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Injury shifts Irvin into key role.


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Rodney Garner had numerous conversations this offseason with Georgia's top defensive tackles about taking ownership of the position and becoming "player-coaches" on the field.

It wasn't just starters Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins that the Bulldogs defensive line coach drilled that message home to, but backups Corvey Irvin and Kade Weston, whom he considered part of the group's nucleus.

Now with Owens out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Irvin seems to be taking that message to heart as he moves into a starting role for Saturday's game against Central Michigan.

"Of course, I'm ready for the big role," Irvin said without hesitation. "I've just got to step up and be the man, just go over all of my mistakes and just do it."

The senior, who transferred from Georgia Military College before last season, grew up in Augusta watching Georgia games on TV on Saturdays. He is one of five scholarship defensive tackles for Georgia who will comprise the rotation in Saturday's game against Central Michigan.

Weston will miss his second straight game with a knee injury but could be back for the South Carolina game Sept. 13.

"Somebody's gotta step up," Garner said. "When one guy goes down, somebody else has got to step up. They've got to shoulder the load that he shouldered."

The 6-foot-4, 286-pound Irvin did that in place of Owens in the 45-21 win against Georgia Southern. Coach Mark Richt said that Irvin was just as productive as Atkins, an All-SEC pick last season.

Irvin had his first sack as a Bulldog, a team-high six tackles and two tackles for loss.

No wonder Garner said this summer that Irvin is "one of the true pure pass rushers that we have."

Ricardo Crawford and Brandon Wood are redshirt sophomores who also have new opportunities, after battling injuries throughout their collegiate careers.

Crawford was named most improved defensive tackle this spring and Richt praised him for continued strides in the preseason. Wood has worked both at tackle and defensive end.

The most intriguing name in the bunch may be first-year freshman DeAngelo Tyson. Coaches were prepraring to play the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Statesboro product even before Owens was injured, knowing that Weston would miss time and that they would face spread offenses that would require numerous fresh players.

Now Tyson will play more than he ever expected.

"It puts a lot of pressure on my shoulders," Tyson said.

Tyson is a Parade All-American and first-team USA Today All-USA selection, but apparently has yet to find all-American passion on the field. He admits he needs to do a better job of "bringing excitement" to his play.

Garner certainly would agree.

"DeAngelo has ability," Garner said. "He's got to decide he wants to play. He's got to change his body language. You've gotta get some energy, some excitement. The guy's just there. It's like, 'Do you like football? At least act like you like it.'

"But I think he's gonna be a good player. He's a guy with some ability. Hopefully he'll step up and rev up his game and get his motor going and take off the governor."

Georgia is going full-throttle ahead without Owens, its emotional leader and igniter.

"Jeff's the anchor of the defense," Irvin said. "He gets us motivated. He gets us hyped. We've just got to come out next week and get a win as a team."

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