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Monday, April 22, 2013
UGA DL to watch: Michael Thornton

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- When the offseason conversations started about who might replace John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers at Georgia’s nose guard spot, it was almost as if Michael Thornton was the forgotten man.

Jonathan Taylor -- who shifted to defensive end during the spring -- Chris Mayes and John Atkins typically came up ahead of Thornton when such discussions started. And yet after a strong spring, Thornton has apparently pushed himself to the front of the line in new defensive line coach Chris Wilson’s estimation.

Aaron Murray
Michael Thornton (left) hopes to play a bigger role on UGA's D-line in 2013.
Granted the 300-pound junior is not the 350-pound giant that Jenkins and Geathers were -- which some consider a necessity at nose in Georgia’s base 3-4 defense -- but his coaches insist that Thornton can still be a productive SEC player.

That would be a major change for Thornton, who did not record a tackle last season and has just two in 21 college games. Expectations are different for many other players on Georgia’s defensive line, as well, and Thornton can help stabilize that rebuilding group by performing like a player who is entering his fourth season in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s system.

2012 review: Thornton played special teams and sparingly on defense as a redshirt sophomore. He did not record a tackle and had just one quarterback pressure -- that after notching just two tackles as a little-used redshirt freshman in 2011.

2013 preview: It’s unlikely that Thornton can become a dominant two-gap nose guard occupying multiple blockers like Jenkins or Geathers. He’s simply not big enough to handle that job on a regular basis. But that doesn’t mean Wilson can’t put him in roles where he can excel. It will be intriguing to see how Georgia adjusts its base scheme to suit personnel like Thornton and how he will fit in the Bulldogs’ other defensive packages.

Spring prospectus: Although he won praise from the coaches throughout the spring, Thornton had a quiet G-Day while several other defensive linemen -- including Mayes and Taylor -- filled out the stat sheet more impressively. Nonetheless, Thornton put himself in position to play a much bigger role than he has ever played so far at Georgia.

Career potential: Thornton was among Georgia’s highest-rated signees in 2010, but has not made much of an impact since then. Still, he has two seasons of eligibility remaining and seems to have won Wilson’s trust so it looks like he’s going to get a shot to contribute early in the year. If he handles the job capably in Georgia’s key September games, we may see a lot of him over the next two seasons.