After my analysis of the Georgia offensive depth chart a week ago, I’ll continue my series with a focus on the defensive side of the ball coming out of spring practice. I am a firm believer that defense wins championships especially in a league as tough as the SEC and David Hale agrees. The offseason led to a lot of change on the Georgia defense with wholesale changes to the defensive coaching staff, the introduction of the 3-4 base defense, and the loss of starters at all three levels of the defense.
The change from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense will have a significant impact on the front line. The role of defensive linemen in the 3-4 is to clog lanes and enable the linebackers to run and make plays. The defensive coaching staff, especially Rodney Garner will have to take talent recruited to the 4-3 and put them in the position to be successful in the 3-4. The defensive ends in the 3-4 must be more balanced in their responsibility between run and pass. Abry Jones appears to be a star in the making after appearing in multiple games last year at defensive tackle. Demarcus Dobbs will need to be a leader at the other defensive end. As a holdover from the 4-3, his skills seem to fit well with the needs of a 3-4 defensive end. Kiante Tripp and Brandon Wood lead the group behind Jones and Dobbs. Tripp, in particular, has made a lot of sacrifices for the program by moving among multiple positions. By the end of the year, he should be the break-out player from this group. At nose tackle, DeAngelo Tyson looks to play the Jay Ratliff, 1-gap role that Coach Grantham looks for in the 3-4. Kwame Geathers could be a future star at the nose and has closer to the prototypical body for an every down nose tackle. Incoming freshmen will likely get looks for reserve roles at the nose in the fall.
The linebacker position also will see a lot of change in the responsibilities moving from the 4-3 to the 3-4. In Fourth & Willie’s 4-3, the linebackers did more reading and reacting and less attacking. In Todd Grantham’s 3-4, the linebackers will attack the line of scrimmage from all angles.
Justin Houston is getting a lot of pre-season love as a 1st-team All-SEC candidate at outside linebacker. Cornelius Washington should become a force to be reckoned with on the opposite side. These two guys’ ability to get up the field after the passer should lead to negative plays by opposing offenses this year. Darryl Gamble leads a group of reserves at the outside linebacker position. Incoming freshmen will get immediate looks at this position.
The inside linebackers will probably look more like our linebackers in the 4-3. These guys will have the responsibility to get the defense in the right alignment and run from sideline to sideline to make plays. Christian Robinson will enter fall practice starting at one inside spot with senior Akeem Dent as the leader of the defense at the other spot. Keep an eye on Marcus Dowtin and others at the inside spots. The wild card in the equation is former starter tailback and incredibly athletic Richard Samuel. If Samuel doesn’t redshirt and picks up the defense, he could become a tackling machine at his more natural position at inside linebacker.
The defense loses three of four starters from a year ago but could be better athletically. Brandon Boykin had an excellent season last year as a first-year starter opposite Prince Miller. By the end of the season, teams were throwing away from him consistently. He likes to mix it up in run support and blitz from the corner. He will likely be looking at an NFL payday as a corner and kick returner in the future. Vance Cuff will get his turn as a starter at the field corner. After receiving the Most Improved Player award on defense with his running mate Boykin, Cuff has played consistently since seeing the field as a true freshman. Speedster Branden Smith will be the likely nickel back and first off the bench among the group of corners. His reverse against South Carolina last year in his second game electrified Sanford Stadium. Bacarri Rambo finally has the starting free safety position after making a lot of plays including a game-saving hit in the Auburn game last year. Nick Williams will enter the season as the #1 strong safety in the fall, but look out for 1st-year players Jakar Hamiton and Alec Ogletree to make an impact as well.
Out with the old and in with the new is the theme of this year’s defense. Since the Debacle in the Dome against West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, the Georgia defense consistently lost its edge over the next four seasons resulting in the firing of three of the four defensive assistants prior to the bowl game last season. Todd Grantham brings NFL pedigree, experience with the Armani Bear and BeamerBall, and a big contract as the new defensive coordinator. Rodney Garner, the lone holdover, has been a proven commodity coaching defensive line talent into the NFL and leads Georgia’s recruiting efforts. Warren Belin joins the staff from Vanderbilt where he tutored multiple linebackers into the NFL. He will also get rid of the challenge of slow walk-ons and directional kicking from our kick-off coverage strategy. Scott Lakatos comes to Georgia from Connecticut and has already changed the way our defensive back approach the position. The new defensive staff has a renewed focus on fundamentals which appeared to be sorely lacking the last couple of years with the culmination being “Cromptoned” on Rocky Top in October.
The defensive side of the ball is not lacking for talent with many of the players highly recruited coming out of high school. The prior administration’s scheme, approach to teaching, and focus on seniority over talent did not get the most out of the talent it had. If the defense can get back to forcing turnovers and pressuring the quarterback, the defense will regain its swagger lost from the Brian VanGorder years. If not, I’m afraid the Georgia fan base will begin to grumble more loudly about the state of the program. The focus on fundamentals should be nothing but good for the defense. I expect to see defensive lapses early in the season as the players adjust to the new scheme under game conditions. I also expect to see we will see most guys flourish in the new system and bring the Junkyard back to the Dawgs’ defense in 2010 and beyond. Needless to say, September 11 in Columbia, South Carolina will be very interesting.
Next up will be the analysis of special teams which should be truly special in 2010.
As always, I would love to read your comments below.