- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Chris Wilson needed only about 30 minutes in Georgia’s first preseason practice before he started fiddling with his depth chart.
The new defensive line coach’s face broke into a wide grin when explaining why he loudly informed Sterling Bailey -- who finished spring practice as a starting defensive end -- that Ray Drew was now the starter in Georgia’s base defense and that Bailey would be the first-team end when the Bulldogs play a nickel defense.
“We make on-the-field adjustments,” Wilson cracked.
Apparently such a change is nothing new for Wilson’s new charges, who say that if Wilson doesn’t think someone is getting the job done adequately, he’s quick with the hook.
“[It happens on a] daily basis,” Bailey chuckled. “He just loves motivating us. He just wants us to play hard.”
Georgia largely stuck with a small rotation of veteran players along last season’s defensive line, but that practice created fatigue that Alabama obviously exploited in racking up 350 rushing yards against the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs’ coaching staff has vowed to rotate more players up front this fall -- and Drew and Bailey are among the seven or eight players that Wilson hopes will figure heavily into that rotation.
But they have to prove to their new position coach that they deserve the opportunity, as neither player has been more than a role player thus far in his college career.
“[Wilson] mentioned it to me one time before that he likes competition within the players because if he puts you in a position and you’re not getting it done, he bumps someone else in there,” Drew said. “He wants you to take enough initiative to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get my stuff together and win my spot back.’ So we look at it as a competition between the two players, but it’s actually just a way to make each other better.”
There should be no shortage of competition for spots in Wilson’s rotation over the next few weeks. Junior college transfer Toby Johnson -- the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 -- is “kicking butt” at defensive end thus far in practice, Wilson said, and other youngsters such as John Taylor, John Atkins and Chris Mayes have impressed him at points.
They have a prime opportunity to solidify those impressions when the Bulldogs hold their first preseason scrimmage at Sanford Stadium on Wednesday -- even if the depth chart will probably remain flexible well into the season.
“We never know what the set depth chart is,” Drew said. “One thing he made perfectly clear to all of us is he does not care who plays. He’s going to put in the guy that is going to play his behind off, do what he’s coached to do and make things happen. So it doesn’t matter if you’re an 18-year senior or if you’re a first-year freshman. If you’re getting it done and you’re doing what you need to do, that’s what matters.”
As of now, the “play his behind off” factor might be the most important element of the competition.
Yes, understanding their assignments and playing with the proper technique will be of utmost importance once the linemen take on the Clemsons and South Carolinas and LSUs that they will face in the first month of the season. But as they enter their first scrimmage, Wilson wants to see them fight for their jobs, viewing competitive fire as perhaps his top means of evaluation.
“Here’s the thing that I would like to see more than anything in our next scrimmage: I would like to see us play extremely hard. I’m talking about with relentless effort,” Wilson said. “And if they are playing that hard, that means they know what to do. And if we will play as hard as we can and know what we’re doing, I think we’ve got a chance to win all the football games that we play.
“And so if we can come away with just those two simple things that sound so simple, we really have become a better football team."
3dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough