Smith ready to step up as a D-line leader

To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice Tuesday, DawgNation will do a position breakdown each day and feature one player to watch at that position. Today we look at the defensive line and Garrison Smith.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Garrison Smith was a mostly unknown reserve before he introduced himself to Georgia’s fan base last fall with a standout performance against one of the Bulldogs’ biggest rivals.

Senior defensive end DeAngelo Tyson left with a season-ending ankle injury two plays into Georgia’s showdown with Georgia Tech, opening the door for Smith, a sophomore, to play a key role for the first time in his career.

The Atlanta native responded with seven tackles, 1.5 for loss, in the Bulldogs’ 31-17 win over the Yellow Jackets in his hometown, winning SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week honors for his efforts.

Smith did not make as much of an impact the following week against then-No. 1 LSU -- his first career start -- or in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State. But now that Tyson has completed his career, Smith is in line to become more than a role player or an injury reserve.

With a strong spring, he could put himself in position to fill the one open starting spot on the Bulldogs’ defensive line.

John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers have settled into an effective rotation at nose guard and Abry Jones could contend for All-SEC honors this season at end. But the other starting end spot, as well as the additional playing time for backup ends, seems to be up for grabs as spring practice approaches.

Derrick Lott and Dexter Morant could provide some resistance, and Ray Drew could be a wild card in the competition if he shifts full time from outside linebacker.

But Smith -- named to the ESPNU 150 in 2010, when he selected Georgia over programs like Alabama, LSU and Florida -- is at the front of the line for the bulk of that playing time. Now he must prove that the big game he had against Georgia Tech wasn’t a fluke but instead a sign of things to come.