Garner practices 'thug love' with freshman

ATHENS, Ga. -- Preseason camp creates a test of willpower for any freshman football player, but it might be particularly difficult for Jonathan Taylor, who plays for one of Georgia’s most demanding position coaches, Rodney Garner.

Garner joked about his regular admonishments of the freshman defensive lineman when speaking with reporters Sunday, but he added that he is not worried that his criticisms will be too much for a freshman like Taylor.

“He’ll be OK. He’s a good kid. He’s tough,” Garner said before breaking out a 1970s TV reference. “You remember ‘The Six Million Dollar Man?’ What did they tell you? We must rebuild him.

“You’ve got to break him down, and then you must rebuild him. And then you can make him bigger, faster, stronger, everything. But you’ve got to tear it down to the foundation to build it back up. ... He’d better learn how to take it. He’d better be tough-skinned. If I can affect him, wow, we’ve got problems.”

Georgia’s defensive linemen for years have spoken of the tough love Garner directs their way -- Garner calls it “thug love” -- but most would admit that his methods eventually help them become more effective players. And that’s the goal with Taylor, whom ESPN rated as the nation’s No. 6 defensive tackle prospect and No. 53 overall player in the 2012 recruiting class.

That doesn’t always make it much fun to endure, however. In the early practice periods that are open to the media, Garner regularly hounds Taylor for not getting low enough during one-on-one blocking drills against Bulldogs offensive linemen. It might create hard feelings at times, but Garner and offensive line coach Will Friend are clearly typical line coaches in that they believe fieriness is a necessary trait for men in their positions.

“In my room, it’s called thug love. It’s hardcore love, but it’s all love,” Garner said. “It’s 100 percent love, and you ask every one of them, it’s love, but it’s hard love. You’ve got to love them hard, but you’ve got to hold them accountable. But at the same time, you’ve got to put your arm around them, you’ve got to say, ‘Hey, that was a great play. That’s what I’m talking about. This is what you’ve got to do every time.’

“We all want the same goal. I want them to be a good player, they want to be a good player, this team wants them to be a good player,” he continued. “But as it says in the Bible, ‘Iron sharpens iron so as a man sharpens a man,’ so that’s what we’re doing. We’re just challenging them every day to get better. They challenge me to get better as a coach. So we just challenge one another to get better.”