Trenton Thompson part of Georgia's fluctuating defensive front

Georgia sophomore defensive tackle Trenton Thompson (78) closes in on Auburn's Stanton Truitt during last month's game in Sanford Stadium.

ATHENS, Ga. - Trenton Thompson has been Georgia's most productive defensive lineman from a statistical standpoint this season, though he hasn't always been a cinch to start.

The nation's No. 1 prospect in the 2015 signing class according to 247Sports.com, Thompson has racked up 48 tackles this season after making 25 as a freshman. Yet his six starts at defensive tackle match his number from a year ago, with his inability to increase that total largely due to the emergence of freshman Julian Rochester.

"It just shows you how everyone has to work," Bulldogs junior nose tackle John Atkins said. "No one spot is safe, and a lot of the younger guys have challenged me, too. Julian and Trent have gone back and forth, but Trent can be very disruptive in the backfield, and you need someone like Trent on your team."

Atkins leads Georgia's defensive linemen with eight starts entering the Liberty Bowl against TCU on Dec. 30 in Memphis. Thompson and Rochester each have six starts, while sophomore DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle has five, freshman David Marshall four and sophomore Jonathan Ledbetter three.

Thompson seemed destined for a monstrous year after the 6-foot-4, 309-pounder from Albany, Ga., racked up 11 tackles and three tackles for loss during the second game, the 26-24 escape of Nicholls State. He eventually was replaced as a starter by Rochester, a consensus four-star prospect in this year's class who enrolled early.

"Trenton has worked really hard," Bulldogs first-year coach Kirby Smart said. "He had a spell in the middle of the season there where we thought Julian was practicing better and playing a little better than him, so Julian was playing a little more. Trenton went back to work and outworked him, and we thought he played and practiced well the Auburn week.

"We actually started him in the second half of the Auburn game, but there is competition at certain positions every week, and they know they've got to go out and earn it."

Thompson entered November coming off a five-tackle performance against Florida. He had four tackles and a lost-yardage stop against Auburn, then tallied six stops against Louisiana-Lafayette.

In addition to his 48 overall tackles, tied for fifth for the Bulldogs, Thompson also has six lost-yardage tackles, including two sacks.

"I think Trenton has really responded well to the adversity he's had," Smart said, "and he's had some games where he's really played well. He's got to continue to develop his technique, but he is an explosive, athletic defensive tackle, which is hard to find."

Said Thompson: "I'm pretty happy with what I've done, and I think I can build on it. I'm using my hands much better. I've just got to keep going forward and not backwards."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.