After a forgettable 2013 campaign, the Bulldogs look to rebound from a season where they surrendered the most points in school history. The secondary was the main culprit, giving up chunks of yardage on third-and-long like candy at a Homecoming parade. If the defense falls short this season, the fault could lie with the defensive line.
The starting nose is career backup Mike Thornton, who has seven tackles in four seasons. He is backed up by Chris Mayes, who looks to rotate into the mix often after seeing limited action last year. James DeLoach is slated to be a starter at the tackle position and he played in just five games last season.
Toby Johnson and Josh Dawson are two athletic players who saw some snaps last season, but 2014 will be their first foray into major playing time. However, all of these players are upperclassmen who have been waiting their turn and now the time has come. Maybe the years of practicing more than playing will pay off when the season starts.
As for the younger players, redshirt freshman John Atkins has no game experience and is still raw in terms of skills. The lone true freshman, Lamont Gaillard, looks to be headed for a redshirt. Redshirt sophomore Jonathan Taylor looked to be in the mix, but his recent felony arrest for aggravated assault ended his Bulldog career early. The loss of Taylor was unexpected and unwelcome news to an already depleted line.
Only Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew can be viewed as the old hands on deck. Drew, a rising senior, led the team with six sacks and made 43 tackles last season. Bailey, a rising junior, played in all 13 games and made 34 tackles from his defensive end position. Tracy Rocker and Jeremy Pruitt will lean on these players heavily to improve on these unsightly statistics: 25 rushing touchdowns were scored on Georgia last season and opponents averaged nearly 150 yards per game. This is not a defense that can sustain an elite season, regardless of Georgia’s offensive firepower.
Lucky for Georgia, Tajh Boyd is gone. Clemson will have a brand new quarterback under center and the game takes place in Athens. The experience of Drew and Bailey in these situations, along with a raucous mid-afternoon crowd, may rattle the Tigers into early mistakes and turnovers. The new guys can feed off this energy and make some plays to fortify their position as the new starters. The line will need to build confidence for the upcoming SEC grind and a big win over a major ACC program should do the trick.
Health and conditioning will be a major concern for the population-deficient defensive line, but the Dawgs have another month to iron out those details. They better respond in a big way because another 8-5 season will not be welcomed in Athens.