ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt was raving the other day about how much Ray Drew has grown since he has been with the Bulldogs. If Drew’s progress on the field matches his physical maturity, NFL scouts soon may be raving about Drew as well.
Thanks in large part to his metamorphosis from the athletic, 6-foot-5, 245-pounder he was when he showed up to the hulking 270-pounder he is in spring football practice this week, the Bulldogs have moved Drew down onto the defensive line. He played last season as a will outside linebacker, a stand-up position that occasionally plays on the line of scrimmage.
Now he’s lining up at defensive end, which in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s scheme is played with a hand on the ground and sometimes well inside toward the interior of the opposing offensive line. Senior Cornelius Washington, who is now pushing 280 pounds is making a similar transition.
While initially resistant to the idea, Drew likes what he’s been hearing about and experiencing at the position.
“Before I leave here as a senior, they project me as about 285-290 [pounds],” Drew said. “If I can get to that weight and keep my speed as well, you know, everyone has dreams and aspirations of the NFL. And that would open me up not only to the 3-4 teams but the 4-3 teams as well. So you can be looked at by both sides as a defensive tackle, defensive end, 3-technique, 5-technique, any one.”
Both Drew and Washington have been working at the new position since spring practice opened on Tuesday. Thursday represented their third say working out with the group that includes Abry Jones and Garrison Smith and is led by coach Rodney Garner.
“There’s not too much of a difference,” Drew said. “The 5-technique and the 3-technique (tackle/end positions) are pretty much the same as the 9 technique (an outside linebacker spot) except you’re a little bit wider out and have a little more room to work. Now that I’m on the inside, you have to be a little more power driven and use your hands well. You have to have good hand placement and be able to knock the offensive tackle’s or guard’s hands off of you so you can make the play. That’s opposed to outside, where you can use a little more finesse and maybe use a spin move here or there.”
Ultimately, Drew may continue play some at outside linebacker in the fall. But a cornerstone of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s philosophy is to cross-train players at more than one position. He wants to have the versatility to mix-match his lineup to include what he deems to be the 11 best players on the field for whatever offense the Bulldogs may be facing in a given week.
But Drew’s dramatic physical growth as a result of daily strength and conditioning coupled with a supervised nutritional diet are dictating a change as much as anything.
“With the way Ray’s body is growing and that kind of thing, he’s certainly got to learn what to do at the end position,” Richt said. “I don’t know what he weighs this minute, but he’s tall, got very broad shoulders, long arms, giant feet. I think [he wears shoe size] 20s or something like that. . . . I don’t want to predict how big he can get but big enough to play end and still be athletic enough to play outside linebacker.”
Remaining versatile enough to play a number of positions is what Drew is banking on.
“[Demarcus] Dobbs is a great testament to that,” drew said of being versatile. “He’s with the ‘Niners now and the coaches love him because he can play the 7, the 5, the 3, the nose. When it comes down to it and you’re choosing between two guys on the defensive line and you’ve got a guy that can play all the positions as opposed to just a 5 or a 7, when it comes time to cut someone you’re going to keep the guy that can move around. So it gives you more opportunities in that aspect.”
Drew alluded to the story of Richard Seymour, who showed up as a Georgia freshman as a lanky, 6-foot-6 end.
“He didn’t want to move inside either and now he’s one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL,” Drew said. “So anyone who can help me make that much money, I’m willing to do whatever they say.”
You could say the idea of playing defensive end is growing on Drew.
“I look at myself as a player,” he said. “Whether it be at defensive end, outside linebacker or quarterback, I just want to be on the field. But as far as that label itself, yeah, I could see myself as a defensive end.”