ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football junior Julian Rochester will try to be “the biggest beast on the field” when the Bulldogs open the season on Sept. 1 against Austin Peay.
There are plenty of practices left in fall camp, however, and the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Rochester knows he must first claim his consistency to earn a starting role.
Can Rochester finally fulfill his potential?
“The standard is the standard, so you always have to have a sense of urgency,” Rochester said Monday in the Butts-Mehre Building, one of three defensive players coach Kirby Smart selected to meet with the media.
Rochester had just 22 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss last season, starting just one game as he has continued to try to live up to the 5-star rating he was assigned by PrepStar Magazine coming out of McEachern High School in the Atlanta suburb of Powder Springs.
Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker pointed out last Saturday that outgoing Georgia nose guard John Atkins was underrated, and the bar has been set high.
“Jon Atkins was a heck of a player,” Tucker said. “He was maybe somewhat unsung but when you go back and watch the self-scout and watch all the plays from last season and you see he did a lot for the team defense. He was a heck of a guy and you always want to be strong down the middle. The standard has been set inside.”
Tucker said the Bulldogs need more players to step up and play winning football on the interior defensive line this season.
That’s where Rochester’s beastly mentally comes into play; he’s looking to run with the advice Atkins gave him before he signed with the New England Patriots as a free agent.
“You play nose, you’ve got to be the biggest beast on the field,” Rochester said, asked what advice Atkins gave him. “You have to play with aggression and anger that no one else on the D-Line is playing with, so that’s what he taught me, you’ve got to hold it down.”
Rochester can’t do it alone, so the Bulldogs will be looking for senior Daquan Hawkins-Muckle to step up his performance while 6-foot-6, 320-pound freshman Jordan Davis learns on the job.
The nose guard position is one where Georgia might ultimately have some drop off from a season ago unless Rochester and Hawkins-Muckle can showed marked improvement from last season.
Smart said it best at SEC Media Days in Atlanta, where it came to the Bulldogs stepping up in areas where unproven players will be tested.
“We look at as potential versus effectiveness — what is our potential, which is dormant ability, or, our effectiveness, which is what we get out of our players,” Smart said. “This year will be measured by how effective we are tactically, mentally, physically. We have to do the best job we’ve ever done preparing this group for that.”