UGA Football

How Georgia keeps its defensive line from becoming fatigued during a game

Georgia defensive lineman Julian Rochester (5) completes a drill at practice in Athens on Monday.
Georgia defensive lineman Julian Rochester (5) completes a drill at practice in Athens on Monday. Georgia Sports Communications

One of Tray Scott’s main duties as Georgia’s defensive line coach is simplistic yet vital — to ensure his players don’t become fatigued throughout a game.

It calls for rotation, rotation … and some more rotation.

As Georgia’s defense was being driven down the field in the second half of the 2018 Rose Bowl, a group of linemen wouldn’t stay on the field continuously. After a few plays, a Bulldog would hold his fist up and trot onto the sideline.

Essentially, a starting position for a lineman, or any defensive position, doesn’t entail playing every snap. Julian Rochester, for example, has seen a maximum of 40 snaps during his first two seasons.

But no frustration, anger or hesitancy resides when one is called to sit.

“I’m in a defensive line room where every single player can play all four positions,” said Rochester, a junior defensive tackle. “We try to stay in the best shape we can and let coach Scott (Sinclair) handle it.”

Sinclair, Georgia’s strength and conditioning coach, works to ensure Georgia’s linemen fit the desired mold of head coach Kirby Smart — in the weight range of 295 to 305 pounds and to possess speed.

Then, Sinclair carries the trust over to the practice field.

Georgia has 13 defensive linemen on its preseason camp roster, despite losing two veteran assets in John Atkins and Trenton Thompson after last season.

Whether hitting against live competition or dummies in practice, a group of three didn’t see more than two consecutive plays. Sinclair carries a systematic balance between aggressiveness and rest — regardless of the situation.

“Good, good, good,” Sinclair yelled during Tuesday’s practice at the indoor practice facility, sometimes giving distinct advice to a certain player. “Now get out of here.”

Smart envisions eight to nine different players rotating on the defensive line this season and is unsure who will fill out the group aside from the returning core (including Rochester, Tyler Clark, Jonathan Ledbetter and Jay Hayes). He carries the belief that a successful defensive front has to “play a lot of guys” due to players becoming worn down, and Georgia has the assets to do so.

“They’re second-effort players, and they run so much more than offensive linemen,” Smart said. “To be able to switch those guys out, especially playing a lot of double teams, that helps a lot. … In the fastball world we live in, you better get guys in and out of the game.”

Despite the unit turnover, the Bulldogs’ mantra remains the same. After each game last season, the best-performing defensive lineman would wrap a hefty, silver-linked chain around his neck.

Atkins developed the symbolic attire last season to represent unity among each player. In a new season, the tradition lives on and brought an ear-to-ear grin to Rochester’s face when asked about it by a reporter.

Georgia’s depth and ability to keep players fresh brings a sense of confidence and desire.

“We don’t want to think we are lacking experience,” Rochester said. “There can’t be any weak links. It’s a part of this chain.”

Georgia added three defensive linemen in the previous recruiting class. Jordan Davis entered out of high school, Devonte Wyatt joined out of junior college and Hayes was a late graduate transfer addition out of Notre Dame.

“We have guys that can play (on the line),” Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “Most of our guys can play multiple positions, and we feel good there. We got to develop more guys that can play more inside. … The standard has been set.”