Until the coaches make a decision on who will man the left tackle position on the o-line, they won’t be able to fit the rest of the pieces together there.
Left Tackle: There are a few different ways this thing could go. Jamaree Salyer returns with nine starts at left tackle and he played the position at a high level a year ago. But the staff moved him inside to left guard for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl with Ben Cleveland (right guard) and Trey Hill (center) out. You get the feeling that the staff would love to slide Salyer down to guard for good, but they won’t hesitate to trot him out there at left tackle if that gets the best five guys on the field.
Warren McClendon started nine games at right tackle and he could slide over and play on the left side if someone emerges on the right side. Guys like Broderick Jones, Amarius Mims, or Xavier Truss could also step up and take on the left tackle job. If anyone other than Salyer plays left tackle, that means Justin Shaffer is likely to move from left guard to right guard, making room for Salyer. As you’ll see in just a second, what happens at left tackle will cause a chain reaction.
Center/Right Guard: There’s going to be competitions at these two positions regardless, but Salyer moving to left guard simplifies things some. As previously stated, Salyer to left guard means Shaffer becomes the favorite at right guard and then center comes down to Warren Ericson vs. Sedrick Van Pran. That should be a huge battle. But if Salyer remains the starting left tackle, Shaffer likely plays left guard and then there’s a very real possibility that Van Pran and Ericson are both on the field. Van Pran could be the center and Ericson could slide in at right guard where he has plenty of experience and one start.
There are other guys to keep an eye on, though. Tate Ratledge is ultra-talented and capable of surging ahead of the pack at left guard. Devin Willock is another candidate. He drew praise from Kirby Smart late last season for his ability to get movement in the run game. Clay Webb is also a factor because he’s so physical and athletic. He just has to stay healthy. Chad Lindberg is also in the mix.
That’s a lot of mixing and matching on Matt Luke’s to-do list.
It seems like I say this almost every spring, but the sooner they settle on a starting five, the better. Timing and communication, not just between the linemen themselves, but also with the quarterback, only improve with time and reps. That’s not necessarily to say that the dust has to settle by G-Day, but you definitely don’t want to be shuffling bodies around a week or two before the Clemson game.