Georgia’s offense will look quite familiar come August 31st when the Bulldogs take on Clemson, but the defense is another story. After losing defensive stars Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree to the NFL, as well as losing 7 other defensive starters, the Bulldogs have some, but not much, rebuilding to do.
Only two starters who played all 14 games last season return. Damian Swann and Garrison Smith bring experience and leadership to their roles, but two guys cannot do it all. “Competition” is one of the main words associated with Georgia’s defensive line this upcoming season. One of the main questions as the Bulldogs head into fall camp is whether Sterling Bailey or Ray Drew, both 2011 recruits, will join Smith as a starting defensive end.
Smith, who impressed last season, enters his senior year needing to take on a leadership role for the younger guys. In 2012, Smith made eight starts and 57 tackles as a junior. His strongest game was against Georgia Tech, during which he made 8 tackles, setting a career high. The year before, Smith had another strong game against the Yellow Jackets, recording a then career-high seven tackles and being named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week. Coming into this year, he is the second-leading returning tackler for the Bulldogs. Smith knows the dedication needed to beat improved Florida and South Carolina teams this season. One question remains: who will join him?
Even before heading into fall camp on Tuesday, Bailey and Drew have impressed new Defensive line coach Chris Wilson. Even Smith has expressed his belief that this year’s Georgia defense will consist of contributions from multiple guys, as opposed to having a few key players, like last season.
On paper, Drew looks somewhat similar to Smith, based on last season’s performance. As a sophomore, he appeared in 13 games, making a career-high 8 tackles against Georgia Tech, very much similar to Smith’s success against the same team. Drew, however, made only 23 tackles over the course of 2012, compared to Smith’s 57. Drew was overshadowed last season by Smith and former Georgia DE Cornelius Washington; however, Drew’s performance in the Bulldogs’ G-Day game, in which he made 4 tackles, gave coaches a chance to see his improvement.
With Washington now a DE for the Chicago Bears, the main question is whether Drew has the ability to gain the starting position himself. If not, he may have to share starting time with Bailey.
While Drew was a more familiar face on the field, Bailey, on the other hand, appeared in only 3 games last season, as a redshirt sophomore. In high school, Bailey was ranked by ESPN.com as the No. 16 DE prospect nationally. Drew looks to have more experience at the position; yet, Sterling’s performance in spring practice may have won him the starting job.
Heading into fall camp this week, only time will tell what the future holds for Georgia’s defensive line, particularly its defensive ends. With many questions revolving around much of the Bulldogs’ defensive line, the next few weeks will be crucial in determining what group faces Tajh Boyd and the Tigers in Death Valley.