Georgia's new defensive coaches juggle depth chart

semerson@macon.comApril 1, 2014 

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker during Georgia football spring practice.

JOHN KELLEY — John Kelley / UGA Sports Communi

ATHENS, Ga. - Ray Drew is coming off his breakout season, tying for second on Georgia in sacks. That didn't save him from the itchy trigger finger of Georgia's new defensive staff.

Drew, the defensive end who will be a senior this fall, didn't have a good first week. So new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt dropped Drew from the first team. Then Drew had a good scrimmage on Saturday, and the coaches rewarded by moving him back up.

That is, back up only to second team.

"It's all about doing things we ask you to do, and full speed, and until we get it consistently hopefully I don't have to keep going through musical chairs," said Rocker, whose depth chart machinations have involved more than just Drew.

This is the flip side of the clean slate that Pruitt gave every Georgia player this spring: Not only do players in the doghouse get a fresh start, but players such as Drew have to prove themselves again.

So far Drew is the most notable player to get demoted, though there is plenty of time for the former five-star recruit to get back on the first team. He could be back there later this week for all anyone knows. The coaches are encouraging competition as much as they can this spring.

"Every week the plan has been up front that everybody gets an opportunity each week, and at the end of the week we scrimmage," Rocker said. "You produce, you stay. You don't produce, next. It's all about trying to get the right combination and to get guys to play with full-speed effort. And that's what I'm working on up front, is to play with effort."

The first team early in Tuesday's practice featured several surprising names: James DeLoach, who was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end this spring, and cornerback Devin Bowman. Those two players have started a combined one game over a total of five seasons between them.

Langley to safety

Another intriguing item early in Tuesday's practice was Brendan Langley working at safety. Langley had been the first-team cornerback early in spring, taking advantage of a fresh start after being buried on the depth chart the latter half of his freshman seasons.

It's not clear yet whether it was just an experiment or could be permanent. Pruitt, who also coaches the secondary, was not able to attend media interviews because of recruiting obligations, according to a team spokesman.

Ekeler seeking depth

One spot that has been pretty stable thus far is inside linebacker. Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, the team's top two tackles last season, have remained on first team.

But Mike Ekeler, the new inside linebackers coach is giving a close look to their backups. That's partly because Pruitt has hinted at subbing more liberally (Herrera and Wilson hardly ever left the field last year), but also because Ekeler wants to be ready just in case.

"I've been in a situation before where you go into camp and you've got two returning starters, and you lose them both in camp," said Ekeler, who has coached the linebackers at Southern California, Indiana and Nebraska. "You're sitting there, game one, and you're playing with your twos. You've gotta coach your twos like they're your ones. And that's your approach."

Tim Kimbrough, a second-teamer last year as a freshman, was the first player Ekeler mentioned when asked about the backups. Reggie Carter, who was the top reserve last year as a freshman, has also done well. Ekeler also had nice things to say about Ryne Rankin (also a freshman last year) and Kosta Vavlas (a walk-on and special teams star.)

Paris Bostick, who sat out his freshman year with an injury, has yet to practice this spring after hyperextending his knee.

This and that

At outside linebacker, something strange would have to happen for Leonard Floyd or Jordan Jenkins not to be on the field, assistant coach Kevin Sherrer admitted. But Davin Ballamy, who redshirted last year as a freshman, has made strides as well.

"Davin will probably push for more playing time probably more than most of that group if he continues to develop like he's done (this spring)," Sherrer said. ...

Rocker said he was looking for consistency among his linemen, and thus far the nose tackles have done the best job of that. Mike Thornton, a fifth-year senior, has been the most consistent player, Rocker said, followed by Chris Mayes, who finished last year as the starting nose tackle.

Sterling Bailey, who entered spring as a first-team defensive end, was still working with the first team on Tuesday after continuing to produce on a fairly consistent basis.

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