- David Ching, SEC reporter
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ATHENS, Ga. -- An influx of outside linebacker talent that will arrive at Georgia this summer is making it possible for Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to experiment with some of the players who are already on campus.
Exactly how much did the addition of talented prospects like Jordan Jenkins and Josh Harvey-Clemons affect Grantham's decision to test outside linebackers Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew at defensive end during spring practice?
"A lot," Grantham said, "because I kind of have an idea of what those guys can do and their skill set, and also what Ray and Cornelius can do. By making that transition, it allowed us to give us more flexibility. The big thing you've got to have is flexibility while you're on defense, because like I've said, it's always about getting your next best guy in the game.
"I think that those guys being as dynamic as they are and I think the versatility of a Ray and a Cornelius allow us to do some good things."
Grantham informed the newcomers of those plans when they were recruits, telling Jenkins that coaches plan to use his pass-rushing ability in a Jarvis Jones-like role at weakside linebacker, while also emphasizing that the versatile Harvey-Clemons would be used at strongside linebacker to best take advantage of his coverage skills .
The coach believes the freshmen have the potential to contribute immediately, which allowed him to move natural pass-rushers Washington and Drew to end, where they can beef up the Bulldogs' penetration off the edge. Their progress in their new end/linebacker roles -- Grantham plans to utilize them in both spots based on matchups in the fall -- became one of the leading storylines of spring practice.
Washington, a rising senior, said his adaptation to the new role was not always smooth, but he was working at end with the first-team defense by the end of camp.
"It's a transition just like anything else because it's a new position," Washington said. "I'm not used to it, but that just takes time."
Meanwhile, Drew, a rising sophomore, said the technique he is learning at end would have made him nearly unstoppable had he possessed that knowledge while playing end in high school. As he continues to apply those lessons, he further embraces his shift to part-time end.
"I thought I was a good pass-rusher in high school, but there were some small things like flipping of my hips that could have sparked my sack numbers tremendously when I was in high school," he said. "It's just little things like that that I made improvements on and I can see a difference from switching over."
Jenkins and Harvey-Clemons might be the headliners of the group, but they are not alone among Georgia signees who have the potential to play either position. Leonard Floyd, Josh Dawson and James Deloach will also arrive as linebackers, but some of them could also make the transition to a dual role.
Grantham would be happy to shift additional hybrid linebacker/ends as needed, as he has never hesitated to move players around in order to exploit a favorable matchup.
"Defense is a game about athletes. The bigger, faster and stronger you are, the more you can win a one-on-one matchup," he said. "Generally what happens is [big, fast, strong] guys in high school tend to play those positions. They can grow into things. To me it's all about recruiting big, strong, physical, fast guys that can run and then, as their bodies take off and go, you kind of filter them in where you need them."
Dawson, Deloach and Floyd will get their shots to contribute early as well, which is part of the reason Grantham and the defensive coaches experimented with so many lineup combinations during the second half of Saturday's G-Day game. They wanted to give the players already on the roster one final chance to make an impression before the newcomers arrive for preseason practice.
Grantham has a general idea of where the newcomers might fit best once they join the competition, but keeping in mind his general attitude about how to best deploy personnel against particular matchups, he doesn't want to force the incoming freshmen into particular roles just yet.
"I know they're all hybrid-type guys," Grantham said. "We'll find ways to utilize them because we've got a lot of different personnel groups."
This summer's influx of new freshmen, including ILB Leonard Floyd, will only bolster Todd Grantham's masterful orchestration of carefully moving parts in the UGA defense.