ATHENS --- Michael Gilliard isn't a loud person by nature. However as one of the Georgia Bulldogs' returning seniors on defense, Gilliard is trying to force himself to take on a vocal leadership style.
"Since my senior year came I definitely became and tried to become more of a vocal leader and just try to lead by example," Gilliard said. "By example, I mean on and off the field. That's one of the main things I've tried to do."
The linebacker from Valdosta said that having the experienced group, including Christian Robinson and Cornelius Washington, return to the Bulldogs made a big difference going into the 2012 season.
"Just for everybody coming back I feel like it's easy on us as leaders," he said. "Like I said a couple of weeks ago, it's easy on us as leaders because the young guys want to work hard and want to come in and play. It's easier for us when those guys want to work."
Since coming to Georgia in 2009 Gilliard has been one of the Bulldogs' most consistent performers. He has appeared in at least 10 games in his first three years with Georgia. He recorded 11 starts and won the team's Most Improved Player award for defense in 2011.
His experience gives Gilliard the ability to speak with authority on the challenge the Bulldogs will face on Saturday. Georgia will travel to Columbia, Mo., to face Missouri in both teams' Southeastern Conference opener. Gilliard said that a lot of the challenges the Tigers pose are similar to those the Dogs face every year against Georgia Tech.
"Basically the same thing," Gilliard said. "We've just got to play assignment football, just read our keys and hopefully we will have some success just playing assignment football."
Gilliard paid special tribute to Missouri quarterback James Franklin ahead of the Tigers' first- ever SEC game.
"He's a good quarterback, real big framed guy but I'm just treating it like any other game," he said. "Just go out there and - as a defense - we're going to try to make plays and get the W against those guys."
Despite recording seven total tackles in Georgia's season opener against Buffalo, including two solo tackles, Gilliard said that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had not been happy with the Bulldogs' performance. The senior was however reflective about Georgia's 45-23 victory.
"It was the first game so we had to get all the kinks and wrinkles out," Gilliard said. "I feel like we solved a lot of those problems so we're ready to go."