“We all play everything,” Dawson said. “Everything coach Rocker does is about cross-training. I could play nose, tackle, end, doesn’t matter. We’ve got to learn every position. Your job description could change on any play. Sometimes with hurry-up (offenses) you won’t have time to move to the other side. So we all have to know how to play every position.”
Georgia lost one player off last season’s starting defensive line, and he was a good one: tackle/end Garrison Smith. But whether it’s the presence of Rocker or Pruitt, the Bulldogs have gone with anything but the status quo up front.
In fact, the changeover of defensive staff seems to have elevated the status of several players. Fifth-year senior Mike Thornton has gotten the majority of the work with the No. 1 unit at nose guard. Converted outside linebacker James DeLoach seems entrenched at one of the ends. The same with Sterling Bailey on the other side of the line.
John Atkins, Ray Drew and Toby Johnson continually run in and out. Nine defensive linemen are working in Rocker’s group, and all likely will play against Clemson in the opener Aug. 30.
“We think it’s great for us to not have any headline guys,” said Thornton, who’s playing for his third position coach in three years. “Sometimes guys like that get a big head, and they don’t play as well as they talk. … I’m working every day to hold my position down. Everybody in the room is playing great, and we’re all competitive and we’re all working for that spot.”
Bailey is as close to a leader as you’ll find in the group. He started eight games last season and led the Bulldogs with eight tackles in the first scrimmage of the preseason.
“We don’t really see anybody as leaders or anything like that,” Bailey said. “We just grind together and push each other and try to make each other better. Coach Rocker says everyday is an interview. You have to go out there interview for the position. Nobody’s set.”
Coach Mark Richt said he likes the way they’re being coached and responding to that coaching.
“I think there’s a lot of good fundamental teaching going on,” Richt said. “I think there’s a lot of … holding these guys accountable and coaching them hard. They’re responding well, and I think we’re moving in a real good direction.”
At least one person wasn’t afraid to brag about what he’s seeing from the defensive line.
“What coach Rocker is doing with the D-line and some of the OLBs, he’s coaching us in a way that is hard to put into words,” junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins told reporters over the weekend. “But the defensive front is nasty. They don’t take anything.”