March 4, 2013

New blood excites Grantham

Unless you've been hiding under the proverbial rock, then you already know that Georgia has quite a few holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball.

But according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, there's nothing wrong with mixing in some new blood.

"Basically, we've got some young players, some energetic players, some athletic players who are excited to play," Grantham said. "It's not all that different than other years, except we've got some new guys that are going to be doing it and they're excited to show what they can do."

Like most fans, Grantham is eager to see how it plays out along what will be a revamped defensive line, where senior Garrison Smith is the lone starter back from a unit that is minus John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers and Cornelius Washington from a season ago.

But along with the return of redshirt freshman John Taylor, Ray Drew and Mike Thornton, Grantham sees a lot regarding the potential of the position, which this spring also features early enrollees John Atkins and Chris Mayes.

"John Atkins coming in mid-year will be invaluable. He's been in our off-season program up to now and been able to complete our mat drills. That's really helped his mental toughness," Grantham said. "They're all big, physical men that you need to win. They're going to play both end and nose and we'll mix and match those guys, along with Chris Mayes, Ray Drew, Garrison and those guys to find out what they can do."

Grantham said redshirt sophomore Sterling Bailey will also figure into the mix on the defensive line, which will welcome DeAndre Johnson and Toby Johnson in early June.

"Toby's a big, athletic guy that affects a game in the SEC the way you need to," Grantham said. "We'll have to wait and see what kind of progress he's made (with his ACL recovery), but the guys we have on campus now, I'm really pleased and impressed with the work they have done."

Grantham also sees signs that Drew, who was moved to defensive end last spring, is ready to take that next step in his development.

"Ray has shown up in our offseason workouts as a man," said Grantham, who also cited sophomore linebacker James DeLoach as someone to watch.

"We're going to play him at Sam linebacker and he gives us a physical presence there," said Grantham, who will also give sophomore Josh Dawson a long look at the position. "He's between 265 and 270 pounds. I think he's a guy we will be looking for to be a contributor next fall."

Early enrollees Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter will get a long look at inside linebacker along with returnees Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson.

"With Ryne Rankin and Reggie Carter here now it gives us a chance to really find out how those guys can help us moving forward to next year. Obviously, Amarlo has been playing there for two years, but Ramik is a guy we've always felt good about, so he's going to get a chance to show what he can do. I think the combination of Amarlo, Ramik and the two early signees will allow us to get a feel for exactly what those guys can handle and do going into the summer."

The Bulldogs are wasting no time throwing freshman Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger into the mix at safety.

The two early enrollees saw extensive action in Saturday's first day of spring drills, with Matthews actually getting some time with the first team.

"It's been good working with Tray," Grantham said. "We're going to throw him into the fire to get him going."

Grantham also had kind words for freshman cornerback Reggie Wilkerson, who along with sophomore Sheldon Dawson are showing they may be ready for serious PT come fall.

"All of these guys, the next (14) days of practice will be critical because we want to find out exactly what they can do and how they can help us," said Grantham. "We've got to see how they will fit with the guys we still have coming in, so this is a very important time."