Georgia offensive lineman Trey Hill blocks during a game at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. The Georgia Bulldogs beat the UMass Minutemen 66-27. (Photo/Rebecca Wright)

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has made extensive efforts since Georgia’s 2016 recruiting class to improve and increase the depth along the offensive line.

Beginning with the 2016 recruiting class, the Bulldogs have signed a total of 10 four-stars and four five-stars on the O-line, per the 247Sports Composite. Former Georgia offensive line coach — and current Arkansas head coach — Sam Pittman played a large part in signing those players.

But Pittman’s final season with the Bulldogs is also the final season for a number of frequent starters, such as Andrew Thomas, Solomon Kindley, Isaiah Wilson and Cade Mays.

Smart spent less than 48 hours finding Pittman’s replacement. On Dec. 10, two days after Pittman’s departure, former Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke was hired. Luke’s first assignment before the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 was to become familiar with his new players and find a way to keep the protection strong even with the absence of Thomas, Wilson and Ben Cleveland, who was ruled academically ineligible before the game. 

Luke’s next assignment? Conjure up a functional offensive line with only one starter from the previous season set to return.

Cleveland’s eligibility for the 2020-21 season remains uncertain, and Mays’ abrupt transfer to Tennessee on Jan. 9 doesn’t make Luke’s job any easier. Although 2020 five-star recruit Broderick Jones is currently committed to Georgia, he has yet to put pen to paper.

So with that in mind, here are The Red & Black’s early projections for who will trot onto the field at the start of the Sept. 7 matchup against Virginia:

Junior Jamaree Salyer — Left tackle

Salyer was a five-star offensive guard recruit from the 2018 class, per the 247Sports Composite. Since arriving in Athens, he has seemingly made the switch to tackle, as his two starts for Georgia came at right tackle in last season’s games against Murray State and Baylor.

The 6-foot-4, 325 pound native from Atlanta has 26 game appearances in his career. Salyer showed promise in the place of Wilson at right tackle during the Sugar Bowl, but replacing Thomas, a 2019 AP All-American, will not be easy.

Senior Justin Shaffer — Left guard

Like Salyer, Shaffer has also appeared in 26 games during his career for Georgia. After filling in at left guard following Kindley’s injury against Notre Dame last season, Shaffer received his first two career starts versus Tennessee and South Carolina before missing the remaining eight games due to a neck injury.

Just like his predecessor, Shaffer was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, per the 247Sports Composite. The 6-foot-4, 330 pound guard won the state championship in his senior season at Cedar Grove High School alongside fellow Bulldog Netori Johnson.

Junior Trey Hill – Center

Of this list, Hill has the most game experience. He was named AP All-SEC second team after starting all 14 games last season for the Bulldogs. Additionally, he appeared in all 14 games of the 2018-19 season, starting the last four games at right guard.

Last season, Hill was selected onto the Rimington Award Watchlist, which awards college football’s most outstanding center. He will likely be placed there again in 2020, as he is looking to improve on his already stellar career at Georgia.

Sophomore Warren Ericson – Right guard

Ericson was a four-star recruit from the 2018 class, per the 247Sports Composite. He played in six games last season for the Bulldogs and earned his first career start against Baylor, appearing in every offensive snap.

Ericson would be the smallest lineman should this be the starting five. That said, he’s still 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, so he is large enough to handle whatever comes his way.

Sophomore Xavier Truss – Right tackle

Of all five positions on the offensive line, right tackle remains the most uncertain. It’s not implausible to think fellow sophomore Warren McClendon will get the same amount of attention here in the offseason. And maybe Tate Ratledge can impress enough in the spring to get the starting nod as a true freshman.

But Truss does have great size for the position, standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing 330 pounds. He was also the No. 1 rated player from the state of Rhode Island in the 2019 class, per the 247Sports Composite, and he competed against Murray State, Arkansas State and Georgia Tech last season.

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