Remember last year’s Kentucky game, when Abry Jones got hurt early on?
When Georgia gave up 206 rushing yards to Kentucky last October, reserves Thornton and Drew did not get any defensive snaps. Smith and Jenkins got 59 and 58 snaps, respectively, and nose guard Kwame Geathers got 38. Abry Jones was lost after only three snaps after tearing tendons in his left ankle and missed the rest of the season.
Richt blames that on a lack of confidence in the reserves. But that’s all changed now.
“When Abry went down, it wasn’t like we just threw another guy into the rotation,” Richt said. “At the end, we probably didn’t have enough guys that we felt comfortable putting in there. We’ve got a feeling that we’re going to have a higher comfort level with more guys than we had a year ago basically.”
Grantham, who presumably could have dictated playing time be more balanced last year, sounds like he’s singing from the same hymnbook as Richt.
“In my mind, that’s kind of the rotational depth thing that I was looking at,” Grantham said. “I feel like they can help us so that when we come together as a unit, you can really roll those guys and keep them fresh and affect the quarterback and in the run game.”
And you get the sense some subtle head gestures are being tossed in the direction of the recently departed.
Rodney Garner, who left before the bowl game to return to his alma mater Auburn, coached the defensive line where Mike Thornton played 19 total snaps until the regular season finale against Georgia Tech and defensive end Ray Drew averaged less than five snaps a game in the first nine games of the season.
Cornelius Washington, who also played outside linebacker last season, saw more time at defensive end towards the end of the season after Jones’ injury.
“We subbed some, but we didn’t substitute a lot,” Richt said. “I’ve got a feeling this year we’re going to substitute an awful lot. The No. 1 and No. 2 units are very, very close in talent bases.”
Garner? Oh, yeah, that guy.
Look, I did get the impression at G-Day that there’s more depth on the d-line than expected and I don’t question the present sincerity of the call for more linemen rotation. But it’s not like that didn’t make sense before. (“I think they should have done it a little more…” Geathers said.) If it turns out as the season progresses that two or three of the linemen are clearly head and shoulders above the rest from a production standpoint, let’s see how that shakes out in the rotation. Coaches may come and go, but old habits die hard, too.