Last year as the nose tackle in Woody Widenhofer's 3-4 defensive alignment, the 6-4, 290-pound Beard was the defense's chief run stopper. Few fans, however, realized that from the Richmond game through the end of the season, Beard was plagued by a foot fracture. Because there was no one on the roster capable of effectively backing him up, Beard played through a great deal of pain and deferred a needed surgery until after the end of the season.
"Last year it was pretty rough," he says now. "I was hurting pretty bad."
With the arrival of a new coaching staff, things changed considerably for Beard and the current crop of defensive linemen. With the new 4-3 scheme came the need for two defensive tackles, and defensive line coach David Turner has gone with a tackle-by-committee approach.
Sophomores Aaron Carter and Matt Clay have started the first two games at the tackles. However, Turner has been rotating in redshirt freshmen Ralph McKenzie and Trey Holloway every other series to ensure that the tackles remain fresh. Beard, his foot heavily taped to avoid further injury, plays as much as the injury will allow. He missed the Georgia Tech opener, but saw limited duty against Furman and Auburn.
Beard concedes that the progress made by the young tackles has helped lift some of the pressure he feels as the only veteran defensive tackle on the roster. "I feel fresh every time I run out on the field. In that sense, it's keeping me where I feel like I'm moving pretty well for what I have to move with.
"I feel 85-90%," said Beard. "I don't feel great. I feel slow off the ball. I'm not getting into a good rhythm. I'm not comfortable. It's been rough so far."
For a warrior like Beard, missing so much playing time is frustrating. Might it be better to sit out a week or two to let the injury fully heal? "I wish," he says wistfully.
"I wish I could have an off-week. But we're not the deepest team in the nation, so I've got to give whatever I can give every time I go out there."
Beard feels that the rotation of a number of younger players at the tackle position has probably helped the unit's overall effectiveness.
"I think each week we're getting a lot better," said Beard. "I think we're coming together as a unit with this 4-3 scheme, and I think we're beginning to execute it pretty well. I think we're running great stunts, and getting in the quarterbacks' face. If we can continue to do what we're doing, I think progressively throughout the weeks we're going to be better and better."
NOTE: Beard was named the SEC's "Good Works" Player of the Week recipient this past week. Beard frequently tutors inner-city children at the Edgehill Community Center, and participates in the Backfield in Motion program. A Human and Organization Development major, he is on track to graduate next May.