Bailey, Johnson dueling for starting DE spot

Sterling Bailey wants to be the next man up with the spring he’s had at defensive end. 

Bailey, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive end from Gainesville, appeared in 12 games for the Bulldogs in 2013.

The East Hall High graduate started in nine of those games, finishing the season with 34 tackles and one sack. With the offseason defensive staff coaching changes, however, no player’s spot is safe as a new season approaches. 

“If you ain’t getting the job done, it’s the next man up, so everybody’s scared,” senior defensive end Toby Johnson said. “Everybody’s just flying around and trying to play hard as possible.”

Johnson is competing with Bailey for playing time, and he has been since he arrived in Athens last year.

The two players always just happen to end up battling for the same position. 

“They’ve got me and him at end right now, so when we was at three technique, we were both at three technique, so I’m looking it Sterling like, ‘Man, I’ve gotta beat him out (and) he’s gotta beat me out,’” Johnson said. 

That type of competition is just what Georgia had in mind when it hired first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Bailey said that’s what the team needs if it plans on making major improvements to its defense. 

“We all go out there competing with each other and we’re also pushing each other, and in the long run that’s just going to help us out as a team as a whole,” Bailey said. 

Bailey considers this spring to be productive to say the least, which is saying something considering he received the team’s True Grit Award at the end of the 2013 spring. The name of that award alone says enough about Bailey’s work ethic. 

That award simply isn’t the pinnacle for Bailey, though. 

“I want to be better than I was last year, really,” Bailey said. 

With the type of competition first-year defensive line coach Tracy Rocker is setting up, Bailey really has no choice but to get better if he wants to see consistent playing time in 2014.

“Coach Rocker ain’t playing. He ain’t playing about that,” Johnson said. “You’re going to come to compete (and) play hard every day. If not, it’s the next man up, so you’ve got to push each other and help each other get better every day.”

Bailey has quickly taken to Rocker’s challenge. 

“I’m really enjoying him, the coaching style (and) the level that he wants us to play at,” Bailey said. “It’s a high level, but I come out open-minded, coachable (and) try to achieve what he wants me to be.”

It’s safe to assume Rocker wants Bailey to play at a high level — maybe even the level Rocker coached with the Tennessee Titans. 

“It’s very cool because he’s teaching us what it’s going to be at the next level and he’s setting an expectation for us, and I’m out there enjoying it and I’m taking everything he has to say; taking it in and just using it,” Bailey said. 

As the conclusion of Georgia’s spring practice nears, Bailey has a few things he plans to work on before the team returns to Athens for fall camp: hand placement, footwork, pad level and weight.

Bailey said he played the 2013 season at a weight of about 270, he’s now in the 285-290 range. 

He is taking the challenges of being an elite Southeastern Conference defensive lineman head on. 

“They got me playing at the defensive end position and it’s a lot to learn, but I’m going in and giving it my all,” Bailey said. 

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