The UGA football team’s defensive line lost a few key pieces but returning players and new additions could lead this group to be one of the team’s strongest. It’s hard to determine starters with a group like the defensive line because the Bulldogs continuously cycle this group in and out to keep players fresh. The Bulldogs lost a few key pieces to the NFL draft, but I fully expect this group to continue to excel and remain strong.
Trenton Thompson is the biggest name that the Bulldogs loss, but John Atkins departure may be even more important. Thompson is an absolute physical specimen as he has great agility and speed for someone of his size. Thompson dealt with a knee injury this season but he was a force when he was in the game. Thompson’s elite athleticism on the defensive line is what made him truly special.
In my opinion, Atkins does not get the credit he deserves for the role he played last season. Atkins did an outstanding job of taking on multiple offensive linemen at a time, which allowed linebackers like Roquan Smith to get to the backfield untouched. This quality alone is what made Atkins so valuable and the coaching staff will search diligently to fill the void that he left.
Although Atkins and Thompson may be gone, the Bulldogs are still returning a plethora of talent on the defensive line. It starts with the three guys that I expect to find the most playing time and they are Jonathan Ledbetter, Tyler Clark, and Julian Rochester.
Ledbetter has really come into his own and he is starting to become a leader, according to coach Smart. Smart complimented Ledbetter in the opening press conference of spring practice, calling him a guy who “pushes himself to the limit.” Clark’s success became more apparent near the end of the season as he had his season highs in tackles during the Rose Bowl and the national championship game.
Rochester is one to watch as he has the body size to take on the role Atkins left behind. Rochester will have to step up if he hopes to take on this starting spot. Guys that should compete for the starting job include Daquan Hawkins-Muckle and Michael Barnett. Other returning defensive lineman include David Marshall, Michail Carter, and Malik Herring.
The Bulldogs will bring in four new guys on the defensive line in Brenton Cox, Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis, and Tramel Walthour. Cox and Wyatt are already on campus and should make strides of cracking the rotation with this group.
Cox was working with outside linebackers on the first day of spring camp, but it would not surprise me if he took on a role similar to Davin Bellamy of last season. Bellamy worked mostly as an outside linebacker but on occasion would put his hand in the dirt like a defensive lineman. Cox seems to have a similar skill set in this regard.
Wyatt is coming from the JUCO ranks so he should be more polished than Walthour and Davis, so I fully expect him to find a way in the Bulldogs gameplan. Wyatt was in the top ten of his position group as a high school recruit so having collegiate experience should make him a valuable piece of the line.
I believe this group will continue to grow and develop. The quality depth they have will ultimately lead to them being a sound group. There’s a lot of youth here and the early portion of the season should allow them to get valuable playing time. Which makes this formidable group even stronger. This line should be one of not only the SEC’s best but maybe even the country. However, it will take a collective effort of all of their talent to get them to this level.