live is reporting:
2016 Appling County offensive lineman Allen Williams joins #UGA as a preferred walk-on...
6' 8", 330 pounds!
My. My, oh my!