Georgia Bulldogs: Chris Wilson

It appears as if Jeremy Pruitt will have the opportunity to build Georgia's defense according to his own vision. As of Wednesday night, he is the only defensive coach on the Bulldogs' staff.

Multiple media reports Wednesday night have defensive line coach Chris Wilson (leaving for USC) and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (going back to the Washington Redskins, where he previously spent 11 seasons as an assistant) joining defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and secondary coach Scott Lakatos as departures from Mark Richt's staff within the last week.

Richt said at Pruitt's introductory press conference on Wednesday morning that Wilson and Olivadotti would remain on staff “if they want to, and as of right now I think they want to.”

Obviously they decided otherwise, leaving Pruitt with three positions to fill. Pruitt will coach the secondary, but he and Richt must identify candidates to fill Grantham's position coaching outside linebackers as well as Wilson's line and Olivadotti's inside linebackers jobs.

In the short term, that might seem alarming for those around the Georgia program, but it no doubt holds some appeal for the Bulldogs' new defensive coordinator. Richt will allow Pruitt to have a major say in picking the new coaches -- if not allow him to hand select them -- much like he did when Grantham joined the staff in 2010 and brought along Lakatos and Warren Belin.

If Georgia is to take a step forward under the new regime, which shouldn't be difficult with 10 starters returning from a young group that ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense (375.5 ypg), it will be because Pruitt and Richt made the correct hires in the coming days and weeks.

Pruitt's arrival after an enormously successful season at Florida State was widely hailed as a home run for Richt, and that's a great start in rebuilding Georgia's defense. That's only the first step, though, and the Bulldogs need to swing for the fences three more times if the defense is to return to the suffocating form that marked the early seasons of Richt's tenure.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 13, 2014
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Football season is nearly over, but the news never stops in SEC country – especially with all of the NFL draft announcements, coaching changes and recruiting news churning this week.

UGA redshirt review: defense

December, 20, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Yesterday we reviewed the players who redshirted on offense. Today we move to the defense.

[+] EnlargeDavin Bellamy
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNDavin Bellamy, a former four-star prospect, could work his way into the DL rotation this spring.
John Atkins, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 119 overall in 2012, No. 11 defensive tackle
This season: The prep school transfer did not seize a role in the defensive line rotation, but impressed coaches and teammates with a promising skill set that could help him play multiple positions in the future.
Veteran's perspective: “John Atkins' footwork is crazy for a big guy. He's like 320 -- we're the same size – and he has amazing footwork and work ethic. He's going to be one of those guys popping off the scene next year.” -- sophomore defensive lineman Chris Mayes

Davin Bellamy, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 299 overall, No. 25 defensive end
This season: Underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason, but could have played this season according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were it not for the emergence of Floyd and Jordan Jenkins at his position.
Veteran's perspective: “Bellamy's a big-bodied kid. I know just from being around him, he has a giant attitude. And when I say that, it's a good thing. He believes in himself and what he can do. He thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, which is the attitude that you have to have when you're playing football because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody will.” -- junior defensive end Ray Drew

Paris Bostick, Fr., ILB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 55 safety
This season: Grantham compares Bostick's skills to those of another converted safety -- former UGA linebacker Alec Ogletree. Bostick suffered a toe injury during the summer and returned to practice during the season.
Veteran's perspective: “Bigger than what most people think -- real big dude now. He's just trying to learn the system and figure out where he's going to fit in at. … He's a real big dude, but he still runs like a safety. He's fast. He's going to be a real good addition to us.” -- junior linebacker Ramik Wilson

Shaquille Fluker, Jr., S
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 36 on Junior College 50, No. 2 safety
This season: Initially set back by an array of physical ailments, Fluker was designated as a redshirt candidate by midseason. He announced this week his plans to transfer in search of playing time.
Coach's perspective: “I can't comment on any medical situation, but everybody wants to play more, obviously, and I hope wherever he goes, he gets to play. I hope he finds a good home. I like him a lot. He's a good kid. I'm very confident we had his best interests at heart the entire time he was here at Georgia and we treated him well.” -- coach Mark Richt

DeAndre Johnson, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 84 defensive tackle
This season: The youngest defensive lineman on the roster, Johnson needs to have a productive offseason in order to crack a veteran-heavy rotation next season, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a low-pad-level player, just a young guy that's got to build up and get more experience and get comfortable with the game. … I think he'll be able to play the 3-technique as he has to learn the game and progress. For his size, he's pretty shifty, so I think he'll be all right.” -- Mayes

Kennar Johnson, Jr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 4 safety
This season: Injuries slowed Johnson's development early in the season and the coaches opted to redshirt him instead of utilizing another inexperienced player in a youthful secondary.
Veteran's perspective: “KJ is an athlete. He's very fast. It just comes with being able to compete and learning the system. I think he was kind of put in a bad situation coming in playing behind Corey [Moore], playing behind Tray [Matthews], who was here in the spring, and playing behind Josh [Harvey-Clemons] who's been here for two years. … [Johnson and Fluker were] playing behind guys who had already been here that grasped the system very well. That kind of put them behind the 8-ball a little bit.” -- junior cornerback Damian Swann

Shaun McGee, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 43 defensive end
This season: Capable of playing inside or outside, McGee's development this offseason will establish which of the two spots he plays next fall according to Grantham.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a little bit shorter, but he's very strong. His legs are massive and he can run. He has great speed off the edge, so I see that being one of his best contributions to the team.” -- Drew

Reggie Wilkerson, Fr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 163 overall, No. 15 athlete
This season: Enrolled in January and was on track to contribute this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during summer workouts.
Veteran's perspective: “Reggie had a pretty good spring and he had a freak injury during the summer doing [pass skeleton drills] and we lost him. But I think he can be a big key and big part of this secondary with what we already have with Sheldon [Dawson], with Shaq and with [Brendan] Langley.” -- Swann

Defense rules in sloppy Georgia win

September, 21, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Sloppy play plagued his team -- particularly on special teams -- and drew boos from some waterlogged fans on a rainy afternoon, but Georgia coach Mark Richt found at least one satisfying aspect of Saturday's 45-21 win against North Texas.

Once Richt's team absolutely had to get serious, it stopped playing around. The Bulldogs (2-1) used a solid effort from their defense and a 24-0 run to close out the game after a North Texas (2-2) blocked punt resulted in a touchdown that made it 21-all early in the third quarter.

“We got ourselves into a fight,” Richt said. “It was tied, obviously, in the second half and it could've got real ugly, but it didn't. We continued to settle the game down by playing great defense and continued to move the ball and get some points, and we were able to finish the game without a lot of drama. It could've been very dramatic. It was very dramatic until we pulled away a little bit.”

No. 9 Georgia moved the ball seemingly at will Saturday, outgaining North Texas 641 yards -- fourth most in school history -- to 245. The Mean Green had barely exceeded 200 yards of total offense before their final drive against mostly reserves from Georgia. Yet thanks to a North Texas 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the blocked-punt score and an Aaron Murray interception in the Mean Green end zone, the outcome was in doubt far later into the afternoon than the pregame 32-point spread might have indicated.

However, Todd Grantham's defense delivered its first strong performance of the season, limiting North Texas to just one offensive touchdown a game after surrendering just six points in the second half of a win against South Carolina. The Bulldogs' run defense was particularly stout, allowing just seven yards on 25 attempts -- which tied for the fewest surrendered in any Football Bowl Subdivision game this year.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia freshman safety Tray Matthews' interception in the second half gave the Bulldogs all the momentum they needed to pull away.
“I thought them guys played their tails off,” Grantham said. “They hung in there, were put in some tough spots, showed mental toughness. Tray [Matthews] got a turnover. I'm proud of the way those guys played.”

In hindsight, freshman safety Matthews' interception -- the first of his career and first of the season for the Bulldogs -- might have been one of the biggest plays of the game. Georgia had just taken a 28-21 lead when North Texas had driven to the Bulldogs' 27. Matthews easily picked off a Derek Thompson pass -- he credited cornerback Damian Swann for re-routing a North Texas receiver who should have been in the vicinity -- at the Georgia 5 to halt a potential game-tying drive.

The Bulldogs then drove 95 yards in 12 plays, taking a 35-21 lead on Murray's 4-yard pass to Chris Conley, and North Texas didn't threaten Georgia's lead again.

“We were on the sideline, and I was like, 'Dang it's close, man,'” Matthews said. “I swear, [defensive line coach Chris Wilson] was like, 'Man, we need to create some turnovers.' It just stuck in my head that we need to create turnovers. He said we need an alpha dog on the defense, somebody that's going to lead the team and get the team pumped up. I was like, 'Man, I want that to be me, so I feel like I need to go out and make a play.'”

There were plenty of offensive highlights to go around.

Murray connected with wideout Reggie Davis on a 98-yard touchdown pass -- the longest pass play in school history, Murray's 100th career touchdown pass and the freshman's first career reception, no less -- and finished the day with 408 yards and three touchdown passes, plus a 1-yard rushing score.

Murray also passed David Greene to become Georgia's career total offense leader with 11,352 career yards. He is third in SEC history behind Florida's Tim Tebow (12,232) and Chris Leak (11,380).

“Really, it's a huge honor. Those are some studs right there, so just to be alongside those guys is a great feeling,” Murray said. “But most importantly it was a great win today. The team played great. We had some rough patches, but I really loved the way we were able to fight through it.”

Records and special-teams mishaps aside, the big story in Saturday's win was that Georgia's defense provided its first competent outing of the season. North Texas had just two offensive plays that covered 20 yards or more, failed to move the ball on the ground and saw its quarterbacks repeatedly hammered by oncoming Georgia rushers.

“Every time [Thompson] threw it away, I decided next time I was going to hit him even harder,” said outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who had two of the Bulldogs' 10 tackles for negative yardage. “Every time we hit him, two or three times he said, 'Oh [no],' because he was scared at times. But when you get hit that many times, I would be too.”

After surrendering an average of 460.5 yards per game against Clemson and South Carolina to open the season -- and with LSU preparing to visit next Saturday -- this was exactly what Grantham's defense needed, even if the final score was closer than one might have expected beforehand.

“I feel like this is something that we really enjoyed,” Jenkins said. “It showed the younger guys and just showed the nation how we can play when we all click and what our defense is going to be like in the future.”

SEC lunchtime links

August, 6, 2013
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Now that he has fully recovered from a knee injury that wiped out most of last season, Alabama running back Jalston Fowler is ready to pick up where he left off last season.

Crimson Tide kicker Cade Foster talks about spending some time in the offseason with former NFL kicker Morten Andersen, the league's all-time leading scorer.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says the next four to five days are critical in the Tigers' quarterback battle.

Mammoth Mississippi State defensive tackle Nick James is learning how important technique is to having success in the SEC.

In the wake of Johnny Manziel's latest controversy, Ole Miss players and coach Hugh Freeze have mixed views on whether players should receive stipends.

Robert Nkemdiche is already practicing with the Rebels' first-team defense.

Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson has little patience for players who aren't getting the job done correctly.

LSU players voted to allow running back Jeremy Hill to re-join the team shortly after a judge decided not to send Hill to jail for violating his probation.

Texas A&M's hiring of the law firm that helped defend Auburn and Cam Newton in 2010 speaks volumes about the Aggies' game plan in dealing with the Manziel autograph situation.

Here's an Aggies season preview from GigEmNation.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones is making sure his players don't get bored or comfortable at practice.

Members of the Vols' secondary are tired of the critics and are ready to prove them wrong.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said the Gators' tight ends, who struggled in the spring, are making progress.

The Gators are also trying to develop depth at safety, which is why Muschamp isn't taking the easy way out and sticking Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins into the starting lineup.

South Carolina's former defensive coordinator first saw the potential in linebacker Cedrick Cooper. The Gamecocks' current defensive coordinator is just as enamored with him.

Arkansas began camp on Monday. The Razorbacks will have a new quarterback, and Brandon Allen says he's ready to take over for Tyler Wilson.
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.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsNew defensive line coach Chris Wilson isn't afraid to mix and match players such as defensive end Ray Drew to get the perfect fit.
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."
ATHENS, Ga. -- Last year, the Peach State produced the nation’s top two overall prospects in defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and Carl Lawson. The Georgia Bulldogs saw both leave the state and play in the SEC West. This year, Lorenzo Carter is the state’s top defensive prospect, yet Georgia trails Florida on Carter’s list of top schools. While Carter admits that he is not close to a decision, the thought of losing the talented defensive end to the Gators has Georgia fans worried. Five-star inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan is also giving the Bulldogs’ faithful fits with his talk of Ohio State.

UGA 7-on-7: What we learned 

June, 14, 2013
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The Georgia coaching staff hosted its third 7-on-7 tournament in the last eight days on Thursday, with teams from all over the Peach State competing for the coveted trophy that Mark Richt bestowed at the end of the day. Jefferson County (Ga.) High School won the tournament, beating Callaway (Ga.) High school in the final game. The staff used the competition to evaluate several prospects and to identify new targets.

[+] EnlargeTerry Godwin, Mark Richt
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comClass of 2015 athlete Terry Godwin said he felt right at home at UGA, which is an early favorite in the rising junior's recruitment.
Here are a few things we learned:

UGA making 2015 ATH feel at home

For the third year in a row, 2015 athlete Terry Godwin (Hoganville, Ga./Callaway) put on a show at the tournament. The 6-foot, 170-pound rising junior has grown accustomed to performing well in Athens, and both he and his mother said after leaving that the comfort level was very high at Georgia.

“I love the atmosphere and how the coaches treat us,” Godwin said. “We are like one big happy family. Coach Richt is like my father, Coach [John] Lilly is like my uncle, and coach [Todd] Grantham is like my other uncle.”

Godwin, who is up to 10 offers, plans to check out Ole Miss, Clemson and Tennessee this summer. He and his mother both hinted a decision could come soon, which could be good news for the Bulldogs.

“Georgia is at the top of my list right now,” Godwin said. “I hope to make a decision before my junior year or at least by midseason.”


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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt had no connection to the SEC when he became Georgia’s head coach in 2001, but he knew better than to let the same be said of his coaching staff. Nearly half of Richt’s first staff had SEC experience -- and Richt readily admits that was by design.

In defensive line coach Rodney Garner, he had not only a former All-SEC player and coach at Auburn and Tennessee, he had a well-connected recruiting coordinator who helped keep Richt’s first signing class intact.

In Neil Callaway, he hired a hard-nosed offensive line coach who played under Bear Bryant at Alabama and coached under Pat Dye at multiple stops including Auburn.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray and Mike Bobo
Paul Abell/US PresswireOffensive coordinator Mike Bobo (right) was one of many people Mark Richt has hired that had SEC ties.
In Mike Bobo, he added a young former Georgia quarterback whose father built a decades-long reputation as a football coach within the state.

And in Jon Fabris, he had a live wire who brought intensity to each practice after playing in the league at Ole Miss and coaching at multiple stops, including South Carolina.

Over the last 13 years, Richt has developed plenty of experience in the league, leading the Bulldogs to two SEC titles and five Eastern Division crowns. Throughout that time, however, the SEC presence has remained on his staff.

Bobo is the lone holdover from Richt’s first batch of hirings, but he now has company from another former Georgia player, running backs coach Bryan McClendon, and a number of other assistants who have played and coached in the league.

Offensive line coach Will Friend was an All-SEC performer at Alabama and once served as a UGA graduate assistant under Richt. New defensive line coach Chris Wilson came to Georgia in the offseason after a stint as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. And while he never coached in the SEC prior to becoming the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2010, Todd Grantham worked under the league’s current kingpin, Nick Saban, as an assistant at Michigan State.

In other words, it isn’t necessary to hire a head coach with SEC ties for the coaching staff to still have the league’s distinct flavor. Richt was an up-and-coming Florida State coordinator who ran a high-scoring finesse offense when he accepted the Georgia job and yet his collection of assistants included tough coaches who cut their teeth in the SEC, helping mold differing philosophies into a winning combination.

Few programs have won more consistently than Georgia since Richt took over as the Bulldogs’ head coach, so previous SEC experience might be slightly overrated as a predictor of future success in the league. Richt’s tenure might never have gotten off the ground, however, if he hadn’t initially hired some coaches who understood the SEC’s physical demands and who already developed key recruiting contacts within the state and region.

Multiple philosophical changes that Richt instituted played some part in Georgia’s sustained success, but his tendency to hire coaches who already have a lay of the land within the nation’s most competitive football conference has been one of the most important stabilizing factors of his tenure.

Spring cleaning: Ray Drew 

April, 30, 2013
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Editor's note: Over the next couple of weeks, we'll clean out our notebook from Georgia's spring practice to tell the stories we didn't get to before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. Previously we featured fullback Quayvon Hicks and tight end Jay Rome. Today we recap a conversation with defensive end Ray Drew from a few days before the G-Day game.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Ray Drew decided before spring practice to stop worrying so much about what everybody else thinks, and the junior defensive end believes that new approach made a world of difference.


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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:


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Inside the DawgHouse 

April, 26, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- This year Tax Day marked the first day of the spring evaluation period which, so far, has turned out well for a number of prospects who now have verbal offers from the University of Georgia. The Georgia coaches also looked into a few other prospects who could eventually pick up an offer from the Bulldogs.


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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 week in review: Scrimmaging again 

March, 30, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- With G-Day just one week away, Georgia’s football team will return to Sanford Stadium this morning for its second spring scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew and the defense dominated Georgia's first scrimmage, though QB Aaron Murray didn't play.
The Bulldogs’ regrouping defense won the day in the first scrimmage of spring practice, which they staged on Tuesday in extremely windy conditions -- and without starting quarterback Aaron Murray in attendance.

The state of the defense continues to be the most intriguing storyline this spring. We took a closer look at two position groups, the defensive line under new position coach Chris Wilson and the inside linebackers, earlier this week.

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