April 2, 2012

A nose for improvement?

By now, even if you've been following Georgia football for just a short amount of time, you probably know that assistant Rodney Garner is not subject to whims of hyperbole when talking about his players on the defensive line.

On many occasions, Garner will shake his head, grumble something about pad level and mention how he hopes player Y and X can somehow find a way to be competitive once the season actually begins.

So, with this image as a background, imagine the surprise when Garner had mostly glowing reports to give on the progress of nose tackles Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins.

"John and Kwame are really coming on - really coming on," Garner said. "My biggest issue with them is I've just got to stay on them about fundamentals, and be hard on them about their steps, pad level, hand-placement - just the little things this spring. I don't care if they make a big TFL (tackle for loss) and blow everything up, I don't care. I'm going to coach what you did wrong because I don't want them to get complacent or get a sense of 'we're here.' They may not be quite there, but I'm very pleased with both."

For Geathers, it's the second straight spring in which the South Carolina native has opened some eyes.

Last year, Geathers was voted the team MVP for defense for the spring, and based on what Garner has seen, appears to be in the running for the award for a second straight year.

"Me and Jr. (Robert Geathers Jr.) was texting the other day," Garner said. "I told him Kwame was having a good spring. The light has started to come on and I told him I expect big things."

Of course, Geathers and Jenkins are going to need some help on Georgia's defensive line, which lost some depth late last week when Derrick Lott decided to transfer to receive more playing time.

His decision was somewhat unexpected, because earlier last week Garner commented on how he thought Lott was finally starting to make some progress of his own and could figure in for reps at left defensive end.

Obviously, that's no longer the case, meaning Garrison Smith, Ray Drew, Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones are the only four scholarship ends Garner has at his disposal until freshman Jonathon Taylor and John Atkins arrive this summer.

Drew and Washington - who will continue to play some outside linebacker - are obviously getting a lot of attention as they make the transition to playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

"They're showing they've got a lot to learn about pad level and hand placement, which as we all know is so critical," Garner said. "Really, he's got to be technicians to hold up. Ray, he's 270 pounds, but eventually Mother Nature - if she just continues to work with him - is going be a big guy. All he's got to do is to fill into those feet and he'll be 300-plus."

At 6-foot-5, Drew wears a size 17 shoe, the biggest on the Bulldog team.

"He's got to play with a wide power -base to keep from getting knocked around, bounced around and all that, but his attitude has been great," Garner said of Drew. "But he's eager to learn, but he's also playing end too, in nickel stuff, but he's smart enough where he can handle it. It's all about making the physical adjustment right now."

Don't forget about Mike Thornton, either.

"Mike just has the unfortunate thing to be playing behind Jenkins and Geathers, two of the biggest men in college football, probably two of the two biggest athletic big men in college football," Garner said. "But I think Thornton is improving; I think he definitely has a role here on this team. I think he has a future."

Although Garner toyed with him at end late last season, the former Stephenson star is now back strictly at nose.

"He did (practice at end), but length wise you really like those guys at end to have a little more length. He's a compact, quick, powerful guy," Garner said. "He' s not the nose that Coach Grantham would desire, but as a change-up guy, he's powerful and he's quick - I think he has a role."