While coordinator Mike Bobo’s unit returns 10 starters, the defensive side of the ball is going through a massive overhaul, both in personnel and scheme.
And yet, while the scrimmage was a showcase for Georgia’s passing game, the offensive players are seeing plenty of reason for optimism from that revamped defense, too.
“A couple of days ago, they whipped us pretty good, just flying around the whole team and killing us,” receiver A.J. Green said.
First-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has been installing his new 3-4 defense at breakneck speed, and the players on the defensive side of the ball have been working feverishly to keep pace. While the early results were chaotic at best, the past few practices have shown that the defense might be climbing the learning curve a bit faster than expected.
“After about practice seven, it became a typical spring of one day the defense has a good day and another day the offense does,” head coach Mark Richt said. “I think they’re in position to, on any given day, win the day, where early on, they were just trying to figure out what was going on.”
Of course, the defense was the only group with its head on a swivel during those frenetic early days of practice. The new-look defense was new to everyone, and that made life tough for the offense, too.
Logan Gray is one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting job this spring, and with two more years in the system than his competitors, he figured to have a leg up in practice. As it turned out, the defense proved nearly as confusing to him as it was to the players Grantham was tutoring.
“I had gotten used to going against our defense, and knowing how they’re going to line up and what kind of coverages they’re going to play and blitzes they’re going to bring,” Gray said. “This spring, they come out with all new stuff, new blitzes and new packages, lining up in different personnel. It was a challenge at first to recognize different things and see how they’re going to play stuff.”
Grantham’s defense is nothing if not aggressive. Blitzes come from all sides – and Grantham likes to blitz a lot. The formations – with only three down linemen and four linebackers – is completely new, and more than a dozen players are lining up at new positions.
That meant plenty of confusion early, but quarterback Aaron Murray said every day, the defense looks a bit more comfortable.
“Those first couple of practices, they’re yelling and screaming and running everywhere,” Murray said. “They’re not all the way installed yet, but they’re definitely more comfortable. They have guys checking, going to one spot, they don’t have guys bumping into each other, yelling, ‘You get down, you stand up.’ They definitely look more fluid out there.”
That’s not to say things have completely clicked into place.
More position changes could be ahead, depth remains a concern in several places, and a new group of freshmen who have yet to spend a day working with Grantham will arrive in June, further complicating life for Georgia’s defense. It’s every bit a work in progress.
But the upside, Richt said, is progress has been made.
“Let’s face it, it’s just been 11 practices and an awful lot of installation,” Richt said. “We’re hoping to get a lot of things on film so we can make good cut-ups of it for the summer if the kids want to come in on their own and study it.”
No doubt there will be plenty to study – both good plays and ugly ones.
As the spring draws to a close, however, tight end Aron White said he’s enthusiastic about the challenge he’s been getting each day in practice. If the defense proves to be as confusing for the opposition as it has been for Georgia’s offense, it could be a fun year in Athens.
“Every once in a while you might have a gap missing or a guy didn’t play the right leverage, but as far as how comfortable they are out there running around, I feel like it’s night and day from early on,” White said. “Guys were so focused out there on trying to do the right thing, they weren’t really cutting loose. Guys are really pinning their ears back and coming right now.”