ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s coaches told Ray Drew they envision him playing at 285 to 290 pounds, which essentially removes any mystery about the position at which they believe he will settle.
But as he steadily progresses toward that weight -- Drew said he weighed in last week at 269 pounds -- the rising sophomore is preparing himself to split time between the position he played last season, outside linebacker, and the position where he might one day play exclusively, defensive end.
“As of right now, my mindset’s not so much being a full-blown defensive end,” Drew said. “If that happens, it happens. But since I’m going to be playing there no matter what, I would like to put on the weight so that I can hold my own whenever I’m down there -- because when you get down there closer to the center, you have to be a man to play down in the trenches.”
Drew and rising senior Cornelius Washington are both making such a transition, learning more about the end position this spring after mostly lining up at outside linebacker a season ago in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 base defense.
Washington initially played as a defensive end in Georgia’s pre-Grantham 4-3 defense, but predominantly played outside linebacker in 2010 and 2011. One of the jewels in Georgia’s 2011 recruiting class, Drew played sparingly as a freshman, although he was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week when he played in Washington’s place against Vanderbilt and recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble.
Above all else, Georgia coach Mark Richt said teaching two larger outside linebackers how to also play defensive end will bring extra matchup versatility to Grantham’s defense -- a trait the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator regularly emphasizes as a strength in his 3-4.
“Sometimes you have certain offensive schemes that you play and a matchup might be better for a kid at end rather than outside linebacker,” Richt said. “If we’re playing a team that’s just going to try to hammer you and you want more beef in there, you might play both Kwame [Geathers] and [John] Jenkins. And then all of a sudden, one of those ends becomes an outside linebacker that has to play on a big, physical tight end.
“So we’re looking for guys that have the versatility as much as we can.”
Ring’s the thing
Speaking of Jenkins, Georgia’s nose guard joked that he was grief-stricken when an injury caused him to drop off his high school basketball team, only to see his Francis T. Maloney teammates win the program's first Connecticut state championship title in program history without him.
Despite missing out on that initial chance to win a ring, Jenkins has been stockpiling them more recently. His Gulf Coast Community College team won a Mississippi junior college conference title in 2010 and he followed last year that by helping Georgia win its first SEC East championship since 2005.
The Bulldogs received their Eastern Division championship rings on Wednesday.
“I got me a ring in juco,” Jenkins said with a grin. “And now I have another ring and I have an opportunity to get a few more rings.”
Jenkins said he is unsure whether he will show off the ring in public -- at least after he posts a picture of it on his Facebook page. Perhaps for special occasions, he said.
Then again, he said he might take the rings home to Connecticut so his parents can display them.
“My mom is already trying to build a little trophy stand for me,” Jenkins said.
Unless he pulls off a Bacarri Rambo-like interception total, cornerback Damian Swann knows his opportunities to run with the ball will be rare. That motivates Swann even more to win the job as Georgia’s lead punt returner.
“A lot of guys like me that play defense that don’t really get the chance to touch the ball on offense, you look for opportunities like that on offense because when you do get it, then you can show what you can do with the ball,” Swann explained.
Without departed senior Brandon Boykin, who handled the majority of kickoffs and punts a year ago, Swann now believes there will be an open competition to claim those return duties.
“It should be an open job and I think the best guy at it’s going to get it,” he said.
Clemson series in peril?
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed to multiple media outlets that UGA and Clemson have discussed the possibility of canceling the home-and-home series between the two schools in 2013 and 2014.
With the ACC planning to play a nine-game league schedule once Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the league, possibly in 2013, a marquee non-conference matchup like Georgia-Clemson becomes less appealing for the Tigers.
Georgia could face a similar situation if the expanding SEC moves to a nine-game league slate.
McGarity and Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips both publicly stated that they hope to play the games as scheduled, but have warned for some time that expanded league schedules will likely decrease schools’ interest in playing many difficult out-of-conference games.
“Nine games and Georgia Tech, that’s 10 games. If you ever wanted to schedule a Clemson and Ohio State [in 2020 and 2021] like we have, then that just leaves one kind of guarantee game,” McGarity said recently. “That’s a pretty tough schedule. Fans would love it, but I don’t know if your coaches and players would.
“That’s strapping it up 11 out of 12 weeks right there,” he continued. “You have to have some time where you can have some players play that never get the chance to be on the field. That’s why you schedule some of the I-AAs and some of the other games is to let some of these kids grow and get experience.”