With several players stepping up their performance level and moving to the front of depth chart on the defensive line, Garner said right now he’s happy with his trio of likely starters of Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell and Davonte Lambert.
“I have been pleased with the first unit, Adams, Russell and Lambert, even though we have Pee Wee (Lambert) on a modified program,” Garner said. of the senior who had his 2014 season cut short by a knee injury that required surgery.
“Those three guys are going to be good players," Garner said. "Obviously, the challenge is to continue to get them better and also to develop some really quality depth behind them. That’s what we’re really working on right now.”
Planning to use much more three-man fronts with Carl Lawson in the "buck" position, the Tigers have had to learn new schemes under coordinator Will Muschamp to allow them to be more multiple. That can be challenging, particularly for younger players, Garner pointed out.
“A lot of them, their heads are swimming because it’s a lot of stuff,” Garner said. “You come from a high school program or a junior college program where you probably had three or four calls and then you’re putting in 15 calls a day. It’s a lot to be able to process that quickly and get out there and perform at a high level full speed.”
Dontavius Russell is expected to see a lot of playing time this fall as a tackle.
A player who hasn’t had a problem adjusting to the new defense is Russell. A redshirt freshman that came close to playing last fall, Russell had a strong performance in spring practice and has continued that into the preseason. Showing a physical presence in the middle, Russell has been a strong point for the Tigers and Garner said it’s because he does it every single day.
“Dontavius is consistent, that’s the thing you love about Dontavius,” Garner said. “It’s not flashy, but he’s consistent. He plays with good pad level. He’s stout versus the run. He’s smart. He brings a lot of intangibles to it. We’ve got to continue to develop him as a pass rusher, but he’s a really solid player in the run game.”
The presence of Russell in the middle has not only been important for the overall defense, but it has served as fuel for Adams as well and the junior has stepped up to the challenge. Coming on in every phase of the game, Adams has always had the talent and now Garner is seeing the work ethic to go along with it.
“Montravius has pleased me thus far in camp,” Garner said. “I think he’s trying and working harder than Montravius has ever worked before. It’s encouraging for me to see Montravius today compared to where he was when he came here.
"Just watching him mature and develop has been awesome," Garner said. "It’s like watching your child grow and develop and see what they blossom into. I’m really excited about the season he can have.”
Behind the first three players up front Garner said two really stand out at the moment, juniors Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain. Both can be physical at the point of attack with Lawrence also very athletic. The duo has stepped up their play and Garner said it’s now time for the rest of the group to follow suit. One of those is true freshman Byron Cowart, who coordinator Will Muschamp said has had his best days of practice this week.
“Devaroe and Swain right now would probably be ahead of Andrew (Williams), but they are all in the mix,” Garner said. “They all have areas they need to improve on. That’s something we talk about daily in trying to improve in those areas.
"Obviously, with Byron we need to continue his development and continue to improve,” said Garner, who added that the plan is for Cowart to provide depth along with returning players such as Gimel President and Raashed Kennion.