Georgia’s defensive line will be in great shape with Trenton Thompson back to lead it. And if all goes well for Thompson in 2017, he could find himself in a position to choose whether to return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.
It hasn’t been easy for Thompson, of course. Thompson endured an offseason shoulder surgery and subsequent medical episode that kept him from participating with his teammates during spring practice. Forced to withdraw from the spring semester, Thompson is set to enroll in summer school and should be back on the football field in the fall.
In Thompson’s absence, other young players were able to see additional reps with hopes of taking that next step in their development. Not one defensive lineman from the 2016 season graduated or entered the NFL draft, making this year’s group one of the program’s most experienced.
The only difference taking place from 2016 to 2017 is that the position coach has changed. Head coach Kirby Smart decided to fire Tracy Rocker and bring in Tray Scott to be his replacement. While it was tough for the defensive linemen who admired Rocker, the group has taken a liking to Scott.
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At least during the spring drills reporters were allowed to see, it was evident Scott has a different vocal approach with his players. But Scott, like Rocker, is very active and hands-on when it comes to demonstrating the proper techniques.
Coming out of the spring, here is a look at where the defensive line stands.
Post-spring depth chart
Defensive tackle: Thompson, Julian Rochester, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, Tyler Clark
Nose tackle: John Atkins, Hawkins-Muckle,
Defensive end: Jonathan Ledbetter, David Marshall, Michail Carter, Justin Young
Of Georgia’s defensive linemen, Ledbetter created the biggest buzz as someone who could wind up playing a much bigger role in 2017. While Ledbetter’s weight didn’t change, the distribution of it did. Much more defined in his upper body, Ledbetter said after the G-Day spring game that his hands were a lot stronger and that he is now a more explosive defensive lineman.
Ledbetter missed six games to start the 2016 season due to two alcohol-related arrests but came on strong toward the end of the year. With a full offseason and summer to prepare for the 2017 campaign, Ledbetter could be a difference-maker for the Bulldogs.
Atkins is someone else who has made significant changes to his body. Atkins is much more toned at 308 pounds and appears to be in the best shape of his career.
Across the board, Georgia returns a great deal of experience along the defensive line. Hawkins-Muckle can play multiple positions effectively. Clark and Marshall stood out at times as freshmen in 2016. Rochester’s snaps increased to where he became a key contributor. Young filled in admirably against Tennessee and offers a quicker pass-rushing threat out of a three-point stance.
Given the experience that returns from this crew, Georgia’s defensive line figures to be a strength this coming season.
Those on the way
With Georgia already rotating nine defensive linemen, the Bulldogs only signed two in this year’s class.
Those players are defensive end Malik Herring and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. Herring was a pass-rushing power at Mary Persons, getting after the quarterback quite a bit and providing a strong presence in the run game. Wyatt, at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, will add yet another massive body along the interior.
Given the fact that Georgia rotated so many linemen a year ago, it would not be a surprise if both players see the field as true freshmen.
Georgia’s defensive line should be in a position to control the line of scrimmage in most games the Bulldogs play this season. Sure, that’s a lofty thing to state four months away from the first game. But the talent is there for the Bulldogs to do well up front on the defensive side of the ball.
As long as its key linemen stay healthy, Georgia should be in a big year along its defensive line.