Chris Wilson doesn't have the luxury of easing into his role as Georgia's new defensive line coach.
The Bulldogs lost defensive ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington as well as noseguards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers from last season's 12-2 team. Georgia's offensive line will have all five starters back, so Wilson's contingent could experience rough times leading up to a taxing season opener at Clemson.
"Absolutely it's a challenge, but the thing about a place like Georgia is that the cupboard isn't bare," Wilson said Tuesday as the Bulldogs resumed spring practice. "We've got some really good players here, and it's my job to go in there and develop these guys and get the most out of them."
The Bulldogs worked out for two hours during the fourth of 15 spring sessions. Head coach Mark Richt said the offense won on a competitive day that included the first opportunity to tackle.
Wilson's most experienced player is senior end Garrison Smith, who became a starter midway through last season when Jones was lost to an ankle injury. The 6-foot-3, 297-pounder from Atlanta compiled 57 tackles and two tackles for loss, and he had a career-best eight stops in the 42-10 rout of Georgia Tech.
"It's nice to have a guy who has been here through not only the two SEC East championships but also a tough year before that," Wilson said. "He knows what it's like to go through the process, and I'm really thankful for Garrison. What I'm more excited about is that he's been a guy who is all in. He's willing to make some changes to become an even better football player and a better leader."
Wilson, who is following the 15-year run of Rodney Garner, has junior Ray Drew at the opposite end spot. The 6-5, 284-pound Drew was the most touted member of Georgia's 2011 "Dream Team" signing class according to Rivals.com, but his two-season totals consist of 31 tackles in 20 games played.
Drew also came on late last year and had an eight-tackle performance against Georgia Tech as well.
"He's on course," Wilson said. "Being a defensive lineman in the toughest league in college football is a process, and not only is his ability and talent at a high level, but he is grasping our defense. That's when guys start making their biggest strides."
Another Dream Team member, redshirt sophomore Sterling Bailey, is competing for playing time at end, and making the most noise inside is redshirt junior Mike Thornton. A 6-1, 302-pounder from Stone Mountain, Thornton has played in 21 career games and has just two tackles.
"Mike Thornton has really stood out and shown some flash on tape," Wilson said. "The competition is still wide open, but he is the leader of the pack and should be. He's an older guy who has had a lot of repetitions at that position.
"The biggest thing is getting those younger guys to come along with him."
Tailbacks Keith Marshall (hamstring) and Brandon Harton (knee) went through Tuesday's practice, while quarterback Hutson Mason and tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith sat out with illnesses. ... Georgia will practice Thursday and hold its pro day, which will include a workout by Richt's son Jon. He was a Mars Hill quarterback.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.