- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart today and projecting how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s defensive ends:
• Current two-deep depth chart:
Garrison Smith (Jr.), John Jenkins (Sr.)
Cornelius Washington (Sr.), Ray Drew (So.)
(Senior Abry Jones started six of the first seven games before being sidelined for the rest of the regular season by an ankle injury. Georgia coach Mark Richt has not yet ruled out his participating in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl against Nebraska.)
• Who’s ready to move up for more playing time?: Drew, who shifted from outside linebacker this season, played a greater role at end in the second half of the season -- and he could move into a starting role next fall. Keep an eye out for progress reports on sophomore Mike Thornton and redshirt freshman Sterling Bailey during spring practice. Both players could play a more significant role with Jenkins, Jones and Washington exhausting their eligibility in two weeks.
• High-profile commits: ESPN lists UGA commits Naim Mustafaa (Alpharetta, Ga./Alpharetta), Leonard Floyd (Eastman, Ga./Hargrave Military) and Shaun McGee (Snellville, Ga./Brookwood) as defensive ends, but they all project as linebackers in college. Defensive line commit John Atkins (Thomson, Ga./Hargrave Military) could probably play end in college, but he and fellow 300-plus-pound defensive line commits DeAndre Johnson (Newnan, Ga./Northgate) and Chris Mayes (Griffin, Ga./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) might begin their college careers inside at nose tackle.
• Additional targets on the board: The main guy to watch here is five-star prospect Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga./Dooly County), whom ESPN rates as the nation’s No. 7 overall prospect. Georgia is duking it out with Clemson for his signature. Georgia is also pursuing junior college prospect Toby Johnson (College Park, Ga./Hutchinson Community College), who can play end.
• 2013 gameplan: Assuming Smith returns for his senior season, he appears to be a lock at one starting end spot. Drew might be the frontrunner for the other spot, but he’s nowhere near the sure thing that Smith would be. The competition for that job could extend into preseason practices next August, and maybe beyond.
• And 2014?: If Georgia can sign Adams, he would probably have a chance to play as a true freshman, but 2014 would be a season where he could win even more significant playing time after Smith’s departure. This would also be Drew’s senior season and his final opportunity to fulfill the potential that made him one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects in 2011.
• What about 2015?: It also bears watching in the next few years which players who sign as outside linebackers grow into defensive ends. It happened with Drew, who shifted to end this year with Washington. Freshmen Josh Dawson and James DeLoach (who would be seniors in 2015) also have the frames to hold the extra weight that would help them contribute at end down the road if the coaching staff deems it necessary.