ATHENS -- There are five words no Georgia defensive lineman wants to hear from Tracy Rocker.
“Go grab me a leaf.”
Early in the preseason, this was a common occurrence with the younger defensive linemen. If their position coach was unhappy with their performance, whether it was from poor technique, being beat, not hustling hard enough or not following instructions, they were instructed to grab a leaf from a tree on the other side of the field.
“I got plenty of leafs,” sophomore defensive tackle John Atkins said with a laugh. ”You learn from it.”
“I’ve only gotten one once,” senior Chris Mayes said. “And it might have been last year. I haven’t been back since. I caught on pretty quick.”
The point of getting a leaf is to make the player think about what he messed up on, while adding some conditioning work. The ultimate goal is to force the defensive linemen to think more about the fundamental aspect of the game.
Rocker will get intense at times. He’ll yell at a player when he messes up a drill -- something the media has seen quite a bit.
Behind closed doors, Rocker’s players say he’s a coach who will more often praise them for what they do well as opposed to breaking them down.
Atkins said that Rocker’s arrival two years ago coincides with him gaining more confidence to play the position.
“Coach Rocker has a unique coaching style,” Atkins said. “He’s going to praise you when you do right. But when you do wrong, he’s going to get on you, too. It can go either way. He mostly praises you.”
For Rocker’s efforts, it’s a balancing act. There’s a standard he has for his players, all while understanding that some of the younger guys won’t reach that status as soon as he’d prefer.
“My wife keeps reminding me, ‘You have to be patient,’ ” Rocker said. “But in this day and time, patience gets your butt fired.”
Rocker, who joined the Bulldogs’ coaching staff before the 2014 season, said there’s a lot for his defensive line to remember within the scheme. Part of the challenge, he said, is making sure his players remember every little detail for more than one practice.
“Every day, we install something new,” Rocker said. “The offense may have ran that play that day and everybody says they stopped it. But they may not run it the next day. They’ll run it two days later and it comes back up and they’re like, ‘How did they run that play?’
“Everything comes back in cycles and they have to kind of understand the process of, ‘Hey, we may have installed that three days ago, but it doesn’t mean they’re not going to call it.’ ”
Senior defensive end Josh Dawson said Rocker will often get creative with his coaching.
“A guy like that who has plenty of knowledge and techniques that you’d never think of, it’s great to have a guy like that as a teacher and a coach,” Dawson said. “He’s a guy who comes to work every day, consistent, with passion, and he’s a guy that gets the job done every day.”
As long as Rocker is at Georgia, he’ll continue to hammer home the importance of playing with excellent technique. If you don’t, you’re getting him a leaf. Plenty of Georgia linemen have learned the hard way.
“He coaches everybody the same, with no favoritism,” freshman defensive tackle Trenton Thompson said. “You’re going to be coached hard, so you’re going to practice hard.”