Here’s what Matt Luke has to work with on the interior line this spring:
The Contenders at guard…
Justin Shaffer (senior): The Cedar Grove High School (Ellenwood, Ga.) product got his chance in 2019 and was making the most of it. When Solomon Kindley went down with an ankle injury against Notre Dame, Shaffer played really well to finish that game and made the first two starts of his career. Then he suffered a neck sprain that knocked him out for the rest of the year. He’s now cleared and has a great shot to start in 2020.
Ben Cleveland (fifth-year senior): The 6-foot-6 340-pound mauler has 16 starts over the past three years and he has gained a ton of valuable experience. At times, he’s dominant in the run game and he’s a solid pass protector but injuries and a platoon situation at right guard has kept him from really getting into a groove. He missed the Allstate Sugar Bowl due to some academic issues but appears to be on the right track to return in 2020. He’s a favorite to win the right guard spot.
Warren Ericson (redshirt sophomore): After spending his first year at UGA working primarily at center, Ericson got more of a look at guard in year two and started the Sugar Bowl on the right side. He played pretty well and clearly did enough to impress new offensive line coach Matt Luke. He could be a factor at center or guard in 2020.
Netori Johnson (fourth-year junior): The former four-star prospect has had a pretty whacky career. He was highly thought of coming out of high school as an offensive lineman but after not getting much of an opportunity for the first year or so, he moved to the defensive side and showed some flashes in mop-up duty. Now entering his fourth-year in the program, UGA may need him to go back to offense. Without him, the Bulldogs only have nine scholarship offensive linemen this spring. He worked with the offense in preparation for the Sugar Bowl.
Contenders at center…
Trey Hill (junior): He made 14 starts at center in 2020 and it was a bit of a roller coaster at times. He has had some snapping issues and those cost the offense at different points in the season. As the year went on, he got better and better at moving up to the second level and his ability to pass protect also improved. It wouldn’t be a shock if Luke wanted to experiment with him at guard, a position in played as a freshman in 2018.
Clay Webb (redshirt freshman): The former five-star prospect could also be a factor at guard but we’re listing him as a contender at center because he has the ideal skill set for it. Ericson could also help out here but Webb’s athleticism and quickness opens up a lot of possibilities on the offensive line. He can snap and pull to give the Bulldogs an extra body out on the perimeter. He can explode up to the second level as well. For now, Hill still has to be considered the heavy favorite because of his experience.
Spring is going to be a little strange because of the somewhat limited numbers — there are less than two full lines of scholarship players available, at least according to Rowe’s projections. (I still think Salyer’s best usage is at guard, but what do I know?)
Center is what intrigues me for now. Given the numbers, I’ve got to think Webb’s going to get a hard look there and Hill’s 2019 season was inconsistent, to say the least. Hill is a good athlete for an o-lineman and I certainly think there’s a place for him; it just may be at guard, though.