The pieces are in place at defensive end, but as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham indicated recently, expect players to do a lot of shifting around at the position this fall.
"We've got to continue working those guys at different combinations to get our best guys on the field all the time, meaning a guy may be a dual player. He may have to play nose and end so when we start ranking our guys 1-thorugh-6, if 1-through-3 is out, the fourth guy we've got to get into the game," Grantham said recently. "That's what we're going through now, mixing and matching guys to find out the best combinations because ultimately you've got to have guys up there who are physical, will knock guys back and challenge the line of scrimmage the way we want to play. That's been an ongoing challenge right now."
Barring injury, Grantham should have enough bodies to rotate players like he hopes to do.
At the conclusion off spring, sophomore Abry Jones appeared to have sewn up the starting job at left end, with senior Demarcus Dobbs at right.
Returnees Brandon Wood, Derrick Lott, and Kiante Tripp will figure into the rotation, and don't rule out DeAngelo Tyson and Kwame Geathers, who Grantham said from time to time will slide over from nose.
True freshmen Garrison Smith and Mike Thornton should also get their opportunities in Grantham's 3-4 scheme.
"To me it's all about habit. You are the way you practice. Players have developed habits and when you come into a situation like this, we're working to define our habits, what we want, the way we want you to play and sometimes there's an adjusting of a person's habitual traits," Grantham said at the end of spring drills. "That's kind of what we're going through with some people. But the players have responded, they're trying, but it's like anything else when you've been doing something a certain way for a while, it takes time to change. There has been change, there has been improvement but we still have to improve our consistency and what we're doing."
93 Abry Jones 6-3 290 Sophomore
97 Brandon Wood 6-1, 286 Senior
85 Derrick Lott 6-4 295
56 Garrison Smith 6-3 275 Freshman
58 Demarcus Dobbs 6-2 274 Senior
75 Kiante Tripp 6-6 275 Senior
96 Mike Thornton 6-1 290 Freshman
What's the difference between the 2-gap 3-4 and the 1-gap 3-4 that Grantham will employ?
Grantham explained it like this: "Basically, when you're in a 2-gap, you're going to play the gap based upon the release of the blocker. So, if you lineup, say heavy on a guy slightly outside shade, you may have the inside half of the guy or the outside half of the guy based upon which way he goes. If he goes out, you play the outside half, if he goes in, you want to squeeze but you've got the inside half," Grantham said. "Theoretically, when you play 1-gap, you end up playing very similar; it's just you work on pressing guys down the line."
How much will Garrison Smith and Mike Thornton play as freshmen?
Although it's still a bit too early to tell yet, early indications are that both youngsters will get their chances for playing time. Much will depend on how quickly they adjust in preseason, but one thing both have going for them is their relative familiarity with the defense, especially Thornton, who played the 3-4 in high school. Although nose will likely be Thornton's eventual position, he's got the quickness to play at either of the end positions. Ditto for Smith - who like Thornton - could make an impact similar to the one Jones made as a freshman last fall.
Who is the most underrated of the Bulldogs' defensive ends?
The guess here is Dobbs. Although he's made a pair of memorable plays over the course of his career - a 78-yard interception return against Central Michigan and game-saving pick against Kentucky - Dobbs hasn't received as much positive ink as perhaps some might think. That said, it's safe to say Grantham would be feeling a bit antsy about the defensive end position without Dobbs back for his final year.
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