ATHENS — Tracy Rocker couldn’t help but let out a scoffing laugh when asked if he was ready to name his top three or four defensive linemen for the coming season.
“Starters? Nah, man,” the Bulldogs’ second-year coach said. “I’m just trying to get them ready for practice.”
Of course, that’s somewhat exaggerated. After three scrimmages and a month’s worth of practices, Rocker has a good idea who is going to be taking snaps when Georgia tees it up against Louisiana-Monroe in a week. He just can’t be how sure they’ll perform.
“We’ve got four seniors there,” he said in reference to Sterling Bailey, Josh Dawson, James DeLoach and Chris Mayes. “So we hoping those guys can be solid for us there and hope a guy like John Atkins can come on for us and be a solid contributor there. After that, it’s just the young and the restless behind them. So we’re just hoping the old ones keep getting better and John Atkins and the young ones keep improving.”
Notably missing from Rocker’s run-down was a rather notable freshman. Five-star prospect Trent Thompson was recruited to Georgia with the idea he would be able to step in and contribute immediately in an area of great need. Rocker didn’t say he wouldn’t. He didn’t say he could, either.
“Trent has been working hard,” Rocker said of the 6-foot-4, 317-pound tackle from Albany. “He’s had some ups and downs. that’s like any other typical freshman. But the thing is he still comes to work everyday to attack it. He has a positive attitude about it. Has it been tough? Yeah, it’s been tough for him. But that’s part of the process.”
Outside of Thompson, there does not appear to be any budding stars ready to burst onto the scene. Bailey, Dawson and DeLoach are all converted outside linebackers and somewhat small for the defensive line. Freshmen Michael Barnett and Jonathan Ledbetter have similar frames (Ledbetter has been sidelined with a minor knee issue). Atkins and Mayes have more typical SEC bodies but have yet to distinguish themselves on the field.
Head coach Mark Richt had a similar assessment as Rocker. Asked about the group on Thursday, he said they would have to handle their jobs “by committee.”
“There’s really, truly not a lot of depth there right now,” Richt said. “I don’t see three guys that are just going to play a much higher percentage than the other guys. We’re going to have to keep them as fresh as possible and rotate them as best we can. When people start going to no-huddle and don’t substitute, they’ve got to stay in there. But my guess is the first chance we get to make a sub we will once we get it rolling.”
Whoever gets the snaps, Rocker indicated they would be distributed between at least six to eight individuals.
“We’ll see what happens as we get closer to the game,” Rocker said. “You want to have someone start. But I think at some point … we’ll mold two people together and make them into one great player.”