Sunday May 29th, 2016 11:43AM

Bailey ready to crank up speed, build on strong sophomore campaign for Dogs

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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ATHENS -- Sterling Bailey only knows one speed these days.

"Everything is about pace -- pace in practice, pace going from drill to drill, pace running off to the sideline," Bailey said. "This staff wants us full speed all the time."

Welcome to the new style of Bulldogs defense, and Bailey -- a former East Hall standout and current Georgia defensive end -- is happy to oblige.

"It's going really well; I'm running the defense really fast now," said Bailey, who -- like all Bulldogs defenders -- is in his first spring under new Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who has brought a sense of urgency to practice sessions since taking over from the same position at Florida State.

"We never slow down, but we're starting to get the hang of it," Bailey said.

That understanding did not come over night, and Bailey admits that he and his teammates still have a lot of learning to do, but after nine practice sessions under Pruitt -- who hopes to install the same kind of attacking, speedy style that defined last year's BCS Champion Florida State Seminoles -- the redshirt sophomore can already see major improvements. And that certainly includes in himself.

"It has had its rough times, but we're getting used to it," said Bailey, who started in nine games in 2013, recording 34 tackles and a sack. "It took me a while to get used to things, but once I got it, it clicked with me."

Bailey adds that learning his way around former coordinator Todd Grantham's defense last season has been a help with his new tasks.

"It was different, but once you got it, you understood what you needed to be doing -- and there's a lot of things I'm doing the same with this defense," Bailey said.

That starts with winning the line of scrimmage and being disruptive, something that Bailey managed in a number of contests last season, chiefly against then-No. 6 South Carolina, when the sophomore registered 10 tackles and his lone sack. He also racked up four stops against then-No. 8 Clemson.

"It was great but with the schedule we were in last year and playing in the SEC, it was like, OK, now you've got to move on to the next game," Bailey said. "You can't dwell on any one game."

That said Bailey also expects to improve over last year's performance.

"My expectations for myself are high; I expect to be great (next season)," the 6-foot-3, 282 pound defensive end said.

That expectancy extends to the entire Georgia defense, which hopes to take a giant step forward from last year's unit that tied for 79th in the nation in scoring at 29 points per game, and 45th in total defense at 375.5 yards per game. And those hopes are not diminished by the fact that they will be under a new defensive staff.

"The sky's the limit with this group," Bailey said. "We've got 10 starters back, and we've got a great recruiting class coming in. We know all about last season, and we just want to show people we've gotten better. We're using the bowl game (a 24-19 loss to Nebraska) and Auburn game (a heartbreaking 43-38 loss) to help motivate us every day."

To that end Bailey says he is pushing himself and attempting to soak everything up from new position coach Tracy Rocker -- himself a former All-American defensive lineman at Auburn.

"He expects everything from us," Bailey said of Rocker. "I'm just enjoying his teaching and trying to be coachable every day."

With players eager to impress the new staff and the competition that is typical of spring practice, Bailey says he has had to be at his best.

"Every day there is big-time competition," Bailey said. "We push each other to be the best, and we love each other (along the defensive line). And right now the defensive line is taking the lead because we're kind of the oldest group of defensive players, and everything starts up front."

Considering that Bailey will be a redshirt junior by the time the Bulldogs play host to Clemson in the 2014 season opener, the former Viking standout also understands that he will be an example for others.

"I'm trying to push; right now the coaches are looking for leadership, and if they need me to lead, I'll lead," Bailey said.

If the former East Hall standout continues the ascension he began last season, that kind of position may come by default -- and it may even have a few consequences for his former team.

"East Hall football is already on the rise; the students have started buying in," Bailey said. "And if they see me doing well, someone that was in the same situation that they are in -- if they see I made it, that might motivate them even more."

You can bet Bailey will be doing his best to motivate a lot of people come fall.

-- NOTE: There are six more practices left in Georgia's spring football schedule, including the annual spring scrimmage game -- G-Day, which is set for a 1 p.m. kickoff on April 12 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. The game is open to the public and is free of charge, though canned goods donations will be accepted at the gates.
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