Georgia is planning to dig deeper into using its backups on its defensive line in the post-Rodney Garner era.
So I asked Garner, the former Bulldogs D-line coach who was in Athens on Tuesday night to speak to the local Auburn club, about talk that Georgia should have subbed more last season.
Coach Mark Richt has said that the staff probably didn’t have enough of a comfort level beyond the frontline players.
“You’ve got to have guys that you know that you can count on in particular situations,” said Garner, who left after 15 years at Georgia for a similar position at Auburn, his alma mater. “I know fans they have one opinion, but they’re not there watching film every day, evaluating the guys and they don’t see all the preparation things that go in. I wish we had more guys that were prepared to rotate. I think another year under the belt with the maturity standpoint, I definitely think they will have a couple of more guys that are more seasoned to be able to do it.”
Garner mentioned that defensive end Ray Drew could be ready to become “grown and mature. He’s a kid with a lot of ability.” End Sterling Bailey and nose guard Mike Thornton also could come on, Garner said.
“Hopefully those guys will embrace their opportunity and be able to play significant roles,” Garner said.
Garner called new defensive line coach Chris Wilson a “great coach, great teacher, a great motivator.”
He likes the nucleus of guys Wilson has to work with, too.
“I think he has some really good talent,” Garner said. “I would think Garrison (Smith) being a senior, he would be the leader. He’s got to be the guy that sets the tone for them. But he’s got some really good young guys that are going to bring a lot of athleticism to the table. I know Chris and coach (Todd) Grantham will do a good job of having those guys ready.”
While Georgia was still in the hangover phase of its SEC championship game loss,
newly hired Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn phoned Garner about joining his staff and then flew to Athens to talk.
“To me it was shocking that he could fly in here and we could go out and meet for three hours and it not get out,” Garner told the crowd Tuesday. “Gus was a little nervous about us going out to eat in public. I was nervous about it, but the place we went to, we sat in the corner. Nobody knew who he was, nobody it seemed like they knew who I was. It was great. We were able to pull it off.”
They went out to a Mexican restaurant in the area that Garner’s wife picked out, but he couldn’t remember the name.
“The one up there by the Chick-fil-A,” Garner told the crowd.
Those in the audience told him the restaurant was probably `Dos Palmas.’
Garner wasn’t sure.
“That was the first time I ever met Gus Malzahn in my life,” he said. “And that was the first time I had ever been in that restaurant too.”
Garner said Malzahn had a “certain spirit about him that really reminded me of coach (Mark) Richt. He’s a man of high character, morals, and he’s passionate about Auburn.”
Garner said he didn’t know when he left the meeting if he would leave Georgia. Garner and his wife Kim, also an Auburn grad, prayed about the decision, he said.
“It was the right time,” said Garner, who was pulled to return to his alma mater.
So Garner sat down with Richt the next day and told him he was leaning towards going, but took a couple of days before finalizing the decision.
Garner said he thought Auburn signed the best defensive line class in the country with five-star recruits Montravius Adams (a Georgia target) and Carl Lawson and four-star prospects Elijah Daniel and Ben Bradley.
“I think they are four really talented guys,” Garner said. “Obviously they’ve got to grow and mature. I do think they have talent and I definitely think they will help Auburn inch closer to where we want to be.”
–Please follow me at Twitter.com/marc.weiszer