ATHENS — We’ve heard a lot about and from Georgia’s offensive line this spring, which certainly is a positive. What we’ve heard less about is the guys who have been lining up across from them all spring — the defensive line.
So who better to get an update from on the D-line than all those star-studded O-linemen charged with blocking them every day in practice?
Sophomore Jamaree Salyer offered what seemed like the most candid and unrehearsed response when asked about the Bulldogs’ defensive line following Thursday’s full-contact workout, the team’s eighth of the 15-practice spring session.
“All those guys over there are some ballers,” said Salyer, who has earned Kirby Smart’s distinction as the most improved offensive lineman of the spring. “J.D. (Jordan Davis) is a baller. Tyler Clark is a baller. Devonte Wyatt is baller. All of them. Those are guys I see every day.”
It’s a tall task those D-linemen have in going against Georgia’s formidable offensive front every day. The Bulldogs not only feature four players who were 5-star recruits and five who were 4-stars, but the projected starters at the moment average 330 pounds between them.
Opposing them each day is a group of defensive linemen missing three veterans who are sidelined with injuries (Michail Carter, Julian Rochester and David Marshall) and somewhat of a patchwork representation after the starters. Davis and Clark are returning starters on the interior while junior Malik Herring has played extensively as Jonathan Ledbetter’s backup at defensive end. Devonte Wyatt and Michael Barnett also have a lot of experience.
Outside of that, early enrollee Tramel Walthour and converted offensive lineman Netori Johnson getting a lot of work, along with a few walkons. More help is on the way when four signees — Zion Logue, Tymon Mitchell, Bill Norton and Travon Walker) join the defensive line in early July.
“It’s a very good defensive line,” junior guard Solomon Kindley said, somewhat unconvincingly. “We’ve got very good leadership with guys like Julian Rochester and Tyler Clark. Our defense has always been attack, attack, attack, never-get-attacked. So that’s how their mindset is every day and that’s how we practice every day.”
All indications are that Georgia’s offensive line has been dominating the scrimmages. That’s understandable given the current contrasting circumstances. But the defensive line has had its moments as well.
Kindley referenced Clark as one of the toughest challenges he faces on a daily basis. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior from Americus burst on the national scene with an impressive performance against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2017 season. But his junior season was relatively pedestrian with 10 fewer tackles and two less tackles for loss.
Kindley feels like Clark is determined reassert himself in his final season.
“He’s working so hard, becoming a better leader and a better listener. He’s destined for greatness,” Kindley said. “Tyler Clark comes of the ball very, very fast. He’s very powerful and he’s got good hand movement and everything.”
Kindley also said he’s been impressed with Herring, a junior tackle and defensive end.
“Malik Herring is a very hands-on defensive lineman,” Kindley said. “He’s very quick off the ball. Malik Herring is going to do big things this year as well.”
Where the offensive line is encountering its most intense competition is on the edges and in the second level against the linebackers
“Those OLBs, I don’t have to tell you about them. They all can ball,” Kindley said. “Nolan, he’s very fast. All our outside linebackers are fast. They can really run. From Nolan to Jermaine (Johnson) all the way to Adam (Anderson). They’re very, very fast and they’ve got good moves.”
Said Salyer, who is getting an indoctrination at right tackle this spring: “Ah, man, Nakobe Dean is fast; boy, he’s fast! And Nolan (Smith) is, too. They recruited a lot of fast linebackers. Those young boys are fast.”
One of the toughest parts of spring ball is the level of competition within the team is so intense. That extends from the position one plays to the ones they go against every day.
Salyer said they’re all able to keep it in perspective and remain friends. But it’s all about trying to dominate between the whistles.
“It’s spring ball; it’s time to put-up or shut-up,” Salyer said. “… When it’s time to put on the pads it’s time to go to work and be physical. So, I mean, that’s what we’re all here for. I mean, Kirby didn’t recruit soft guys. So we all come out here to compete. Everybody wants to play. If you line up across from me, we all want to play and we all have a job to do. We’re all trying to get better.”
Salyer scoffed at the notion the offensive line ever felt the urge to take it easy on the D-line.
“It’s not like a keep-your-head up type of thing,” he said. “If you slack off, they’ll catch you off guard, too. They’ll put a hand on your throat or anything. They do all these twists and different kinds of things, so you’ve got to keep your head up as an offensive lineman. You can’t really can’t give anything away. We’re all trying to get better. That’s the important thing.”
The best news for Georgia’s defensive line is it’s not likely to encounter many O-lines the likes of the one it faces every day in practice.
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