ATHENS, Ga. — First-year Georgia assistant Tracy Rocker knows a headlining defensive lineman when he sees one.
That’s what he use to be.
The former Auburn All-American and College Football Hall of Famer says his unit doesn’t have a marquee name, but adds that it’s not a requirement for success, either.
“There ain’t no headliner,” Rocker said. “A headliner? That ain’t gonna help you against Clemson. We’ve 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.”
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 during his time as a Bulldog. Now a senior, Drew used his affection for country music to make sense of the shuffling of coaches he’s encountered.
“Like Kenny Rogers said, you’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them,” Drew said. “I believe I’ve been dealt a good hand, as well as everyone else. We’ve been put in a great position with a great coaching staff this year, and I believe if we play our poker face right we’ll be all good.”
Despite taking down the quarterback six times last season, Drew agrees there’s no headliner.
“Everyone has something that they can offer,” he said, “and I believe everyone is going to play a vital part in something.”
Rocker insists he doesn’t need one overpowering figure to lead his unit. He’s in the process of molding a collective group.
“I just need them to stay together and play together and the rest of it will take care of itself,” Rocker said.
The two defensive end spots currently have six viable options – 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 among returning players. The rest have yet to make significant contributions.
“I’m fine with what I have,” Rocker said. “I’m glad with what I have. Hey, the job is to get it done.”
In order to execute that goal, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt issued a mandate to his linemen and linebackers this off-season – cut weight and improve conditioning. Pruitt said Tuesday he’s proud of his players for accomplishing that goal, “especially on the defensive line.”
Drew said he lost nearly 10 pounds this off-season, currently at 275.
“I feel that my agility is a little bit better, can move around much quicker not carrying around as much weight,” he said. “With the summer workouts that we put in and doing all the extra stretching and conditioning, it’s been improvements around the board for everyone.”
Rocker, who spent the previous three years on the Tennessee Titans’ staff, has endeared himself to his players since his arrival.
“With coach Rock coming in, he does a lot more coaching,” Drew said. “I know that sounds crazy the way I say it. He’s showing us more moves to just get us outside the normal swim, rip, things of that nature. … He’s 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.”
Starting jobs are still to be decided and the rotation could include all the aforementioned names. Rocker says the depth chart doesn’t matter yet, current standing isn’t important.
“The potential I see, we’re only as good if we’re all together,” Rocker said. “We don’t have a guy that’s just a single out guy. I don’t see one. We’re not there. We’re a good defense together and when we dothat, somebody is going to come out of the pack and everyone will see.”