ATHENS, Ga. -- Josh Dawson has already cleared the first hurdle.
The Georgia freshman has been practicing as a reserve outside linebacker and special-teams contributor throughout August and has earned a chance to play this fall. Now it's time to carve out a niche where he actually gets on the field, because he won't be redshirting.
"Josh Dawson's playing," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham confirmed after Thursday's practice. "He's done a really good job. He continues to get better every day. He just takes strides every day to play."
The Bulldogs have several veteran players already on the roster at the outside linebacker spots, but Grantham and head coach Mark Richt have regularly directed compliments toward Dawson and fellow freshman outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and James DeLoach since camp opened.
Jenkins seems assured of regular playing time and Dawson might be in line right behind him after adding 20 pounds -- from 235 pounds to 255 -- since arriving on campus in June, which helps him play more physically. While he admits struggling to pick up the defense when he arrived, Dawson said veterans like Jarvis Jones and Chase Vasser have helped him adjust.
"I didn't come from a 3-4 defense in high school, so it's totally different," Dawson said. "With Coach Grantham and Jarvis and Chase, they've all had a wing over me and all the freshmen, really, and just looked out and sent down tips anytime they can."
Perhaps that will help him be on the sideline in uniform when the Bulldogs play their first SEC game at Missouri in Week 2. The Bulldogs' locker room will be packed for the season opener against Buffalo, but conference rules will allow only 70 players to suit up at Missouri -- so the coaching staff will have some roster decisions to make before then.
With Vasser suspended for the first two games, Dawson's chances of making the trip might be a bit greater.
"I think he has the ability to make a push to be one of those guys for us that can be counted on for those away trips," senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. "Everybody will be here for the first one, so we'll see Week 2 when things get a little bit more tight."
But it could be that he still must convince the coaching staff that he can be useful enough on special teams and scrimmage downs to play more than intermittently.
"I wouldn't say Dawson has exceeded anybody else's play at this point, but I think what makes him good is that he does play very hard," Richt said. "I think he's learning very quickly."
Most recruiting services listed Dawson as a defensive end when he signed with the Bulldogs in February, flip-flopping on a commitment to Vanderbilt just before signing day. He'd have to add more weight to play end full-time and he said he would do so if asked, although he feels he is at an optimum weight now.
"Whatever Coach Grantham says because he knows defense and I'm not going to second-guess him and Coach Richt," Dawson said. "Wherever they want to put me, I'm down to do it."
Redshirt freshman Sterling Bailey shifted from outside linebacker to defensive end this year after pushing his weight to 290 pounds, but Grantham does not foresee such a change for Dawson. If anything, he thinks Dawson could someday become a hybrid defensive end and linebacker like senior Cornelius Washington will be, providing extra versatility within Grantham's defensive personnel.
For now, he's an outside linebacker -- one who Grantham intends to use in some capacity right away.
"I don't think he'll move down [to defensive end]. I kind of see him kind of like a Cornelius Washington kind of guy," Grantham said. "He can do those kind of things and I've been very pleased with his progress and look forward to watching him play next Saturday."