January 21, 2009

Looking Ahead: The DTs

There's another reason defensive line coach Rodney Garner decided to spurn Tennessee several weeks ago to remain with the Bulldogs.

Take a look at the talent he's got coming back.

As UGASports continues its look at the different positions heading into spring practice, we focus on the defensive interior, arguably one of the deepest spots on the team.

Jeff Owens' decision to come for another year instead of moving onto the NFL certainly helps with that.

His return will help soften the loss due to the graduation of Corvey Irvin, who took over much of the leadership responsibilities from Owens in his absence

Along with returnees Geno Atkins and Kade Weston, Owens should help give the Bulldogs one of the better defensive fronts in the SEC.

"They were excited, especially Geno because he's been on me about the "Three Amigos," Owens said of his decision to return. "Geno and I are real good friends. We'll be competing for snaps at defensive tackle, but as long as we all stay healthy it's going to be a sight to see."

As long as the unit can stay healthy, Owens may be right.

No doubt Atkins is glad to have him back.

With Owens out of the lineup, Atkins was forced to deal with more than his share of double-teams but still enjoyed an outstanding season with 34 tackles and a team-leading 30 quarterback hurries, two coming in Georgia's Capital One Bowl victory over Michigan State.

Like Owens, Atkins considered making himself available for the NFL Draft, but decided in November that wasn't going to be the case.

"My mom wanted me to come back, she wanted me to graduate and I wanted to graduate," Atkins told UGASports. "There wasn't any question."

The Bulldogs are hoping that Weston's senior year will be much healthier than his junior campaign when a balky knee cost him the games against Georgia Southern and Central Michigan, although it virtually hampered him virtually the entire year.

"It was really bad. If you're coming off the line with a weak leg, you can't push off and you tend to get unbalanced and not able to do what you want to do," Weston (6-5, 325) told UGASports. "I felt like I was never really able to get in a groove. I was really favoring the leg so it was really hard."

Weston never looked for pity. Not in the least.

As is the case with both offensive and defensive linemen, the physical punishment a player takes on a daily basis was difficult to consistently absorb.

"It's hard. It's very rare where you see a guy who isn't always hurting," Weston said. "When you've got 300-pound bodies banging in practice every day, you're going to get injured. When you do that consistently throughout the year on a consistent basis it's going to take its toll."

Garner was pleased with the effort and grit that Weston showed to make it through.

According to the Bulldogs' defensive line coach, it would have been easy for Weston to pack it in for the year to give the knee as much rest as possible. Weston's loyalty to his teammates didn't let that happen.

"I'm very proud of Kade for staying out there and fighting through it," Garner said. "A lot of guys might not have fought through it. He never really was 100 percent this season, but I thought there at the end he came out against Georgia Tech and probably played his best game. He just did a great job of fighting through this thing and still made a positive impact on the team."

Along with Atkins and Weston, the Bulldogs will also have Brandon Wood, DeAngelo Tyson and Ricardo Crawford each return after seeing considerable playing time in 2008.

In fact Tyson played in all 13 games for the Bulldogs as a true freshman, collecting 11 tackles, including one for a loss of one yard.

Verbal commitments Abry Jones and Derrick Lott will also get their chances to fit into the mix.

At 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Lott is a four-star performer from North Cobb and generally regarded as one of the most athletic defensive linemen in the entire south while Jones is a 6-3, 273-pounder from Northside-Warner Robins with plenty of potential to battle for early playing time.

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