Defensive line coach Rodney Garner isn't one to namby-pamby around when it comes to giving his opinion on any number of subjects.
That includes why Kade Weston has started ahead of Geno Atkins alongside Jeff Owens for the last two weeks against Arizona State and LSU.
"He's played better. They'll (the players) tell you. That's why I don't have any morale problems. Shoot, it is what is," Garner said. "If you're practicing better and you're playing better, you're going to start. If you're not, you're being dropped."
Garner said it's not so much that Atkins is playing poorly. It's simply that Weston's raised the level of his play, and the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder is playing the best ball of his Bulldog career.
The Red Bank, N.J. native is coming off an effort against LSU when he tied a career high by recording five tackles against the fourth-ranked Tigers, one less than he made in Georgia's four previous games combined.
"Coach is seeing some good things out of me. I've been able to make plays," Weston said. "I knew I had to raise my game from last year and that's why I've been giving it my all to prepare both on and off the field."
As a result, Weston has been rewarded with a starting role at Atkins' expense.
"If you're not playing better and somebody else is playing better, you're going to get benched, too. It's healthy, it's good for morale, it's good to motivate guys because I think they all want to play," Garner said. "They should or you don't want them on your team anyway.
"But it's not a negative thing. I don't think Geno takes it negative, Kade's getting it done. If he (Atkins) wants to overtake Kade or Jeff, it's not just like it's just Kade, he'll get his chance. Hell, if Jeff doesn't play well, he can start in place of Jeff."
From the perspective of playing time, however, all three defensive tackles are still getting equal reps.
According to Garner, last week, Owens wound up receiving approximately "10 or 15" more reps than Atkins and Weston, who received about 30 apiece.
Of the defensive tackles, Weston leads the way with four tackles for loss but is tied with Atkins for the team-lead in quarterback pressures with 13, a number that Garner helps back his opinion that Georgia's defensive line has actually excelled the entire season.
"What I'm looking for them is every week to improve. I want them to improve from last week to his week and for us to have any chance to be successful, they've got to, because to date, this (Tennessee) will be their biggest challenge," Garner said. "I'm not blowing smoke. I think they're the best offensive line we've played against."
It's certainly one of the more experienced. With the exception of freshman right tackle Aaron Douglas, Tennessee's starting offensive line consists of all seniors as are three of the top backups.
Together, the group has helped running back Montario Hardesty leads the SEC in rushing with 575 yards with true freshman Bryce Brown also making an impact in the Volunteer backfield.
"They're well-coached, they take great steps, they take great pad level, they keep their bodies in good position, they stay on blocks, they stay on their feet," Garner said. "Those two running backs they've got it make them even better. I know it's a lot easier being an All-American with Bo Jackson than Stu Jackson running behind you. They present a tremendous challenge."
But it's a challenge Weston said he and the rest of the Bulldog defensive line is looking forward to meeting.
It's a certainly a different Weston that will be taking the field against the Volunteers.
Weston battled a troublesome knee all of 2008, an injury which kept him from ever reaching his true potential.
His weight didn't help, either.
Last year, Weston said he played anywhere between 320 and 325 pounds. This year, it's a leaner, meaner Weston who tips the scale at between 310 and 315.
"I definitely feel much better," he said. "It's really great to be able to be healthy and not worry about my knee or getting hurt some other way. I'm now 100 percent, and finally able to just go out there and play."
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