Georgia defensive lineman Julian Rochester admits he was a bit limited when he signed with the Bulldogs in 2016 as a 6-foot-5, 327-pounder out of McEachern High School in the Atlanta suburb of Powder Springs.
Rochester isn't planning on challenging Terry Godwin or Mecole Hardman any time soon as a receiver or a return specialist, but now at 301 pounds he does expect to compete at all three spots along Georgia's defensive front.
"I feel like I can play every single one," Rochester said in a recent news conference.
Down the stretch of Georgia's run last season to the national championship game, the Bulldogs employed a starting defensive front of end Jonathan Ledbetter, noseguard John Atkins and tackle Tyler Clark. Rochester, David Marshall and Trenton Thompson provided quality depth, but Atkins and Thompson are now setting their sights on careers in the NFL.
While Atkins was best known for clogging the middle and Ledbetter for racking up the snazzy stats that included 38 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss a season ago, Rochester is practicing this spring with an "all of the above" mindset under the guidance of third-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and second-year defensive line coach Karl Scott.facebook
"I want to do all of it," Rochester said. "I want to play every single spot to the best of my abilities. Coach Scott has taught us to be versatile, because if you've got seven linemen who can play three different positions, then you've got 21. That's what he tells us."
The Bulldogs held their fourth spring practice Tuesday afternoon, working out for two hours in full pads.
Rochester has played in all 28 games since signing with the Bulldogs as 247Sports.com's No. 10 defensive tackle and No. 70 overall prospect nationally, tallying 58 career tackles. In Georgia's 27-24 win at Kentucky in 2016, he had eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Last season, Rochester had sacks during the rivalry routs of Tennessee and Florida.
With Georgia having to replace inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Reggie Carter, outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter and defensive backs Aaron Davis, Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders from the 2017 Southeastern Conference championship team, the defensive front isn't receiving as much attention compared to the other two levels.
That's not the case with head coach Kirby Smart, who said after last Saturday's third practice, "We're probably not as deep as we've been on the defensive front, and we're not where we need to be."
Rochester is trying to help change that, even though he knows Atkins and Thompson will be missed.
"If we don't match their standard, then we won't feel like we accomplished much of anything," Rochester said. "We know as a D-line that we have to step up a little bit more from the losses that we took. We all have each other's backs."
Andrew Thomas, who started all 15 games as a freshman last season at right tackle, continues to practice at left tackle to fill the void left by Isaiah Wynn. Thomas said after Tuesday's practice that position coach Sam Pittman started discussing the move to the left side late last season.
"The transition has been smooth so far," Thomas said. "I just come in every day ready to work. The mental aspect is the biggest difference. The plays are the same, but everything has flipped, so I'm mainly focusing on my footwork right now."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.