On the day Georgia State reported to camp, defensive coordinator Anthony Midget gathered his linemen together and talked about perception.
He said people think, based upon last year, you are soft. He said other teams think they are going to run right over you.
He shared the stats as evidence: 180.5 rushing yards allowed per game.
“We talked about that was reality and how do we want to be remembered for this year,” he said.
If Georgia State’s defense is to improve, playing better must start up front. The line, which lost three starters to graduation, seems to have taken the talk to heart. Though its first two teams feature as many as six underclassmen, the groups manning the front four have been one of the biggest surprises in camp, making numerous plays in every scrimmage. The team will open against S.C. State on Aug. 30 at the Georgia Dome.
Midget also talked about expectations. He told them they will be expected to stop the run every week. He wants the opponents to average less than 3 yards per carry. They averaged 4.2 last year.
“We have to be physical up front, we have to be dominant up front,” Midget said.
Coach Bill Curry is high on this group of linemen for several reasons. He said the new 4-2-5 scheme, which allows the players to be more aggressive than they could be in the three-man scheme used last year, fits them better.
Curry said adding another coach for the linemen has helped teach and re-inforce the fundamentals, particularly for the young players. Chris Ward coaches the defensive tackles, and Ricky Thomas the defensive ends. Ward handled all of the linemen last year.
“Coach Ward has helped me tremendously,” said redshirt freshman David Huey, an offensive lineman last year who may start at defensive tackle. “I get off the ball way better, my hands are better my feet are quicker. I can re-direct players better.”
Curry said the players are in better shape than they were last year after spending another year in the strength and conditioning program, and that he likes their attitude.
Some of that improved attitude can be traced to the leadership of freshman Joe Lockley.
While watching film of NFL players early in camp, Lockley told his teammates that they needed to play like a pack of dogs. They nicknamed themselves the “Dog Pound.” Before scrimmages, they can be seen getting each other fired up.
“Us being so young and us pushing each other brings out the best in all of us,” Huey said.
Freshman defensive end Melvin King said the “Dog Pound” hangs together off the field, studying plays and working on techniques.
“That’s encouraging to see those guys are developing the closeness that will carry throughout,” Midget said.
Not everything is better.
Georgia State still awaits the NCAA’s decision on whether two projected starters, transfers defensive end Theo Agnew and defensive tackle Nermin Delic, will be allowed to play. Delic, a redshirt sophomore, hasn’t been able to work with the first team much in camp because of various injuries. Agnew, a redshirt junior, has played every day.
If the NCAA rules that Agnew must sit out, Midget said redshirt sophomore C.J. Stephens will move to first team, opposite redshirt sophomore John Kelly, with King backing them up. Junior Terrance Woodard will start at nose guard and Huey at defensive tackle. They have gotten reps, along with Lockley, in Delic’s absence.
With or without Agnew and Delic, Midget said the players know what people think about the defense. They want to change that reality.
“They’ve totally responded this fall camp,” Midget said.