After Georgia completed its fourth spring practice on Tuesday—its first in full pads—both defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and new defensive line coach Chris Wilson singled out the rising redshirt sophomore from Gainesville.
"The guy who has really been standing out to me quite a bit is Sterling Bailey," Wilson said. "I've really been impressed with the progress that he's made."
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Bailey played in three games last season with one tackle after shoulder and foot surgeries in his career, but he's now earned first-team work from his play in the practice prior to spring break.
Grantham said Bailey on Tuesday had his "best practice that I've seen him have when pads are on and we're competing and we're live. He controlled the team run stuff. I was really glad to see that."
Elsewhere on the defensive line, nose guard Mike Thornton and defensive end Garrison Smith have been running with the starting unit, Wilson said, but the other end spot is up for grabs with Bailey and Ray Drew competing.
"Mike Thornton has really been a pleasant surprise," Wilson said of the redshirt junior. "He hasn't had a lot of plays, made a lot of plays on tape, but he's really playing well. I'm excited about the progress that he's making."
The 6-foot-1, 302-pound Thornton needs to gain some confidence and "as I like to say make some tape. We've got to show that swagger on tape."
Junior college transfer Chris Mayes is showing signs of progress at nose, Wilson said, but has "to make a push," in the remaining 11 spring practices.
Harvey-Clemons, Matthews making moves
Josh Harvey-Clemons has worked as a safety in the early portion of practice open to the media, but the plan for the sophomore is the same, Grantham said.
"He plays safety and outside backer every day," he said. "He's going to play a lot of spots. He's going to be one of the 11."
So could freshman safety Tray Matthews, one of 13 early enrollees.
"We're throwing a lot at him by purpose because I want to see what guys can handle," Grantham said. "The days of lining up and being static are not there. You've got to be able to do things and create negative plays. When you do that, you're safety's got to be involved."
So, yes, Matthews could be in the heat of the battle from the get-go this season, perhaps even starting.
"I see it," Grantham said. "Don't you?"
Grantham said it's not just a matter of picking the best 11 players, but finding the right combinations to give the Bulldogs the best chance to win like when he moved Jarvis Jones to the strongside linebacker position last season starting against Florida. That allowed him to insert Jordan Jenkins into the lineup at weakside linebacker.
"If that means a freshman's playing, a freshman's playing," Grantham said. "I have no trouble playing young players."
Back from injury
They weren't in non-contact jerseys but didn't do a lot in the competitive part of practice, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
"It was good to get them out there and go through some pass skel stuff and then go through some thud stuff at the end and do some blitz pickup against the defense," Bobo said. "If we had to play today, they could have went. Hopefully they'll go full-go on Thursday. We'll see."
Marshall, the team's second leading rusher, sustained his injury running track, but missed only three practices.
Offensive tackle John Theus (foot surgery) jogged on the side in a non-contact jersey.
"Felt good to be back on the field today," Theus tweeted on Tuesday night.
This and that
Bobo called the first full pads practice for his unit as "a little lethargic today to be honest, but I was glad we went full pads, I was glad we jumped right into it. Like I told them after practice, we've been back two days (from spring break), there's no excuse to not come out and be ready to go."
The offense actually won the competitive drills 4-2, according to coach Mark Richt, who said he thought it was "an overall good day today," and was "not too bad for being the first practice back after spring back.
Quarterback Hutson Mason and tight end Ty-Flournoy Smith were both out Tuesday with what the school said was illnesses. Bobo said Mason "did an outstanding job," in the first three practices.
Among the 18 NFL draft hopefuls taking part in Georgia's Pro Day workouts Thursday is Jon Richt, son of Richt. The former Prince Avenue quarterback played at Mars Hill (N.C.) after transferring from Clemson.