January 14, 2013

Looking ahead: The DL

Last year, it was Georgia's offensive line which most ardent followers of the Bulldogs pinned as one of the biggest question marks going into the 2012 campaign.

With three starters moving on to the NFL, it was a legitimate question.

To its credit, those questions for the most part were answered as the Bulldogs went on to score the most point in the history of the program with 529.

Although the start of spring practice is still two months away, this year, it's the defensive line's turn.

The Bulldogs lose senior John Jenkins and junior Kwame Geathers who opted out early for the NFL, along with the underrated Abry Jones, who missed the second half of his senior campaign with an ankle injury suffered Week 7 against Kentucky.

Looking ahead, one of the biggest questions facing Georgia and new defensive line coach Chris Wilson is who's going to fill the void?

"I definitely think we've got enough of a talent base in there," head coach Mark Richt said. "(Chris) Mayes is obviously a nose, I think Michael (Thornton) is obviously a nose, but Jonathan (Taylor) has some versatility to be an end as well, but I think we'll have enough beef to get it done and enough ability."

In part one of a series taking a position-by-position look at the Bulldogs, we start with the defensive line by examining the players who will look to fill their roles and the recruits Georgia hopes to still bring into the fold.

Returning players

Garrison Smith (6-3, 297): A rising senior, Smith appeared in 14 games for Georgia making eight starts, including a 12-tackle performance in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech. Barring anything unforseen, Smith will take over the starting job at left end.

Ray Drew (6-3, 290): For the former five-star standout from Thomas County-Central, his time to make the kind of impact many expected from him is now. Drew was moved to defensive end last spring, where he struggled initially before finishing the season with 23 tackles, including eight against Georgia Tech. Drew figures to get the first look at right end, but he'll have to prove to Wilson and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham that he's ready to take that next step.

Mike Thornton (6-1, 302): Thornton begins his fourth year and although he doesn't possess the size and girth as Jenkins and Geathers, his knowledge of the system will ensure he gets his first real opportunity to make a contribution for the Bulldogs at nose.

Sterling Bailey (6-3, 295): Bailey has battled shoulder and ankle injuries over the course of his brief Bulldog career, but apparently is finally 100 percent. The former East Hall star did appear in three games last fall, but remains somewhat of a wild card due to the fact he has yet to be fully healthy.

Jonathan Taylor (6-4, 325): Taylor redshirted as a true freshman but from all indications made some important strides, so much so that both Grantham and Richt are counting on the former Jenkins County standout to compete for significant playing time next fall. His future is bright.

Early Enrollees

John Atkins (6-4, 310): Atkins has excellent footwork and moves well laterally. He has the big body and strength to go through blocks, but he also has the quickness to get around them in pass rushing situations. He has the ability to turn his hips and run laterally, and that will make him effective against teams that try to run to the perimeter. If Georgia can get his leverage issues ironed out during spring practice, he could play a huge role up front from game one.

Chris Mayes (6-4, 330): Mayes has the ideal frame to play a one-technique or nose tackle at the college level. He has a huge, powerful base and a very wide build. Mayes is a very good athlete for a big man, and moves well enough laterally to play in nickel situations. As a pass rusher, his biggest strength is the bull rush and his ability to push the pocket. He will likely need to play serious snaps for the Bulldogs in his first year, so spring practice will be huge. The raw tools, however, are there.

Verbal Commitments

DeAndre Johnson (6-3, 310):Johnson has the big body that defensive line coaches love, but is raw in many respects and still has much to learn. That said, he's got plenty of potential and as he gets acclimated to the college game, he's expected to grow into the type of player who can help the Bulldogs on a number of levels. His future is bright.

Defensive line targets

Toby Johnson (6-4, 305): The four-star JUCO target experienced a set back with an ACL injury that has put his 2013 season in question, but Georgia has continued to go after him and is still considered one of the favorites for his services. Johnson recently met with new defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who was recruiting him to Mississippi State, and reportedly liked what he had to say.

Montravius Adams (6-3, 330): The five-star defensive tackle is one of the Southeast's top targets and all the big guns are vying for his services. Georgia and Clemson are thought to be the two leaders for his services, but Alabama, Auburn and Florida aren't giving up and this one is expected to come down to the wire. Adams has the frame defensive coaches love, excellent footwork with the ability top defend both the run and the pass.

Jake Rowe contributed to this report.

That's something Fox said Georgia obviously did not do.

"Our defense failed us," Fox said. "It's a disappointing loss."