Sure, the Bulldogs lost Abry Jones to graduation, but the Bulldogs were forced the play much of the second half of 2012 without Jones, who was injured during the Kentucky game. In his absence, both then and now, Garrison Smith has risen to the occasion.
Smith has emerged as a leader of the new-look defense this spring, and after eight starts last season, he could be poised for a breakout senior campaign.
In the 3-4 defense, the end position often gets overlooked, with ends often asked to take on blockers so that true edge rushers (outside linebackers) can get to the quarterback. Smith, however, has proven that ends can make exciting plays from the position. He racked up 37 of his 57 tackles in Georgia's final five games of 2012 and earned SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week honors after coming off the bench to make seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss against Georgia Tech in 2011.
Smith's cohort includes a pair of highly recruited talents from the 2011 signing class.
Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew, both state qualifiers for shot put in high school and teammates in the 2011 Army All-American game and, have established themselves as 1A and 1B to start at the end position opposite Smith.
New defensive line coach Chris Wilson singled out Bailey as a top performer in the first few weeks of spring practice, and the East Hall product took most of the first-team snaps in the team's first spring scrimmage. Bailey suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to redshirt in 2011, and a foot injury in the spring and thumb injury in the fall limited him to just three games in 2012. Despite his small sample size, Bailey is in good shape to be at the top of the depth chart for the 2013 season.
On the other hand, Drew is Bailey's strongest competition for a starting job. Fans have been awaiting Drew's arrival on the field since he headlined (and helped recruit) the "Dream Team" signing class. The Thomasville native offered a glimpse of greatness as a freshman when he recorded three tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as an outside linebacker against Vanderbilt in 2011, but he finished the season with only eight tackles. He moved to defensive end, his natural position, prior to 2012 and came on strong at the end of last season, collecting 16 of his 23 tackles in just the final four games of the season.
Georgia didn't bring in a true defensive end in this year's recruiting class, as Davin Bellamy is headed to the outside linebacker group when August rolls around, but the pair of nose guards—Chris Mayes and John Atkins—that signed in February could be used at end in certain situations like Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins. Another name to keep in mind is Mike Thornton. Thornton took snaps as the No. 1 nose guard during the first spring scrimmage, but if Mayes, Atkins and/or John Taylor develop like coaches expect, Thornton could slide over to end in a 3-technique role.