What will Georgia’s defense look like in 2012?
It’ll probably depend on when you catch the Bulldogs. That’s good news for SEC newcomer Missouri, but maybe not so much for the Tennessees and Floridas of the world.
Georgia has a chance to exceed last year’s defensive output, which wasn’t bad. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 277.2 yards per game, but the uncertainty surrounding the early season status of defensive backs Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith (all three could have disciplinary issues) makes it hard to handicap coming out of the gate.
“We have a chance to be really good on defense,” coach Mark Richt said. “I have seen enough when we’re all healthy and rocking and rolling--we are going to be a tough defense to deal with.”
If that’s not the case, though, the SEC opener against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia, Missouri, will be a challenge. Missouri quarterback James Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and rushed for 981 last season in his first year as a starter.
If the Bulldogs can survive that test, they could end up with a defense equal or superior to that of its rivals Alabama and LSU by midseason. There are plenty of reasons for optimism, mainly the fact that defensive back Brandon Boykin is the only significant loss from last year’s group.
Georgia returns 12 of its top 13 tacklers from a year ago, and the returning starters list has to start with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last season. He was named a consensus All-American and turned down a chance to enter this year’s NFL Draft.
Mike Gilliard, Alec Ogletree (also facing a discipline issue that will affect the early season) and Chase Vasser round out the starting linebacker group, and Christian Robinson will get plenty of work in the middle. Gilliard was third on the team with 65 tackles (including seven for loss) last season.
The Bulldogs’ front three appears to be as good as it has been since Grantham came and installed the 3-4 look in 2010, and the biggest reason for that is the development of nose tackles John Jenkins, a senior, and Kwame Geathers, a junior. The Jenkins-Geathers partnership combined for 42 tackles a year ago and should be better this season.
Jenkins, a junior college transfer who spent his first year in the system last year, said this spring that he feels like he can be dominant this season.
“You have to start playing the game and deciding who is dominant and who is not,” Richt said, but “we have a chance to be really good up front.”
Jenkins shared the defensive MVP award last spring along with Jones.
Once the season’s suspensions are complete, the secondary should be in good hands with last year’s leading tackler Shawn Williams and Rambo at safety and Smith and Commings at cornerback. Until then, names like Damian Swann, at cornerback, honored this spring as one of the defense’s most improved players, and Corey Moore, a sophomore who is Rambo’s top backup at free safety, will become very familiar to Georgia fans.
“Everybody has got to stay in the best condition they possibly can, and everybody’s got to stay focused--and everybody’s got to get to the gate,” Richt said. “Once everybody is up and running, I think we will be very stout, but you have to get there and you have to prove it.”