ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia's deep group of defensive ends continues to shrink and Bulldogs assistant coaches are playing key roles in the defections.
Redshirt freshman Kiante Tripp said earlier this week that a key factor in his switch from defensive end to offensive tackle was encouragement from offensive line coach Stacy Searels.
Likewise, Jarius Wynn said similar persuasion from defensive line coach Rodney Garner helped convince him to switch from a pure defensive end to a defensive tackle who will also get some work at end.
"Coach Garner called and talked to me and asked me what I thought about it and I just went with my heart," said Wynn, who has been working predominantly at defensive tackle since Monday.
Wynn's ability as a pass rusher is the main reason behind the switch. Coach Mark Richt said Wynn could be a weapon on passing downs by playing inside rather than at end.
"If you can get a really good mismatch, you might do more damage as a three-technique than you would on the edge," Richt said. "We're just trying to get our best four pass rushers (in)."
It's not a completely new position for the Lincolnton, Ga., native. Wynn was an all-state defensive tackle at Lincoln County before switching to end at Georgia Military College.
He was expected to compete for a starting job when he arrived at Georgia in the spring and certainly would have received playing time at the position -- in fact, he's still getting work as a situational strongside end -- but he's happy to be in his new location.
"I like it. It's more hitting," he said.
Only Wednesday, Richt discussed how his preference would be for senior Chester Adams to play guard -- a position he manned for 11 games last year -- rather than the right tackle spot he has occupied for spring and preseason drills.
Upon further reflection, Richt backed away from that opinion after Thursday's practice.
"We're leaning a little more heavily toward Chester playing tackle," Richt said.
The reasoning for that is simple. Ability-wise, there may be more natural tackles than Adams on Georgia's roster, but none of them are game-tested. Trinton Sturdivant is the odds-on favorite to start at left tackle, while true freshman Clint Boling and redshirt freshman Kiante Tripp, who just switched from defensive line to offensive line this week, are getting looks at right tackle.
But any of those combinations would leave Georgia with freshmen playing both tackle spots -- a risky proposition for Richt and his staff.
"We need to have some maturity out there and we'd feel a little uncomfortable having two freshmen playing tackle," Richt said.
Adams returned from a sprained ankle on Wednesday after missing nearly a week of practice. While Adams was out, Boling -- not junior college transfer Vince Vance -- lined up in Adams' right tackle spot.
Richt said Vance likely would have worked more at right tackle had Adams' injury not been temporary. The coaches didn't want to move Vance for a week and throw him off in the competition with Sturdivant at left tackle.
"If we thought Chester's injury was long-term, we probably would've done it right away," Richt said. "But if we're figuring Chester'll be back in a few days, if you throw him over there for a while, get him confused at right tackle and then throw him back at left tackle, it's tougher to compete."
Fresh and clean
Many of Georgia's freshmen were sporting new hairdos -- or rather "no-hair"dos -- on Thursday after the veterans put them through the team's traditional freshman hazing the day before.
Each year, the seniors initiate the youngsters into the team by giving them some of the worst haircuts ever witnessed. Once full heads of hair are left gapped, partially shaved and generally unpresentable by the time the upperclassmen are finished with the hair clippers.
Running back Thomas Brown was especially pleased with the haircut he had given walk-on Kalvin Daniels, butchering what had been shoulder-length dreadlocks to spotty chunks of hair around his head with a ponytail of sorts on top.
"It was beautiful," Brown bragged. "You had to see it."
Most of the freshmen opted to completely shave their heads after their initiation, and Brown said most did so with a good attitude -- knowing it's part of becoming a member of the team.
"Hey, that's part of the game. It's tradition," he said. "But for the most part, everybody's a good sport about it."
For the first time in the better part of a week, Georgia's injury situation stayed mostly the same on Thursday.
The stifling heat got to receiver A.J. Bryant and kept him out of full practice and in a green no-contact jersey, but player statuses were otherwise unchanged.
Safeties Reshad Jones and Antavious Coates (both with knee ailments) returned to the practice field and worked on the side in the early portion of practice, as did cornerback Bryan Evans (hamstring).
True freshman safety John Knox, who joined the team a few days into preseason practice after gaining his academic eligibility, watched practice in a green jersey and shorts.
"Knox is not in very good shape," Richt said. "I don't think it is any injury in particular."
Also practicing in green jerseys were tight end Tripp Chandler (ribs), cornerback Thomas Flowers (shoulder), receivers Mikey Henderson (hip) and Kris Durham (concussion) and offensive linemen Josh Davis (shoulder), Chris Little (wrist) and Tanner Strickland (foot).
Quick hits Among the starting positions that are still up for grabs are Georgia's starting cornerback spots. Flowers, Evans, Asher Allen and Prince Miller are in contention for the jobs, although Flowers' and Evans' injuries have muddied the waters a bit. Both are expected to be healthy well ahead of the Sept. 1 opener, meaning the decision could go down to the wire. "To me, it's still a 50-50 shot as to who's gonna start," Richt said. ... True freshman Aron White has been working in certain passing formations mostly as a tight end in recent practices. His coaches don't believe he has the size and strength to play tight end in a traditional sense, but his capability as a hybrid receiver-tight end might be enough for him to play as a freshman rather than redshirt. "He's a bubble guy for sure," Richt said. ... The team was about 30 minutes into Thursday's practice when a lightning strike within the vicinity sent the Bulldogs indoors. They returned to the field and finished a shortened practice after a delay of approximately 50 minutes. ... Georgia will hold its second scrimmage of the preseason today at 3:50 p.m. at Sanford Stadium.