Names to watch on defense: Bailey, Thornton and Matthews

semerson@macon.comMarch 19, 2013 

Todd Grantham talks about his young defense, and who is standing out so far:

Bailey standing out

Defensive end Sterling Bailey may be the new name on defense to watch, as he drew praise from both his position coach and coordinator.

"The guy who's really been standing out to me quite a bit is Sterling Bailey," new defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. "I've really been impressed with the progress that he's made."

And it bears noting that Wilson brought up Bailey after being asked which nose tackles were standing out to him. That doesn't mean Bailey is moving from defensive end, but it does show how much Wilson wanted to praise Bailey's performance thus far.

Grantham said Tuesday's practice was the best that Bailey has had in pads.

"He controlled the team run-stuff (drill). I was really glad to see that," Grantham said.

Bailey and Ray Drew have been the main competitors to start at end opposite Garrison Smith. Bailey may have started camp a bit behind Drew, but the two basically split time on first time on Tuesday, according to Wilson.

And the first-teamer at nose tackle may be a bit of a surprise: Mike Thornton.

When Wilson was asked who was emerging so far, the first player he mentioned was Thornton, who is the smallest (6-foot-1, 302 pounds) of the many new options at nose tackle.

"Mike Thornton has really been a pleasant surprise," Wilson said. "Obviously he's an older guy, but hasn't had a lot of plays, made a lot of plays on tape. But he's really playing well, and I'm excited about the progress that he's making."

That doesn't mean Thornton has a clear lead at nose tackle: Wilson merely said Thornton was earning a chance to be "a contributor." The plan at nose tackle is to play multiple guys, so right now Thornton is giving himself a chance to be part of that rotation.

Wilson said another nose tackle, junior college transfer Chris Mayes, is "coming along." But Wilson added that Mayes has to "make a push" the rest of spring practice.

Grantham on Harvey-Clemons, Matthews

The requisite Josh Harvey-Clemons update: Grantham didn't appear to want to delve too much into it, perhaps tired of the positional debate. His answer to the Harvey-Clemons question on Tuesday was quick and concise.

"He's gonna play a lot of spots. He's gonna be one of the 11," he said.

Well then.

But Grantham was much more loquacious about another contender to start at safety: Tray Matthews, the early enrollee. In the past Grantham has seemed reluctant to start a true freshman, especially right away, but it looks like Matthews is getting every chance.

"We've thrown a lot at him, on purpose," Grantham said. "I want to see what guys can handle."

So it's foreseeable that a true freshman could be out there at safety against Clemson?

"Sure," Grantham said. "I see it. Don't you?"

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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