Trying to Make a Push

Georgia defensive end Neland Ball, like just about everyone else, is aware of the numbers - 42 sacks in 2007, 18 in 2008.

Those numbers, maybe more than any other, led to these – No. 4 end of regular season ranking in 2007, No. 17 end of regular season ranking in 2008.

"We didn't have anybody step up and make those plays,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt.

Ball wants to make sure he is that person next season. To that end the rising sophomore has some numbers of his own – 430-pound bench press, 500-pound squat, and 331-pound clean jerk.

"I've been working on just getting stronger every time I go into the weight room,'' Ball said. "Every day if I can just get one more pound and just push myself to be the best--I am trying to do it the Georgia way.''

The way Ball has done things so far is to build his body up as much as possible. He came in reed thin, but oak tall. He made a dramatic jump in his freshman year in the weight room. And because of that this time last year, he was pegged – fairly or not – as someone who could become an impact player as a redshirt freshman.

The spot was there for him too. Marcus Howard was gone. Roderick Battle was going to need someone to step up on the other side of him.

But Ball, like every other defensive end, was pushed to the side by a force beyond his control.

"I got sick in August and lost like 10 pounds,'' he said.

Actually it was more than that. The 6-foot-6 Ball hit 250 in the summer. He was down to 232 by the time camp started.

Now that may not sound like too much. But the four weeks of practice in August are the most intense and crucial part of developing a team. This is where the coaches find out who can play and who needs to wait another year.

"In order to improve first of all you have to compete and that means being in practice every day and practicing a certain way,'' Richt said.

Ball wasn't able to practice consistently. So, in turn, he wasn't able to prove himself to coaches. And he wasn't the only one.

"Of all the position groups that suffered the most in camp, they missed more than any position,'' Richt said of the defensive ends. "And it is hard to get better when you don't practice. The only guy that made it through camp was Justin Houston."

"All of them missed not just a little, but a good bit,'' Richt said. `We had Brandon Wood and Corvey Irvin get more snaps at defensive end than our defensive ends did.''

But that is in the past now. The future is what is concerning Ball right now.

"The only thing I can really do to get back on the field is to watch a lot of film, stay in the weight room and keep working hard,'' Ball said.

Ball worked hard enough last season to get some time on special teams during the LSU game. But that was not enough to satisfy him.

"I don't know how much time I can get this year, but I have to go into mat drills and have great mat drills and go into the spring with the intensity that I just have to compete,'' Ball said. "I may not be the starter, but I am going to go in there and try ad get playing time and do anything I can to help the team.''

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