Dog Defensive Line Picks Up The Spring Pace

It's a no-nonsense position. So naturally their coach has a blunt outlook on what spring football is all about, at least on the defensive line. "You try to find out what you can and can't do," Coach David Turner said. "And try to figure out a way to get your best players on the field and teach and learn."

Figuring this out is a spring challenge for Turner, but for the best possible reason. He has a well-stocked group of talented and athletic, and mostly both, big bodies to evaluate here in 2014 spring camp. So when the best two tackles and two ends, or whatever combination of them is organized, that will be a very, very good defensive front to teach. Best of all, Turner says, they're all willing to learn.

The one cloud on Turner's spring sky has been some health issues that have thinned-out the tackle positions. Returning starters Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones have been restricted so far with their own lower-leg issues. And late last week budding sophomore star Chris Jones had a thumb wrenched during drills and missed the Saturday scrimmaging.

But since the seniors are proven commodities there is some degree of comfort there. The younger Jones is expected back soon as a spring #1 at tackle…and nobody will be surprised if he stays there after August either. For now other tackles can take extra turns and, with work and development, make the Bulldog defensive line truly three-deep in both of these hard-hitting positions.

At the ends things are solidly two-deep, which really means Turner can work towards settling the top-three for a rotation at right and left as needed and then hone a fourth and fifth end come August. Of course this could all be changed if C.Jones is given his heart's desire to play end…a proposition he and his coach will doubtless spend every single day between now and kickoff debating.

And know what? It is literally a no-lose situation for everyone. Turner begins a discussion of how the defensive line is working this spring with Jones the top topic, naturally.

"He's a big, long body, an athletic guy in there, he's 300-plus pounds. In order for us to get the four best guys on the field that's probably the natural fit for him. He probably could play outside, it just all depends. We're going to figure out a way to get the four best guys. If he keeps on developing like he is, he has the potential to make big plays. He's long, he's hard to block when he's playing technique, and that's why right now for us to do that it could be he's inside, it could be he's outside."

What does he open up for guys on the outside? "It's always good, we always talk about guys getting one-on-one have to win. So one has to win, they can't double everybody. But it all depends on who we're playing and what we're doing, things like that. The schemes in terms of the run game. The way offenses are now they hardly block anybody up front."

"But it does help the guys on the edge if he can be a disruptor, if he can cause guys to have to double-team, to have to know where he is. But we have some other guys that have done a great job. P.J. Jones, hopefully when we get him back he'll be ready to go, Kaleb Eulls. So I feel good about the inside guys. We just have to keep working, keep developing."

How has he developed from fall practice to now? "He's approaching the practice awhole lot different. He's wanting to get better, he's talking to me about technique. He's studying tape. So he wants to get better. I think in the fall, you know he's a freshman, he hasn't even been here a year yet. And he had a chance to play and he was kind of doing it the same way in high school; he'd have some good plays and he'd have some bad plays. He was just bigger and stronger than everybody else. And that's not the case in this league. Right now I've seen his approach to practice change, which is a sign of maturity and wanting to get better at the little things, the technique stuff."

Is it a luxury P.J. and Kaleb can watch while you run in a lot of younger tackles this spring? "Well, I don't know if I'd call it a luxury! You know those guys want to be in there."

"And playing up-front is a violent deal. Guys get banged-up and you never have a day when you feel great, it's always something going to be bothering you and you have to learn to play through that. But I tell the guys all the time we're going to play with eleven guys; somebody goes down, somebody is going to have to step up."

They know the system, that allows other guys to get more reps? "If you have to look for a good side, that's what it is. It allows more guys to get more reps. Really we've kind of got 1A and 1B, the B-group is getting A-reps and the C-group is getting B-reps. So that's the good thing. I'd rather have those guys out here and really working to get better but it is what it is. They're doing what they can, they want to be out there. But I feel good about them, those guys played a lot of snaps last year and hopefully we can get some stuff, some work with them this spring. And then they've got to have a good summer and be ready to go in the fall."

You've shown some three-man front this spring, is there something you like about that? "Well, yeah, we've got to be prepared obviously for injuries. And we've got some linebackers, some big long linebackers, it's an opportunity for us to try to get some more speed on the field."

"So we'd like to be multiple, we'd like to be able to play a lot of different guys, guys who earn the right to play. And those long linebackers have the chance to maybe do some things off the edge that maybe we can't do up-front. So that's what spring ball is, you try to find out what you can and can't do and try to figure out a way to get your best players on the field and teach and learn."

How has Nick James approached this spring? "I think sitting out last year hurt him. Well, I shouldn't say I think, I know it did. I think he's approached it a little bit differently. He's maturing some which all of us need to do, all those guys need to do. And that's what it is. He missed playing, and right now he has an opportunity to do some things in there."

"He's athletic, he's big, he's still raw in technique. But he's trying to work and get better."

Ryan Brown backed up Preston Smith, now he has moved into Denico Autry's position? "Ryan is a guy who shows up and does what he's supposed to do every single day. To be honest I probably should have played him a little bit more last year. But I'm glad I have him, he's working at it. He's just a hard hat guy, he doesn't ever say nothing, he shows up, he works every day, every day is the same. He's trying to get better. And it is his chance now, he's been working extremely hard and getting better, developing some techniques and things. And I'm excited for him, what he can do now is his snaps start to increase and see how productive he can be and if he can be a playmaker for us."

Preston has shown what he can do in pass rush, is he improving against the run game? "Yeah he is. I think we've challenged him. I think he has aspirations of playing at the next level and he knows he's going to have to be able to do that. And he's kind of taken hold of the challenge. He's doing a much better job, is much more consistent taking people on. And that's what he's got to do, he's got to learn to enjoy that."

A.J. Jefferson seems to be making a push for the third end? "Yes, he is. There's a young man that is really starting to mature in his approach to meetings, to practice. A.J. was kind of the class clown and I had to get on him a little bit about that. He understands now that he's got to be a little more focused, a little more zeroed in on practice—which he is—on meetings, on studying tape and knowing what to do. HE's probably been the most consistent guy this spring, which is a welcome surprise. We're half-way through and he's probably been the most consistent guy. Hopefully he'll continue to develop and I like what he's doing right now."

Do you anticipate Jones and Eulls doing anything before spring ends? "I'm hoping. I'm always holding out hoping. But whether or not they do, that remains to be seen. I'm not a doctor. If they can get out there and do something, I see P.J. running around a little bit now and it feels good. So if I can get something out of them this spring…but the most important thing to me is getting them ready for the fall."

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