Defensive line update: Bailey and Thornton still have the edge

semerson@macon.comApril 9, 2013 

ATHENS - As spring practice closes down, Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson is still most impressed with the same two players he was gushing about when spring practice began.

Sterling Bailey and Mike Thornton.

That doesn't mean those two have quite locked down the two open starting spots on Georgia's line, and will definitely join senior defensive end Garrison Smith when the Bulldogs line up against Clemson on Aug. 31. But at this point it would seem a pretty good bet that Bailey will be at the other end, and Thornton will be at nose tackle.

But don't count out a redshirt freshman either.

Wilson, meeting the media after Tuesday's second-to-last spring practice, was asked which players had stood out the most on G-Day and this spring.

"Well obviously Sterling Bailey is a guy who's really caught our attention as a staff. He's really done some good things," Wilson said. "The next guy who I felt who really improved was Mike Thornton - followed by John Taylor. Once he knows what to do and how to do it, in the tempo to do it with, he's gonna be a guy who can help us win some games."

Taylor opened camp as a candidate to start at nose tackle, but then moved to end, partly because Thornton had performed so well there. He could still end up playing some at nose - as could Smith, Bailey or anybody, as Wilson tries not to get pinned down on whether a player is an end or a nose. But Wilson did allow that Smith - a returning starter - and Thornton - a redshirt junior - have the best chance to be starters.

"The competition's still there, but the one thing you can't teach is the experience that both those guys have playing," Wilson said.

Bailey also seems to have the edge at the other end spot, having started there for the Black team on G-Day. (The Black team comprised the first-team defense.) So what about Ray Drew, who had been competing with Bailey for that end spot, and for whom stardom has been predicted since he was a five-star recruit two years ago?

"He's had a good spring. I've really been pleased with Ray, because I didn't look at Ray's stars, I just looked at his tape," Wilson said. "I looked at the things he did during the season, and then I looked at the things he's done this spring. He's been productive. He's like any young guy: They need confidence, they need to have success. And I believe the more he plays the better he's gonna be. He's gonna make some mistakes sometimes, but I like where he's at."

Chris Mayes, the junior college transfer, is also in the mix. Then there's John Atkins, who hurt his knee in the G-Day game. Atkins will miss practice this week, but won't require surgery. In any case, Wilson indicated that Atkins still has a ways to go in terms of picking up the system.

"He's got a lot to catch up to. So this offseason, summer is gonna be big for John," Atkins said.

Finally, there's one more player who could figure into the mix, but he's not on campus yet.

Toby Johnson, a standout junior college prospect, tore his ACL last season, but his health is coming along well: Wilson estimated that Johnson, who came by for G-Day, is at about 80 percent health now.

"We're expecting him, obviously once things are completed academically at Hutchinson, to come right in. Hopefully he's ready by June to start summer workouts," Wilson said.

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