With summer’s end fast approaching, Georgia's football team finds its offensive and defensive units on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Bulldogs offense retains 10 starters from last season and should see few changes in the coming weeks. The defense, however, has several new names that could wind up in a multitude of spots on the field.
“We’ve got roughly 17 new faces on our roster from last year, and we want to do a good job of evaluating those guys early,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said on Wednesday.
Of those 17 new defensive players, 15 are freshmen and seven were early enrollees that participated in spring practice and competed in the G-Day Game. Many of those players could be relied upon early and often by Georgia, and the coaching staff expects all of them to arrive at camp acquainted with the offense.
“We’re going to expect [the freshmen] to know at least the language, to understand what we’re trying to get done because they’re going to be competing for jobs. There are jobs open,” Grantham said.
Perhaps more important than the freshmen, however, will be players such as sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins and junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera, both of whom look to take over for a pair of first-round NFL draft picks in Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree.
Jenkins impressed enough late last season to secure a starting spot at linebacker, and he made the most of that opportunity by recording 31 tackles and five sacks in just six starts. With the role of primary pass-rusher now ripe for the taking, Grantham said he sees no reason why Jenkins can’t become a double-digit sack man for the Bulldogs.
“I think the last three years that position has had double-digit sacks going back to Justin [Houston],” he said. “The better he does things from a run standpoint, from a setting the edge standpoint, that allows him to become the double-digit guy that you’re thinking of.”
As for Herrera, who started nine games at inside linebacker in 2012, many see the College Park native becoming one of the more vocal players in the locker room this season.
“I think Amarlo’s a guy that has really tried to take a leadership role with our team. He’s done a good job not only being a hard worker for himself, but kind of being a guy that demanded that the other guys around him work to win the SEC East and get back into Atlanta,” Grantham said.
Of course, the biggest task facing the Bulldogs in fall camp looks to be evaluating what has become a very murky situation in the secondary, especially with sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended for the Clemson game following a well-chronicled incident with marijuana.
Corey Moore, Connor Norman and JUCO transfer Shaquille Fluker are all being considered at the back end alongside true freshman Tray Matthews.
“We’re going to evaluate all those guys at the safety position,” Grantham said.
Georgia’s defensive line has its share of lingering questions leading up to the season opener, as well. The loss of the 350-pound John Jenkins has left a massive hole at nose tackle both literally and figuratively.
His potential replacement, the more agile 290-pound junior Mike Thornton, would have quite the pair of shoes to fill, and it could lead to some changes in how exactly the Bulldogs plan to attack offenses in 2013. However, Grantham also didn’t rule out the possibility of 335-pound redshirt freshman Johnathan Taylor seeing time at the nose.
“Mike [Thornton] is a guy [whose] skill set is his initial quickness, his ability to get into blocks, some of his change in direction. Guys like that can be a change of pace guy for you,” he said. “You have to have the flexibility up front to move guys around based upon the offense you’re facing and how guys are playing. Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew are guys we thought did great in the spring [at defensive end]. If those guys continue to flourish there, that doesn’t mean that big Jonathan Taylor couldn’t play inside.”
Players officially report to practice on July 30. Georgia opens the season against Clemson on Aug. 31 at 8 p.m.