It’s just about that time again: when the weather gets a bit less chili and the trees once again sprout leaves. Everything around this great state starts to bloom and, given the crazy weather we’ve seen this winter, we will all be more than happy to say “hello” to the warmer weather.
That said, it’s also a sign that spring practice is set to begin and the guys wearing the read and black jerseys will once again have a chance to prove they belong on the field—and not the sidelines—this fall.
With Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins, and Lorenzo Carter all back to wreak havoc in the front seven, most will hardly be paying attention to the other guys that could make an impact, but Georgia fans have grown accustomed to seeing a fast-paced defense under Jeremy Pruitt—now in his second year—and they know that the players chosen to execute that “D” won’t be discriminated against due to class status. So, who should we all be watching this spring?
Ledbetter flipped from Alabama to Georgia and never looked back. He enrolled in January and has been getting accustomed to being a “student-athlete” over the last couple of months. Will he be ready to step in and make an immediate contribution to the team? I believe he can and he will—and even more than that, I believe the coaching staff is excited to give him that opportunity—and a big reason he wanted to arrive early is so that he could establish himself in the rotation. The reps he’s take thus far will certainly give him the edge he wanted and his talent will do the rest.
Though he’s only spoken about sparingly, Dawson flashed some skills last season—particularly against Tennessee where he recovered two fumbles and scored a touchdown—but he’s basically been a non-starter over the last three years. That said, you have to wonder if he won’t be more motivated—particularly with the departures of Mike Thornton and Ray Drew—to do a bit more this spring? The Bulldogs could use solid run stoppers up front and while Dawson isn’t the most impressive pass-rusher, he excelled at defending the run as a prospect coming out of Tucker High School.
I’m hoping the hire of Mark Hocke (Strength and Conditioning Coordinator) pays off big dividends in the case of Gaillard. There can be no denying the kid has the talent and the size to be a monster on the interior, but his conditioning has always been a question mark and his strength needed to be developed a bit more before the staff would be comfortable placing him in the rotation; but with a year under his belt and, again, the staff looking to have more run stopping consistency up front, I expect to see him get more than a passing glance this spring.
I’m a bit perplexed by what happened to Mayes. He was supposed to be a big factor last season, but ended up being an after-thought when all was said and done. Perhaps it was due to injuries, or to Pruitt’s desire to have the most athletic players on the field at all times, but Mayes has never really been able to consistently show what he can do. It’ll be interesting to see how he and Gaillard fare against one another this spring as its clear that Mayes—entering his last season—has plenty to prove and a lot to gain by doing well.
Bailey puts me in the mind of the now departed Mike Thornton. Here’s a guy that has been somewhat overlooked the past three years, but who has also worked hard and contributed when given the opportunity to do so. Bailey played a ton last season and showed he has the ability to be a leader on the field—Pruitt and Rocker appreciate such behavior—and with him being the guy with the most veteran experience leading up to spring, he is in line to make an even bigger impact this season; he’ll definitely be one to watch.