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Monday, April 22, 2013
Post-spring position review: DL

By David Ching

Editor’s note: Last week we started reviewing each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. We took a look at the offense last week. Today we begin examining the defense, starting with the defensive line:

Returning players/stats: Garrison Smith, Sr. (Eight starts in 2012. 57 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack); Ray Drew, Jr. (23 tackles, 1 TFL); Michael Thornton, Jr. (No tackles); Sterling Bailey, So. (One tackle); Jonathan Taylor, RFr. (Redshirted in 2012)

Newcomers: Toby Johnson, Jr. (ESPN’s No. 4 overall prospect in the 2013 junior college 100, No. 3 DT. Expected to enroll this summer); John Atkins, Fr. (Hargrave Military transfer. Enrolled in January); Chris Mayes, Jr. (No. 87 in 2013 junior college 100, No. 14 DT. Enrolled in January); DeAndre Johnson, Fr. (No. 84 DT. Expected to enroll this summer)

Ray Drew makes the tackle
Is this the year that vaunted defensive end prospect Ray Drew breaks through for Georgia?
Key storyline: The defensive line is close to starting from scratch this season. Not only did the Bulldogs lose nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers and defensive ends Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones, but also position coach Rodney Garner. Former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson replaced Garner in the offseason and promises that he will use a larger group of players than Garner did for much of 2012.

Breakout candidate: While Bailey, Drew and Johnson are intriguing candidates here, let’s go with Taylor. It appeared at the end of his 2012 redshirt season that Taylor was on pace to jump into the competition at nose guard, but he actually made an impact at defensive end during spring practice. Taylor is a big man -- he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds -- but he’s quick enough to still manage to do some damage off the edge, as evidenced by his seven tackles and two sacks in the G-Day game.

Reviewing 2012: After an outstanding 2011, this group was somewhat disappointing last year considering the talent and experience that they brought to the table. Witness the way Alabama controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the second half of the SEC championship game en route to 350 rushing yards. Jenkins, Geathers, Washington are all going to be picked in the NFL draft, and Jones could possibly join them. Despite that obvious talent, the Bulldogs ranked just 77th nationally against the run (182.14 ypg) and got just 3.5 sacks from its defensive linemen.

Projecting 2013: Wilson regularly mentioned Bailey and Thornton as the line’s most consistent performers during spring practice, and the Bulldogs could use some leadership from the two veterans once the season begins. Newcomers Mayes and Atkins -- both of whom participated in spring practice -- and Johnson could jump into the mix immediately alongside the green-but-talented Taylor. Smith is the only starter back, while Drew -- who played a bigger role late last season -- is the only reserve back who saw much playing time last fall. In other words, Wilson has plenty of evaluation left to complete before he settles on a rotation for the fall.