ATHENS — It probably wasn’t set up this way, but it worked out well anyway for Georgia: Around 3 p.m. on signing day, five-star defensive lineman Derrick Brown confirmed that he was signing with Auburn, and not Georgia. A few minutes later, as already scheduled, reporters were invited to come speak to three of Georgia’s early enrollees: Among them Julian Rochester, another defensive lineman ranked in the top 100.
The unintended message: Don’t worry about the defensive line. Actually, head coach Kirby Smart had basically said that an hour earlier.
“I’m very pleased with where we are on the defensive line,” Smart said. “We’ve got some good young players and we’re trying to continue that.”
After making clear that building through the lines was his main goal, Smart’s inaugural signing class included just three offensive lineman – which he made clear was a disappointment – but four defensive linemen. David Marshall and Michail Carter committed to Georgia on signing day, joining longtime commits Rochester and Tyler Clark.
Get used to those names. They stand to be very involved, as Georgia lost four defensive linemen off last year’s team.
“This is actually the perfect time for me to come in, I think, and for those guys to come in and make a name for ourselves,” Rochester said. “As soon as possible.”
Georgia lost four seniors (Sterling Bailey, Chris Mayes, James DeLoach, Josh Dawson) who accounted for 25 starts and 123 tackles. And that doesn’t take into account just clogging up the middle, thanks to experience and knowing the defense.
The returning scholarship players combined for 11 starts (six by Trent Thompson, three by John Atkins, two by DaQuan Hawkins) and 53 tackles.
But there is depth, with eight returning scholarship players (Atkins, Thompson, Hawkins, Jonathan Ledbetter, Michael Barnett, Chauncey Rivers, Justin Young and Keyon Brown).
Tracy Rocker, the defensive line coach, used a rotation the past two years and figures to again.
Now add in the four freshman, three of whom were rated four-stars, with Marshall the exception.
“I feel like we’re going to bring a nastiness and aggressiveness to the line,” Rochester said. “Because as a freshman you’ve gottta prove yourself. You’ve gotta come out here and ball. We try to knock heads off. So I already see that in David, I see that in myself, and I really see that in Tyler Clark. Because I really feel like we’re gonna come out here and do what we do. Then with Michail Carter coming through, another big body, man I feel like us four freshman are ready to make an impact.”