Post-spring position analysis: Dogs counting on freshmen on D-line

Georgia is going to have to depend on highly-touted freshmen such as Michail Carter to contribute immediately on the defensive line in 2016.

ATHENS — Know what will make an SEC coach literally lick his chops? Tell him this about an upcoming opponent: “They’re having to play a lot of freshmen on the D-line.”

That’s what the opposition is beginning to hear about Georgia’s defensive line right about now. The Bulldogs have a little talent at the position, but they’re young overall and what little depth they have will have to be provided mostly by freshmen.

Georgia’s numbers simply were low from the start, and they have dwindled. Just this past week UGA was forced to dismiss freshman Chauncey Rivers after he violated the athletic department’s drug code for a third time in less than a year. Suspensions are going to keep two other players off the field for at least the first game.

That leaves two experienced players, a few up-and-comers and, you guessed it, freshmen, to fill the bill. Butch Jones just salivated a little.

“I was worried about it before; now I’m really worried about it,” coach Kirby Smart said of Georgia’s D-line depth Monday in Savannah. “We’ve got some kids coming in that are bigger kids and, to be honest, that’s where we’re lacking the most, is bigger kids. … Our concern is holding up at the point (of attack) with big people — Trent Thompson and people of that size, John Atkins. We’ve got to get some more depth, and we’re hoping those three guys coming in can help us there.”

The “three guy” to whom Smart refers are freshmen Michail Carter, Tyler Clark and Julian Rochester. Rochester (6-5, 327) was an early enrollee but is facing suspension due to a BB-gun incident earlier this spring. Carter (6-3, 317) and Clark (6-4, 309) arrive the first week of June with the rest of the incoming 2016 class.

You can bet defensive line coach Tracy Rocker will be right there to greet them when their feet first step onto campus ground. He’ll have to get them ready to play right away and there will be no time to waste.

Here’s how the defensive line breaks down:

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

  • Starters: John Atkins, RJr.; Trent Thompson, So.
  • Backups: DaQuan Hawkins, So.; Julian Rochester, Fr.
  • Others: Keyon Brown, RSo; Alex Essex, RSo.
  • On the way: Michail Carter, Fr.; Tyler Clark, Fr.
  • The skinny: Georgia actually has a chance to be very good with their No. 1 guys. While Atkins and Thompson are both technically noseguards, it’s likely that the Bulldogs will choose to play them together, with Atkins nose up on the center and Thompson as a 3-technique tackle. And both players have the ability to excel. But, again, the issue is depth, especially in this modern-day age of football where the offensive objective is to go as fast as possible to limit substitutions and tire out the defense. The Bulldogs like what they’ve seen from Hawkins, but both Brown (OLB) and Essex (OL) are recent converts to the position, so there’s uncertainty about their ability to compete. Carter, Clark and Rochester were all highly-touted recruits who eventually should excel. But how soon? Georgia will find out.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

  • Starters: Jonathan Ledbetter, So.; and/or Michael Barnett, So.
  • Backups: Justin Young, RFr.
  • Others: D’Andre Walker
  • On the way: Chauncey Manac, Fr.; David Marshall, Fr.
  • The skinny: Even though Georgia is a base 3-4 defense, it often lines up with four men on the line of scrimmage and, thus, two defensive ends. Usually, however, one of those is manned by an outside linebacker such as Lorenzo Carter, who moves up on the line. It’s a good thing because there are not many other players from which to choose. Ledbetter will miss the first game due to disciplinary suspension, leaving only Barnett and Young and the two freshmen to man the position. Barnett is coming off a knee sprain that kept him out most of the spring. Again, Manac and Marshall are 4-star prospects who were recruited to compete for immediate playing time. So they’re eager for the task, though both could also play outside linebacker, and in fact that’s where Manac is likely to begin. The Bulldogs may also have to look to reserve linebackers such as Walker and Shaun McGee to possibly give them some snaps.
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