The transition from the familiar ways of Rodney Garner to a new approach under Chris Wilson is about complete for Georgia‚Äôs defensive linemen seven months after the position coach came aboard.
‚ÄúAll the guys are comfortable with him now,‚Äù redshirt junior nose guard Mike Thornton said. ‚ÄúWhen he first got here we were all like, ‚ÄòUh, we kind of like the Coach G way.‚Äô He‚Äôs done a great job as far as coming in and grabbing our attention and actually showing us his knowledge and applying it. We‚Äôve been using it every day and I feel like that‚Äôs only going to make us a better defensive line.‚Äù
The ‚ÄúCoach G way‚Äù was tough love that was viewed by most as serving the Bulldogs well for 15 years before Garner left for Auburn, his alma mater, last December.
Wilson was hired from Mississippi State, where he was defensive coordinator the past two seasons and coached the defensive line for three.
‚ÄúThe biggest thing is I have a relationship more with the guys than we had early,‚Äù Wilson said. ‚ÄúWe coach them hard, but we care about them. You kind of know how each guy responds, so that‚Äôs really been a blessing.‚Äù
Wilson was the defensive play-caller at Mississippi State through the regular season.
‚ÄúChris has a great passion for the game and is a great teacher,‚Äù Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said last month. ‚ÄúReally, he makes a positive impact on those young men‚Äôs lives that‚Äôs he‚Äôs going to affect. Both he and his family are going to take them as part of their family and help their development.‚Äù
Junior college transfer defensive end Toby Johnson called Wilson ‚Äúone of the toughest guys I‚Äôve ever been around.‚Äù
Players say Wilson demands that his linemen do things properly, and in the words of end Sterling Bailey, give ‚Äúrelentless effort.‚Äù And if they don‚Äôt do it exactly right, at least do it playing hard.
‚ÄúJust open up a can of it and get after it,‚Äù Wilson said.
‚ÄúTechnique and effort,‚Äù Thornton said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs all he ever talks about is technique and effort, technique and effort. Everything else will come in play, but if you can play fast, play hard and have great technique and fundamentals, then at the end of the day you‚Äôll be fine.‚Äù
Said defensive end Ray Drew: ‚ÄúEffort is what you call a non-negotiable in his room.‚Äù
Spring talk of using a deep rotation on the defensive line has carried over into the preseason.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs coach Wilson‚Äôs goal just to have us fresh so we won‚Äôt have to take 100 snaps a game,‚Äù said senior defensive end Garrison Smith.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he wanted to rely on rotating on the defensive line before this season.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve always been at that conclusion,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôve also got to have guys that you trust, too, so it‚Äôs two-fold. You‚Äôre not going to put a guy in the game that you don‚Äôt feel is ready. You‚Äôve got to say how many available guys do you have? I control that. That‚Äôs me. I do that. Then the coach is going to do what we decide as a staff. My philosophy is you play a lot of guys, but you‚Äôve got to have guys you feel you can depend upon to do that.‚Äù
Grantham said the defensive staff talks about a plan for playing guys during the week before a game. That could be that a player gets 30 snaps a game, or another will be in on first and second downs and yet another will go in on third down.
The actual substitutions are made on gamedays by the defensive line coach.
‚ÄúWe have a plan but he executes that plan. That‚Äôs one of his job descriptions,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúTo me, that‚Äôs a game within the game. You‚Äôve got to mix and match. ‚Ä¶ If you micromanage, you‚Äôre hurting your team, you hurt your unit in more than just that area. When I did it [most recently as line coach with the Dallas Cowboys], that was a part of the game and you‚Äôve got to manage.‚Äù
Wilson said Saturday he would be comfortable using up to seven players in a game.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not going to line up just three guys up front and play,‚Äù head coach Mark Richt said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to roll ‚Äôem.‚Äù
Georgia lost mammoth nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers to the NFL. Richt said the top players so far on the defensive line have been Smith, Bailey, Thornton, Johnson and, before he sustained a concussion, Chris Mayes.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got some big guys in John Taylor and John Atkins,‚Äù center David Andrews said, ‚Äúbut no one like Kwame and John, but we‚Äôve got a lot of speed up front, a lot of quick guys and a lot of still strong guys for being big guys but not as towering as John and Kwame, but they‚Äôve still got a lot of strength, but very explosive. I think that‚Äôs a dangerous combo.‚Äù
Taylor, a redshirt freshman, made noise in the spring. Now Johnson is creating some buzz with his athleticism for his 6-foot-4, 312-pound frame.
Taylor, Johnson and Thornton can each play end and nose.
‚ÄúEvery day we‚Äôre rotating different guys in different packages,‚Äù Thornton said. ‚ÄúWe definitely have a lot of depth this year, more than I feel like we‚Äôve had since my freshmen year.‚Äù