March 18, 2013

5 questions: The DL

Who will be Georgia's starting nose guard when the Bulldogs open their season at Clemson?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it?

With spring practice set to resume on Tuesday, there are no less than four players - Mike Thornton, John Atkins, John Taylor and Chris Mayes - who are each getting their share of looks at the spot as new position coach Chris Wilson gets his first real look at the players he will have on hand for the fall.

A junior, Thornton obviously has the most experience of the group, but is not necessarily considered the favorite at this point in time.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said recently he's been impressed by what he's seen from the two newcomers - Atkins and Mayes. Both early enrollees had successful off-seasons in the Bulldogs' winter workout program and are now busy getting down Grantham's defensive system.

That leaves Taylor, who redshirted as a true freshman but made significant strides while on the scout team and now appears ready to step into the fray.

Taylor still has much to learn, but his size, combined with the fact he's now been in the system, the former Jenkins County standout would seem to be early favorite to start at nose when Georgia is in its base 3-4.

How many members of the defensive line will be ready to make an impact?

The major knock on last year's defense line was that the Bulldogs didn't rotate their big guys up front seemingly as much as other schools.

While that's certainly appeared true, the Bulldogs didn't enjoy the kind of depth you would expect them to have, and when fall camp arrives Georgia will only have eight defensive linemen on scholarship. That's still three more than it had at the end of last year, when you count the absence of John Jenkins and Abry Jones being out with injury.

But although the Bulldogs will have more bodies, they'll definitely be on the inexperienced side and that's Grantham's biggest concern with Clemson and South Carolina up first on the 2013 docket.

Senior Garrison Smith will be the leader for the group and has All-SEC potential.

Otherwise, questions remain.

Ray Drew has had a strong off-season, but is he ready to finally take that next step and become the type of player at right end that most projected the former five-star performer to be?

Thornton can help at end as well as nose, but along with Drew and Smith are the only returning defensive linemen Georgia with any actual SEC experience.

The Bulldogs hope Toby Johnson is far enough along with his rehab that he'll be able to contribute sooner rather than later. But even if he is, Johnson will be in the same boat as Atkins, Mayes and incoming freshman De'Andre Johnson in having to grow up fast.

Will this be the year Ray Drew makes the impact Bulldog fans have waiting to see from the former 5-star performer?

The Bulldogs certainly hope so.

Hindsight being what its, Drew probably should have been redshirted his freshman year and allowed to grow in the position he currently plays.

Drew was moved to defensive end this time a year ago, and struggled initially before gaining a comfort level and finished the season strong, including an eight-tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

Listed at 6-5 and 290 pounds, coaches have praised Drew for his off-season workouts, but now want to see him carry it over into the rest of the spring and ultimately the fall drills.

His first three days have been excellent according to UGASports' sources, so that's certainly a good sign.

What's the biggest different between new position coach Chris Wilson and former coach Rodney Garner?

In the brief time we're allowed to watch practice, Wilson does not seem to be quite as "vocal" during workouts as Garner would.

Still, it appears he has no trouble getting his point across.

Head coach Mark Richt made the comment recently that Wilson is not afraid to pull his players aside for some personal 1-on-1 time and veterans like Garrison Smith have said they appreciate the different approach.

Wilson has made it perfectly clear he intends to rotate his linemen as much as possible this fall. It remains to be seen whether or not he'll be able to do that with the current personnel, but from every other indication, Wilson has made quite the early impression.

Will this year's defensive line be more adept at helping to stop the run?

Coaches and fans certainly hope so.

Rush defense was expected to be a strength last year with Jenkins and Geathers anchoring the middle of the Bulldog defensive line but it was anything but as Georgia allowed just over 182 yards rushing per game.

Wilson hopes to be able to remedy that by rotating his players more, although Richt remains concerned with what will happen once the Bulldogs come across a team that attempts to run the football straight down the Bulldogs' throat.

That is a legitimate concern, that won't truly be answered until the 2013 season begins.