Taking A Look: Guard/Center
Contributed by Brian Butcher
Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer (69) and Georgia offensive lineman Justin Shaffer (54) during the Bulldogs' game with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Photo by Skylar Lien)
Over the next couple of weeks, DogWatch will be examining each position group as spring practice nears, and Georgia gets started on prepping for the 2021 season.
So, let’s continue with the left and right guard positions.
A little switch-a-roo
The offensive line will be the largest question mark of the Georgia offense in the 2021 season. DogWatch is looking to assess position battles of the upcoming roster as the team heads into spring practice.
Last year, the Dawgs lost veteran guard Cade Mays as a transfer to Tennessee, vaulting now senior Justin Shaffer into the starting left guard role, opposite of redshirt senior Ben Cleveland at right guard. Now Cleveland, who hopes to break the NFL combine bench press record this spring, has left UGA with another vacancy at guard.
Let’s take a look at who may be starting the guard positions this season. There are two clear candidates to lead the way.
Ideally, senior Jamaree Salyer moves from tackle to guard and solidifies the left side of the line. Salyer is built for the interior line and his leadership will be crucial in making sure the entire unit finishes their assignments throughout the year. He is the clear favorite to start at left guard, and the coaches tipped their caps by placing him at left guard in the Peach Bowl.
Coaches and fans certainly hope that Salyer finishes his career at UGA by living up to his five-star billing as he makes a push for the NFL Draft following his senior season. The only reason it would seem that Salyer would not start at left guard is if the coaches pick him to stay at left tackle, instead.
At the right guard spot, Justin Shaffer could swap from the left side to the right side for the 2021 season, as he did for the CFA Peach Bowl. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound senior brings experience to the line. He brings back a lot of experience so far, including playing in every game last season. Shaffer could move back to the left side if Salyer winds up at tackle.
If Salyer and Shaffer cannot go due to injury, who steps up in the guard position is not as clear.
Georgia native Warren Ericson could move to guard, but only if he doesn’t win the starting job at center. However, he will be battling sophomore Sedrick Van Pran for that top spot in the middle. Ericson started at center in the Peach Bowl but played right guard at times last season. He has a real chance to lock down that spot if he has a strong spring, but head coach Kirby Smart and offensive line coach Matt Luke will have the final say.
Redshirt freshman Tate Ratledge could be in line to get a backup role at either guard position. While he played tackle in high school, the only action Ratledge has seen came when he filled in at right guard against Auburn last season. Ratledge was one of the top offensive line recruits coming out of high school and his ceiling is high. He has the raw talent and capability to play on in the interior, but this spring will tell us if he’s ready.
Redshirt sophomore Clay Webb is also in contention for getting a second-string look. While he is one of the smaller linemen on the team at 6-foot-3, 290-pounds, Webb was still considered one of the top-rated centers coming out of high school. He saw action in three games this past season at guard. As a former Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year, Webb hasn’t yet met his potential due to fierce competition. Right now, it seems he’s on the outside looking in because of the talent that surrounds him.
Micah Morris, Devin Willock, Chad Lindberg, Austin Blaske and a few other candidates could wind up in those second and third-string spots. However, it seems that these players are long shots to see significant playing time this season unless they really make a significant jump during spring camp.
In the end…
The two filling the starting roles should be Jamaree Salyer at left guard and Justin Shaffer at right guard. The back-up picture is much more muddied and I can only speculate as to who is really best set up for success in those roles. My guess is Ratledge will be a back-up and eventually, Ericson will move from center to back-up guard as Van Pran settles into the starting center role.
Check out the other Take A Look previews: