To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice Tuesday, DawgNation will do a position breakdown each day. Today we will analyze the defensive line. On Sunday we will look at the linebackers.
2011 starters: DE: DeAngelo Tyson, 2011 senior (20 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks); Abry Jones, Sr. (48 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 sacks); NG: John Jenkins, Sr. (28 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks)
Key losses: Tyson
Reserves: NG: Kwame Geathers, Jr. (14 tackles); Mike Thornton, So., (2 tackles, 0.5 TFL); DE: Garrison Smith, Jr. (22 tackles, 3 TFL); Derrick Lott, Jr. (3 tackles, 0.5 TFL); Dexter Morant, So. (missed season with injury)
New faces: Morant has yet to contribute, but he might finally find his way onto the field, and Sterling Bailey might be able to win playing time at defensive end after redshirting and playing outside linebacker a year ago. Bailey underwent foot surgery in December and Coach Mark Richt said last week he was unsure how much he will be able to practice.
The Bulldogs also signed defensive linemen John Atkins (Thomson, Ga./Thomson) and Jonathan Taylor (Millen, Ga./Jenkins County) last month and a couple of hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers who could potentially contribute once they arrive on campus in the summer.
Spring goal: The Bulldogs return four of their top five defensive linemen, so position coach Rodney Garner probably won’t have too much drama on his hands this spring.
He needs to begin determining who fills Tyson’s starting spot and who will play the supporting roles. Geathers is a solid player who can share the nose guard spot with Jenkins. But what about defensive end? Garner will need to take a hard look at the reserves there to figure out who else can help because there is little experience there behind the starters.
Worth watching: Will anyone else step into this competition? One of the benefits of Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defensive scheme is its versatility. Some linebackers can play inside and outside. Nose guards can shift to end. Outside linebackers with some girth can also put their hand on the ground at the end position. Bailey makes sense as an end. Ray Drew, who played outside linebacker last season as a freshman, might be one of the players who can also make an impact at end.
Area of concern: Experience is probably a mild concern here. Jones and Jenkins are proven starters and Smith performed fairly well in place of an injured Tyson late in the season. Certainly Garner would like to see something out of the less experienced ends to make Smith earn the other starting spot -- or even take it away from him.
Position grade: B. Jenkins and Geathers helped solidify Georgia’s defense by anchoring the defensive line and commanding double teams, which made an enormous difference in the Bulldogs’ overall effectiveness. And Jones ranks among the Bulldogs’ most underrated players a year ago, leading the defensive linemen with 20 quarterback hurries. If Garner develops another effective defensive end, this group could be dangerous.