What a difference a year makes. In 2010, his first season in Athens, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham didn't have the right personnel to run his new 3-4 front, and the guys he did have didn't necessarily know what they were doing. In 2011, though, with man-mountain Johnathan Jenkins plugging the middle and DeAngelo Tyson and Abry Jones growing into their roles on the ends, the Dawgs were able to limit their opponents to just a hair over 100 rushing yards per game on average and climb back into the nation's top 10 in total defense for the first time in five years.
And in stark contrast to the depths of the 2008 and '09 seasons, the 2012 defensive line is suddenly looking like a major strength. Tyson has graduated, but otherwise this is one area where Grantham and Richt expect to enjoy a fairly drama-free spring without many pressing questions to answer.
LEFT DEFENSIVE END
1. Abry Jones, Sr. (6'3", 309)
2. Mike Thornton, RSo. (6'1", 287)
3. Geoff Rapp, So. (6'3", 230)
1. John Jenkins, Sr. (6'3", 351)
2. Kwame Geathers, RJr. (6'6", 350)
3. Mike Thornton, RSo. (6'1", 287)
RIGHT DEFENSIVE END
Don't expect many heated position battles to erupt out of this group, though all of the backups are quite capable and should get plenty of reps throughout the spring and summer. The biggest "question mark," if you can call it that, is how well Garrison Smith can replace DeAngelo Tyson at right end, but he proved himself so well in the final three games of the season following Tyson's ankle injury that no one in Athens is exhibiting the slightest bit of worry. Should anything happen to Smith, Derrick Lott looks quite capable of stepping in despite only playing in one game last year. At nose tackle, JUCO transfer Jenkins should retain his hold on the starting job, but Geathers has appeared in 20 games over the last two seasons and has enough experience to lay claim to plenty of playing time in '12.
Rookie prospects: Despite a dramatically improved personnel situation on defense, Georgia didn't rest on its laurels when it came to recruiting -- the Dawgs signed three D-line prospects in their 2012 class. They shouldn't need any of those rookies to step in anytime this season, though if they did, four-star tackle Jonathan Taylor appears to be the one most ready to contribute in terms of size and skill set. The others -- tackle John Atkins and end Jordan Jenkins -- are a little undersized for the college level and stand to benefit from the extra conditioning of a redshirt year. James DeLoach, Leonard Floyd and Josh Dawson all played primarily defensive end in high school but figure to be slotted in as outside linebackers in Grantham's scheme.