Mike Thornton, Garrison Smith and Derrick Lott are three names on Georgia's defensive line that Bulldog fans have yet to really get to know, but that could soon change.
With the exception of Thornton - currently the No. 3 nose behind Kwame Geathers and Jonathan Jenkins - Smith and Lott currently occupy the top two backups spots at defensive end - essentially guaranteeing that position coach Rodney Garner will be calling on them often and early during the 2011 campaign.
Of the three, Smith has seen the most time on the field.
The former Douglass High star played in seven games as a true freshman, collecting just three tackles in limited playing time.
Lott, meanwhile, appeared in just three games making seven tackles while Thornton redshirted as a true freshman and has yet to make his Bulldog debut.
"Derrick has a lot of ability, but he has to take ownership of doing it fundamentally, doing it the right way. He'll go out there and make some plays, but then he may have 10 missed assignments on those plays," Garner said. "He's got to continue to work on his knowledge and make sure he's in the right gap because when you do it freelance-wise, you may make a play, but you might also give up five or six plays."
As for Smith, Garner feels the 295-pound sophomore is finally gaining the consistency that will ensure him getting plenty of time on the field.
"Garrison is improving. All the kids are young. Garrison didn't redshirt last year and in hindsight probably should have. But he didn't and he has some ability, he has some punch, but he's also young, he's immature and sometimes he gets lackadaisical and out of focus, get sloppy with his fundamentals and all that," Garner said. "But I've seen over the last two weeks that he seems to be more focused on doing it our way, the way we're coaching him to do it so once they buy into that - and I know it may not seem like that to them now, but they'll actually make more plays than the freelance guy so. I'm pleased. I think he's getting better."
Thornton appears to be the bigger challenge.
At 6-foot-1 and just over 290 pounds, the former Stephenson star obviously lacks the sheer girth of Geathers and Jenkins.
Because of that, Garner said Thornton has to make up for that lack of size in other ways.
"I think Mike, he's got some punch and he's got some leverage, some natural leverage. I've seen him improve from where he was last year, but he's got to continue to improve because he is not an ideal size lineman, he has to improve his motor and that to me is the one area that he has to improve significantly in," Garner said. "If you're a small guy, you need to be a ball player on jets. I think he's got the skill, got the skill set that he'll be able to play here, contribute and all that. He's just got to stay encouraged and continue to work hard."
But staying encouraged when you're essentially a third-string player is not always easy to do. That's why Garner continues to take steps to get him involved on the field as much as he can.
In fact, when Lott sat out recovering from the cut he suffered during his preseason scooter accident, Thornton did see some time at defensive end, he did receive some snaps at end, although Garner said that was basically to see if he could be competitive.
"That (sitting) can be frustrating, I know that. Redshirting last year and your roommate plays, this year you still find yourself not in the situation you visualized yourself in, but I met with him yesterday, let him know that I believe in him and we're going to keep working," Garner said. "I do see improvement out of him and that is true. I think fundamentally, technique-wise he's made some improvement and he's made some improvement on his effort, but it is so inconsistent. He has got to improve on that. He cannot be that guy that's on a rollercoaster, he's got to be on a steady incline trying to do that. He was able to get away with that in high school, but this ain't high school. I think he would tell you that - he's got to improve on effort."
Garner certainly hasn't given up on Thornton yet, attributing most of his on-field issues as simply the trials and tribulations of youth.
"Oh yeah, that's being young, different level, different competition, the intensity of practice. Practice tempo (at Georgia) is like tempo against your big rival in high school," Garner said. "Again, I'll put it like this - he's made progress, but he still has a ways to go but if he keeps working and improves in those areas he'll be able to contribute here."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]