First-year Georgia assistant Tracy Rocker knows a headlining defensive lineman when he sees one.
That‚Äôs made easy because that‚Äôs what he use to be.
The former Auburn All-American and College Football Hall of Fame inductee says his unit doesn‚Äôt have the kind of name to scroll in the marquee, but adds that it‚Äôs not a requirement for success, either.
‚ÄúThere ain‚Äôt no headliner,‚Äù Rocker said. ‚ÄúWe ain‚Äôt done nothing yet. ‚Ä¶ A headliner? That ain‚Äôt gonna help you against Clemson. We‚Äôve got to play, so our goal is to go out here and play football, learn how to play football correctly and play with great effort and play as a unit.‚Äù
Defensive end Ray Drew was once a main attraction-type prospect pegged to be a future star. A consensus five-star recruit when he arrived at Georgia, Drew has answered to three different defensive line coaches in his time as a Bulldog. Now a senior, Drew used his affection for country music to make sense of the shuffling of coaches he‚Äôs encountered.
‚ÄúLike Kenny Rogers said, you‚Äôve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them,‚Äù Drew said. ‚ÄúI believe I‚Äôve been dealt a good hand, as well as everyone else. We‚Äôve been put in a great position with a great coaching staff this year, and I believe if we play our poker face right we‚Äôll be all good.‚Äù
Despite taking down the quarterback six times last season, Drew agrees with Rocker ‚Äî there‚Äôs no headliner.
‚ÄúEveryone has something that they can offer,‚Äù he said, ‚Äúand I believe everyone is going to play a vital part in something.‚Äù
Whether Drew downplaying his potential to be a leading act is part of a bluff is anybody‚Äôs call to make. Rocker ‚Äî the players call him Coach Rock ‚Äî insists he doesn‚Äôt need one overpowering figure to lead his unit. He‚Äôs in the process of molding a collective group effort.
‚ÄúI just need them to stay together and play together and the rest of it will take care of itself,‚Äù Rocker said.
The two defensive end spots currently have six viable options ‚Äî Drew, senior Toby Johnson, juniors Sterling Bailey, Josh Dawson, James DeLoach and redshirt freshman John Atkins.
Senior Mike Thornton and junior Chris Mayes are the primary candidates to occupy nose guard.
Bailey and Mayes combined for 65 tackles last season, trailing only Drew in production returning. The rest of the bunch has yet to make significant contributions.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm fine with what I have,‚Äù Rocker said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm glad with what I have. Hey, the job is to get it done.‚Äù
In order to execute that goal, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt issued a mandate to his linemen and linebackers this offseason ‚Äî cut weight and improve conditioning. Pruitt said Tuesday he‚Äôs proud of his players for accomplishing that goal, ‚Äúespecially on the defensive line.‚Äù
Drew said he lost nearly 10 pounds this offseason, currently at 275.
‚ÄúI feel that my agility is a little bit better, can move around much quicker not carrying around as much weight,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúWith the summer workouts that we put in and doing all the extra stretching and conditioning, it‚Äôs been improvements around the board for everyone.‚Äù
Rocker, who spent the previous three years on staff for the NFL‚Äôs Tennessee Titans, has endeared himself to his players since his arrival a little more than six months ago.
‚ÄúWith Coach Rock coming in, he does a lot more coaching,‚Äù Drew said. ‚ÄúI know that sounds crazy the way I say it. He‚Äôs showing us more moves to just get us outside the normal swim, rip, things of that nature.”
Added Bailey: ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs so many words to describe Coach Rock. He‚Äôs an amazing coach. He comes in showing us how he wants us to do it, teaching us step-by-step and the right technique. He teaches us what he wants from us and what he expects.‚Äù
Starting jobs are still to be decided and the rotation could include all the aforementioned names. Rocker says the depth chart doesn‚Äôt matter yet, current standing isn‚Äôt important.
‚ÄúThe potential I see, we‚Äôre only as good if we‚Äôre all together,‚Äù Rocker said. ‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt have a guy that‚Äôs just a single out guy. I don‚Äôt see one. We‚Äôre not there. We‚Äôre a good defense together and when we do that, somebody is going to come out of the pack and everyone will see.‚Äù