“He’d probably be the first guy to tell you that,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said, “and then all of a sudden, he was the most explosive guy I’ve ever coached.”
Davis grew into an All-America safety in 2004 and was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. The morale of the story is there still is time for the No. 21 Bulldogs current defenders to develop the kind of killer instinct their coaches want.
“There’s a lot more coaching, teaching than there has been in the past, getting on kids, making sure that they’re emotionally charged, and that’s fine,” Martinez said. “That’s part of it (when) you’ve got an inexperienced team.”
In the days of Davis and Greg Blue and Odell Thurman, there was a certain meanness about the Bulldogs, and head coach Mark Richt would love to see that return.
“Offensively, you don’t necessarily have to be in a bad mood to play well. Defensively, I think you do,” Richt said. “I’ve seen good offensive teams that didn’t have a mean bone in their body, but I’ve never seen many good defenses that weren’t mean or mad.”
“We’ve got a little bit,” Richt said. “I don’t know if we’re mean enough to be great right now.”
Georgia (5-2, 3-2 SEC) is fourth in the SEC in both points allowed (19.7) and yards allowed (319.6). The Bulldogs have a week off before playing No. 14 Florida.
One of the reasons Martinez prefers coaching from the sideline rather than the elevated coaching box is so he can judge his team’s demeanor, he said.
“Defense is so much about emotion, attitude, setting a tempo,” he said. “It’s almost a crazy kind of atmosphere, and you want to keep it that way. Where offense, not that you don’t play with emotion but there’s a poise factor there. On defense, you can just run real fast, hit real hard and if you make a mistake, do it full speed.”
The biggest thing standing between where Georgia is and where Martinez wants it to be is maturity, he said. Like Davis, these Bulldogs have to grow, he said. Georgia started two seniors and three upperclassmen on defense last week against Vanderbilt.
“Obviously, we lack the leadership,” Martinez said. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of leadership (in the past). Usually when mistakes were made in the past, you’d have enough guys … get in each other’s face and they’d get it corrected before the coach.”
Most of Georgia’s major defensive contributors – defensive tackle Jeff Owens, linebackers Brandon Miller and Marcus Washington, defensive end Rod Battle, cornerback Asher Allen to name a few – are witty and amiable, the kind of guys you’d be perfectly comfortable meeting in a dark alley, but that doesn’t mean they have to play that way, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said.
“You don’t have to be who you are on the field,” Ellerbe said. “You can be a totally different person on the field.”
Georgia has the potential to play with a bad attitude, Ellerbe said.
“We probably don’t have what (Richt) wants now compared to the Thomas Davises and Odells, guys who made big hits all the time,” he said, “but we’ll be there.”