Like most UGA fans, I’ve been closely parsing Todd Grantham’s initial words about his defensive plans for the Dogs, and so far I like what I hear.
Now, granted, in the recent past there’s often been a disconnect between what we hear and what we end up seeing on the field. Remember all the talk last summer about Joe Cox’s accuracy and how Bryan Evans was coming into his own at safety?
And while the lion’s share of the focus is likely to be on Grantham’s plans to go with three defensive linemen and four linebackers, instead of the opposite under Willie Martinez, the scheme wasn’t always the problem under Martinez. Too often, the Dogs showed poor fundamentals when it came to tackling and getting off blocks. I’m anxious to see how that (hopefully) improves under Grantham.
But what I particularly liked, though, was Grantham’s very first promise in the prepared statement UGA released announcing his hiring: “To the fans and boosters of the University of Georgia, I understand the passion and standard of excellence expected. I look forward to developing an aggressive, physical, attacking style defense that offenses will not look forward to playing against.”
I wanted to jump to my feet and holler “Hallelujah!”
As Gen. George Patton once said, “Nobody ever defended anything successfully; there is only attack and attack and attack some more.”
One of the most frustrating things about the Georgia defense under Martinez was its soft zones and read-and-react philosophy. Too often, the reading took so long that the reaction came too late. Thus a team like Tennessee could take a simple offensive plan like play-action and devastate the Georgia defense.
It was notable that when the makeshift defensive staff simplified the schemes and reduced the number of reads for the Independence Bowl game, the defense played much better.
And don’t get me started on the way Martinez’s defense often left the middle of the field wide open — a real problem if there wasn’t much pressure on the quarterback.
Now, I’m not expecting miracles from Grantham in his first season. Georgia will have back six of the 11 defensive players who started the bowl game, so there’ll be an experience gap in addition to learning new schemes.
But the new defensive coordinator’s emphasis on a Nick Saban-style attacking defense that rushes the passer constantly and puts a premium on busting into the backfield quickly to disrupt the offense makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s just how I like to see the game played, and it’s obviously done wonders for Saban.
I’m also encouraged that Grantham sounds flexible. One of the most frequent complaints I heard about Martinez was that he tried to play his base defense no matter what the other team was doing, and he was slow to adjust. Says Grantham: “We’re always going to match personnel or have the ability to match personnel, meaning if someone adds a third wideout in the game, we can add an extra DB in the game. We could end up playing multiple fronts out of that nickel package whether it be four down or three down and kind of go that route.”
I would assume that also means that if a team has a strong inside running game, the offensive attack that the 3-4 alignment is most vulnerable to, Grantham will adjust accordingly.
Another thing the new DC said Friday that pleased me was that he likes to evaluate his players “one through 50″ and “find a way to get your top players on the field, because to be an aggressive attacking style of defense and to make plays, you have got to have playmakers.” I would hope that would mean we wouldn’t see any more situations like this past season, where a defensive player continued to start long after it was obvious his backup was better.
What also caught my eye was Grantham saying “what you want as a defense, after the game is over [is] the team you just played are so happy they don’t have to play you anymore. In order to do that I think it takes great conditioning and I think it takes great preparation.” I’m wondering how all the questions about the effectiveness of Georgia’s conditioning program (which Buck Belue cited as one of the supposed reasons Kirby Smart turned the job down) will play into that. If there’s an aspect of the program that Mark Richt still needs to address besides overall discipline, it’s probably strength and conditioning.
But that’s a discussion for another day. Right now visions of stunts and blitzes and sacks and fumbles are dancing in my head, and I’m ready to see the old “GATA” slogan that Richt cited Friday once again become the ruling mindset Between the Hedges!
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