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After losing seven of its members to the NFL Draft, it seems the entire country wants to know - what can be expected from the Georgia defense this fall?
That's a question senior defensive end Garrison Smith can't wait to find out for himself.
"I'm curious just to see it all come together," Smith said Tuesday. "It's going to be interesting to see, but I'm confident in everybody's ability and that we will show up and do a good job."
Head coach Mark Richt has his fingers crossed.
"I just don't know yet. I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "We've seen all of our guys make plays in practice. These guys have the ability, but will they do it in a game? We'll just have to find out."
On paper, 8th-ranked Clemson will provide quite the test.
Everyone knows about Tiger quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, but questions abound about what the Bulldogs - who ranked 10th in the SEC in rush defense (182.2 yards per game) in 2012 - will to do improve those numbers?
Therein lies the million dollar question.
When the Bulldogs and Tigers kick off at 8:22 p.m. Saturday night, Georgia's two-deep on defense could well feature 13 players who are either freshmen or sophomores (seven true freshmen, one redshirt freshman and five sophomores), and with the exception of starting outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, have limited to no experience in actual big-time games.
"I feel like the country has a lot of questions as to whether we can play or not," Jenkins said. "But what we're telling the younger guys is don't worry about what other people are saying, show up, do what the coaches are saying, do what you're told."
Jenkins is being counted on to at least take up some of the slack left by the loss of Jarvis Jones to the NFL.
Jones, a two-time All-American, led Georgia with a single-season record 14½ sacks last fall, and won't be easy to replace.
There are also plenty of new faces on the defensive line.
Gone are Abry Jones, John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers and Cornelius Washington. Say hello to Smith, Mike Thornton, Sterling Bailey, Ray Drew, Toby Johnson, Chris Mayes and John Taylor.
"It felt kind of weird coming to camp and not having a big 500-pounder like John Jenkins, an 8-footer like Kwame. It's weird not having those guys right now," Smith said. "But that's just part of the game, new guys come in every year. New stars are made every year. The next generation of Bulldogs are here, it's time for them to make a name for themselves."
But as Smith paused to reflect, it's not like the defense finds itself in a situation it didn't expect in regards to the seven players it lost to the NFL.
"It wasn't a shock, it wasn't no secret. It wasn't no Manhattan Project, you know?" Smith said. "Everybody knew those guys were going to the NFL, they did what they had to do here. They did well, they succeeded, so they went on to the next level to take care of their families. The coaches did a great job of recruiting young guys to play so now it's their time to step up."
However, slowing down Clemson is not expected to be easy.
The Tigers' up-tempo attack is designed to run as many offensive plays as possible, while attempting to push the opposing defense to the point of exhaustion.
"We've got to substitute. There's no doubt. I don't really care how many plays they get, just as long as we win, but it's going to be interesting to see," Richt said. "Both offenses have the ability to go at a pretty good clip. If both teams are snapping that ball (early in the clock), there's going to be a lot of plays run, and that's just the way it's going to be. The goal is just to make sure that we get them off the field and force some kicks instead of extra points and field goals."
Despite the obvious youth, Jenkins says a big difference in this year's team that he believes will help stymie the Tigers' offensive plans.
Unlike last year, this year's defense appears to be leaner, something the Harris County native believes will benefit the Bulldogs against Clemson's fast-paced offensive attack.
"We're a lot smaller on the line than we were last year but we have a lot more guys that we can rotate in this year," Jenkins said. "Last year, we had 11 guys and one or two subs. This year, we've got two or three subs per position just about. I just feel with all that depth we have had greater competition. I know I've said that a lot, but I really think that's going to make a big difference this year."
Of course, there's still that not-so-small matter of being able to get on and off the field in time to make the proper substitutions.
"We've practiced that for the past week or two. Monday we practiced where we had to run on and run off," Jenkins said. "If out didn't make it off the field that was an extra sprint you had to do. We started out with like six sprints, but I think we had like one yesterday, so I think we'll be ready for that."
Richt's ready to find out for himself.
"It's just going to be interesting to see how quickly these guys can get their feet under them and start playing with some confidence. I'm not saying they won't start out that way, but young people tend to be more apt to react to what happens early in the game," Richt said. "No matter what happens, you have to play the next down, and Coach (Todd) Grantham talks about it all the time. He talks about doing your job and playing the next snap, so whether it's a good one or a bad one, you have to get back focused on what you're supposed to do. It's going to be awhile before we really see how good these guys can be, but they'll definitely get tested on Saturday."
Garrison Smith talks Clemson from UGASports.com on Vimeo.
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