“Right now, he’s probably pretty miserable just because I’m on him so hard,” said Garner, also Georgia’s assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator. “He’s like, ‘This is a major change from recruiting.’ Yeah, it is. It’s easy to say you want to play; it’s something else to get yourself ready to play.”
Irvin, a junior who transferred from Georgia Military College, is getting his first taste of Garner’s coaching style during the Bulldogs’ spring practice, which continued Wednesday at the team’s practice facility.
“He’s a hard coach, but that’s what I need,” said Irvin, who played at Laney High School in Augusta before heading to GMC. “When he recruited me, he told me it wasn’t going to be easy. I mean I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it’s a whole ‘nother level from JUCO.”
Garner, who has sent a string of defensive tackles to the NFL, is known for an aggressive coaching style that includes talking freely with the media about a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
“I have to always remind myself that he just got here in January, but mentally he’s got to put some time in and learn what to do,” Garner said. “He can’t be so coach-dependent on the field. I’m not going to be out there in the game lining him up. We need him. He has the skill level. He has a good body. I don’t think the stuff is that complicated, but I don’t know.”
Irvin and redshirt freshman Ricardo Crawford are taking almost every practice snap with the second-team defensive line, which can make for some long days. It’s a common sight after each practice to see Irvin with his No. 90 jersey sweat soaked over his slouching 6-foot-4, 275-pound while he catches his breath on a team bench.
“If you’re trying to go to the next level, you have to be coached hard. When he fusses at me, I just take it and try to do better the next day,” Irvin said. “He isn’t telling me nothing wrong. It’s all good stuff. I know I’m slacking a little bit now, but trust me, it’ll get better.”
With Irvin and Crawford taking all the second-team work, sophomore Geno Atkins and walk-on Tripp Taylor are rotating in with the first team, which costs starters Jeff Owens and Kade Owens practice time.
“It’s really not fair to (Owens and Weston) this spring because they’re not getting the volume of reps that they normally would get, and I don’t want them to get the misconception that they are good already,” Garner said. “They’ve got to take mental reps, and they’ve got to take quality reps because they’re not getting quantity.”
Head coach Mark Richt has been impressed with Atkins, a sophomore who had nine tackles last year.
“Geno is going to play a lot of football for us,” Richt said.