ATHENS — Chris Mayes promises he hasn’t been doing yoga or anything funky like that. Yet every time a Georgia coach or teammate discusses the senior defensive lineman, the conversation always turns to how much Mayes has improved his flexibility.
“I just took my stretching more seriously, I guess,” Mayes said with a laugh. “I’ve been doing a lot of stretching on my own time. I’m just trying to be better overall.”
Apparently it’s working. After playing in just eight games last season and starting none of them, the 6-foot-4, 323-pound Mayes is listed as the No. 1 noseguard heading into Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker mentioned earlier in preseason camp that Mayes’ improvement in the area of hip flexibility this year has made him a better football player. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt reiterated that observation Wednesday and credited the Bulldogs’ revamped strength and conditioning program for getting him there.
“We’re excited about what kind of offseason he had,” Pruitt said of Mayes. “He had a really good offseason. He (has gotten) where he’s a little bit more mobile. Since we’ve kind of changed our weight program a little bit, he’s not as tight in his hips. He’s able to come out of his hips better. He’s done real well for us in camp.”
Said Mayes: “Any area I feel like I can work on, I just try to improve on it. I’m always asking the coaches what they think I need to improve on and they tell me. They’ve been telling me I need to work on my flexibility.”
Fellow interior lineman John Atkins has also taken his coaches’ advice to heart. His marching orders were to drop weight, improve quickness and work on mental sharpness.
Apparently he was able to check all three boxes as he’s not only listed as the starting tackle, but also as Mayes’ primary backup at nose.
“John’s lost some weight, kind of changed his body a little bit,” Pruitt said of the 300-pounder. “The guys are playing with a little more body quickness, a little more twitch about them. So we’re excited about them. Now they’ve got to take it and put it on the field on a Saturday.”
Atkins, a redshirt sophomore from Thomson, played in 10 games last year, all as a backup. He enters this season with nine career tackles.
He said his improved play has as much to do with a better understanding of his defensive responsibilities as it does being a little lighter on the scales.
“Last year I don’t think I was ready,” he said. “I wasn’t mentally ready last year. And that’s something I had to build up over time. Coach Rocker told me, ‘I know you’re physically ready; get mentally ready.’ So I’ve been working on the mental part, and that’s what Coach Rocker wanted.”
Georgia will be leaning hard on the two veteran players because depth is an issue. Freshmen Trenton Thompson and DaQuan Hawkins are listed as primary backups, along with senior James DeLoach.
“I definitely feel like we’re going to do well,” Mayes said. “We just need the young guys to come along so they can help us. But they’re definitely improving each day and getting a feel for the game. They’re definitely going to get in the game and get a chance. They’ve just got to be confident and ready for when they’re name is called.”