June 5, 2012

Looking ahead: DL

Assistant coach Rodney Garner isn't prone to hyperbole when it comes to talking about the members of his defensive line. He always tells it like it is.

But as UGASports continues its series breaking down each position for the Bulldogs, Garner sounds relatively encouraged with what he'll have to work with come fall.

It all starts up front where John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers give the Bulldogs what just might be the best pair of nose guards in the entire country.

"John and Kwame are really coming on - really coming on," Garner said late last spring. "My biggest issue with them is I've just got to stay on them about fundamentals, and be hard on them about their steps, pad level, hand-placement - just the little things this spring. I don't care if they make a big TFL (tackle for loss) and blow everything up, I don't care. I'm going to coach what you did wrong because I don't want them to get complacent or get a sense of 'we're here.' They may not be quite there, but I'm very pleased with both."

Of course, Geathers and Jenkins are going to need some help on Georgia's defensive line, which lost some depth last spring when Derrick Lott decided to transfer, ultimately to Chattanooga.

His decision was somewhat unexpected, because earlier in the spring Garner commented on how he thought Lott was finally starting to make some progress of his own and could figure in for reps at left defensive end.

Obviously, that's no longer the case, meaning Garrison Smith, Ray Drew, Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones, Sterling Bailey and freshman Jonathan Taylor will make up the rotation at defensive end. Garner still hopes to have freshman John Atkins, but the former Thomson Bulldog still must gain his qualifying scores on his ACT and SAT to gain entrance into UGA.

Defensive end newbies Drew, Bailey and Washington will continue their lessons come preseason drills.

"They're showing they've got a lot to learn about pad level and hand placement, which as we all know is so critical," Garner said. "Ray, he's 270 pounds, but eventually Mother Nature - if she just continues to work with him - is going be a big guy. All he's got to do is to fill into those feet and he'll be 300-plus."

At 6-foot-5, Drew wears a size 17 shoe, the biggest on the Bulldog team.

"He's got to play with a wide power-base to keep from getting knocked around, bounced around and all that, but his attitude has been great," Garner said of Drew. "But he's eager to learn, but he's also playing end too, in nickel stuff, but he's smart enough where he can handle it. It's all about making the physical adjustment right now."

Don't forget about Mike Thornton, either.

"Mike just has the unfortunate thing to be playing behind Jenkins and Geathers, two of the biggest men in college football, probably two of the two biggest athletic big men in college football," Garner said. "But I think Thornton is improving; I think he definitely has a role here on this team. I think he has a future."

Members of Georgia's 2012 defensive line are as follows:

• Nose John Jenkins (Sr., 6-3, 351): Jenkins worried many in the Bulldog nation when he flirted with the notion of leaving early for the NFL before deciding to return for what should be a stellar senior season. Although it took the former junior college transfer a few weeks to get his Division I legs under him, by the time the season was complete, Jenkins - who is one of the team's strongest players - was playing exceptional, and barring injury could be setting himself for an All-SEC type year and perhaps a spot in the first round of next April's NFL Draft.

• Nose Kwame Geathers (RJr., 6-6, 350): After three years in the Bulldog program, it appears Geathers finally "gets it." Although Geathers will still tell you he constantly needs to remember to keep his pad level low, he's now at the point where he's more than a handful for any interior offensive linemen. Blessed with a quick first step for a man his size, Geathers and Jenkins form an incredible duo.

• Left end Abry Jones (Sr., 6-3, 309): Jones may be one of the most underrated defensive players on the entire Bulldog team, but is coming off an outstanding junior year which saw him record 48 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks and 20 quarterback pressures. Look for more of the same this fall.

•Right end Garrison Smith (Jr., 6-3, 294): With the graduation of DeAngelo Tyson to the NFL, Smith figures to become a full-time starter for the first time in his career. The former Douglass High standout made two starts a year ago, including a seven-tackle effort against Georgia Tech.

• Defensive end/OLB Ray Drew (Soph., 6-5, 265): Drew worked all spring at defensive end and impressed coaches enough where he can expect to see time at the position this fall. The former five-star performer appeared in seven games last year for the Bulldogs, recording eight tackles and earning SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors after his three-tackle effort at Vanderbilt, a game in which he also recovered a key fumble.

• Defensive end/OLB Cornelius Washington (Sr., 6-4, 270): Washington wasn't too sure about moving inside when he was asked to by coaches, but by the end of spring practice appeared to be catching on. Blessed with big-play potential, Washington counted six tackles for loss and five sacks among his 17 tackles last year. He also pressured opposing quarterbacks 29 times.

• Defensive end/OLB Sterling Bailey (RFr. 6-3, 270): Despite sitting out a year while recovering from shoulder surgery, Bailey is expected to be ready to go for fall practice and coaches remain very high on his potential. Like Drew and Washington, Bailey is expected to get both looks at defensive end and outside linebacker.

• Nose Mike Thornton (RSo., 6-1, 292): Thornton has received a little bit of practice time at defensive end, but he'll stay primarily at nose for now where he'll allow both Jenkins and Geathers to take an occasional rest.

Defensive end/nose Jonathan Taylor (Fr., 6-4, 315): Taylor will be worked in slowly, and indicated back at the state track meet that he will get a look at nose, as well as defensive end. The former four-star prospect was rated the nation's seventh-best defensive tackle by Rivals a season ago.