Georgia Bulldogs: Michael Thornton

Players to watch: Toby Johnson

February, 26, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

We talked about wide receiver Jonathon Rumph and offensive guard Brandon Kublanow in the first two installments. We move on Wednesday to a defensive lineman who could play a bigger role in 2014 now that he has had a year to heal from an injury and get his bearings at Georgia.

Toby Johnson (defensive lineman, Sr.)

2013 review: A late addition to Georgia's 2013 signing class, Johnson was the No. 4 overall prospect on the ESPN Junior College 100 and hoped to play a much larger role along the defensive line. He was coming off an ACL injury from the previous November, but he did not want to redshirt. So he played in 10 games as a reserve, finishing the season with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Why spring is important: Playing time would have been available for Johnson even without Garrison Smith -- a 2013 senior who started all 13 games last season -- leaving the lineup. Johnson was listed as Smith's backup at defensive end in the bowl loss, and like Smith, he is capable of playing either inside or outside depending on the situation. The goal this spring will be for Johnson to prove to new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker that he deserves to be one of the leading figures along the line and not the role player he was a season ago.

Best case/worst case: Johnson was only about 10 months removed from ACL surgery when last season started, and while he said he felt healthy, he never made a dent in the starting lineup. Smith, Chris Mayes and the Ray Drew-Sterling Bailey combo handled the top spots along the line for much of the season, but a big spring could push Johnson toward the front of the line this fall. There are other contenders for playing time -- including John Taylor, John Atkins, Josh Dawson and Michael Thornton -- so this will be a pivotal spring for all of them. If Johnson fails to make a move this spring, he runs the risk of remaining as a utility man as a senior, which would be a big disappointment for a player who carried such acclaim when he signed with the Bulldogs.

Recapping UGA post-spring reviews 

April, 29, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Over the last two weeks, we reviewed the competition for playing time at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and identified a player to watch at each position.

A defense that lost 12 significant players will be a focal point well into the fall, and it was in our post-spring recaps. Let’s take a look at the defensive positions first:

DawgNation week in review 

April, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Without question, the highlight around DawgNation this week came Tuesday when tight end Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian) became the first ESPN 150 honoree to join Georgia’s 2014 signing class -- just three days before another one, running back Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), joined him.


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Post-spring position review: DL 

April, 22, 2013
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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)


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UGA DL to watch: Michael Thornton 

April, 22, 2013
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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.


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UGA spring preview: 5 positions to watch 

February, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Coaches always emphasize the importance of competition during spring practice, and there will certainly be more than enough at Georgia once the Bulldogs start spring drills on March 2.

The competition on the defensive side of the ball will be the story of the spring, as coordinator Todd Grantham and company work to find replacements for the 12 departed regulars who figured heavily into the Bulldogs’ defensive plans last fall.

Here are five positions that bear close watching this spring:

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Rising stars: Five to watch on D 

January, 11, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt said Thursday that he wants his up-and-coming defensive players to ask themselves, “Am I going to be good enough to help this team win a championship?” as they work toward playing bigger roles in 2013.

There’s no question that if the Bulldogs return to the SEC championship game for a third consecutive year, those defensive players will have made enormous strides to get them there. They return every key offensive player except receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, but lose 12 important defenders.

So let’s take a quick look at five key players who will lead the rebuilding effort for Georgia’s defense this fall -- and then three more to watch for good measure.


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Malcome's tough runs make late impact

October, 24, 2012
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Ken MalcomeDak Dillon/US PresswireKen Malcome has turned into a closer of sorts for the Bulldogs, as he's been given key fourth-quarter carries the last two games.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Ken Malcome isn’t necessarily Georgia’s closer, but he has played that role in the last two games.

Although freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have replaced Malcome atop the tailback depth chart, the sophomore received the bulk of his carries on Georgia’s final drive in both games and largely delivered positive results.

Malcome ran five times for a team-high 45 yards on the Bulldogs’ final possession in a loss against South Carolina, scoring his team’s only touchdown on a 3-yard burst with 1:55 left in the game. And last week against Kentucky, six of Malcome’s seven total carries (for a total of 19 yards) came on the Bulldogs’ final drive, when they needed to burn time off the clock while clinging to a 29-24 lead.

“Usually at that time of the game, he’s usually a little bit fresher than the other two and he is a very good downhill runner,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “As you observe him, he’s usually always getting yards after contact and even when nothing’s there, he seems to be pushing the pile and finishing runs and he’s done a good job of securing the football. Those are things that you want at that time of the game.”

That’s the role Richard Samuel played on the Bulldogs’ game-winning drive last season against Florida -- Georgia’s opponent on Saturday -- but Richt does not predict Samuel taking carries away from Malcome or one of the freshmen in Saturday’s rematch.

“At the tailback position, I don’t know,” Richt said. “We’ve got our rotation right now and I doubt it would change much, although Richard’s always ready to play at the tailback or the fullback for that matter.”

(Read full post)

Notebook: Gurley a pro at breaking tackles 

September, 25, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- If there is one attribute of Todd Gurley’s that most impresses his Georgia coaches and teammates, it would be his ability to break tackles and generate yards after contact.

That ability had Bulldogs defensive players raving from the first time they had to tackle the freshman tailback during preseason practice.

“A lot of times guys would just hit him and you think you’ve got him stopped and he just keeps driving his knees and there are people just falling off,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “You never feel like, ‘Oh no, he’s stopped.’ There’s always a chance that he’s going to fall four more yards. A guy that’s always leaning forward, falling forward, is a great running back.”

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Eight days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.

8. Michael Thornton
Sophomore, Defensive line
6-foot-1, 302 pounds



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Notebook: TB order staying under wraps 

August, 23, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon agreed with Coach Mark Richt’s assessment that Ken Malcome is the likely starting tailback for the Bulldogs’ Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo.

But McClendon said after Thursday’s practice that Malcome’s starting status is subject to change, and that he sees no need to publicly rank his four tailbacks before the Buffalo game.

“It’s likely that Ken will be there, but it’s definitely not final right now,” McClendon said. “Like I said, I don’t think we’re going to put out anything, even a solid 1.

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Notebook: RB becomes peaceful position 

August, 5, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Bryan McClendon has presided over one of Georgia’s most turbulent position groups over the last few seasons, so the current state of tranquility in the running backs’ meeting room is a pleasant change.

The Bulldogs have had four tailbacks leave the roster for various reasons in the last 16 months and McClendon dealt with numerous disciplinary issues among his players last season, but he said things have changed for the better.

“Right now I think just as far as the mind state that our room is having right now is just very positive,” McClendon said after Sunday morning’s practice. “Everybody’s working, everybody’s excited to be there. You’re not having to spend time on a lot of negative things, so to speak, that’s going to take away from anything that’s going to try to get to the main goal that not only you have as a segment, but you have as a team.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Throughout the first portion of Georgia’s spring football practices, the Bulldogs’ defense dominated more often than not.

The defense finished Saturday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium with 12 sacks, but the offense is beginning to hold its own more effectively.

Redshirt freshman tight end Jay Rome was the offensive star of the scrimmage, catching a 30-yard touchdown from Hutson Mason and making an acrobatic touchdown catch from Parker Welch just inside the back pylon during a goal-line drill.

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