Athens — Meaning no offense, it’s fair to call Mark Richt an offensive man. He’s the kind of guy who thinks a fast-food napkin — he’s fond of Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A — is best used for sketching a play. But he admitted Monday he’s spicy-chicken hot to see his new D.
“We’re all intrigued by it,” Richt said, speaking at Media Day. “Fans want to see it. I want to see it. Even the offensive players want to see it.”
Some unscientific data: In a quickie poll in this space earlier Monday, 80 percent of 1,350 respondents named Georgia’s newfangled defense as a more pressing topic than new Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray.
In nine seasons as Georgia’s coach, Richt’s teams have used the same basic defense — a vanilla 4-3 that became less filling over time. In 2010 the Bulldogs will position themselves in a 3-4, and with its four linebackers the new scheme offers more angles and much more possibility.
Said DeAngelo Tyson, a defensive tackle in the 4-3 but a nose tackle in the 3-4: “We’ll really be attacking more and having more fun — as soon as we learn what to do and how to do it.”
Todd Grantham is the defensive coordinator, and we all know why’s he here: Because Willie Martinez’s bend-but-don’t-break defensive approach had become utterly inoffensive. Georgia took the ball from its opponents 12 times in 13 games last season, which ranked the Bulldogs next-to-next-to-last nationally in turnover margin.
Said Darryl Gamble, who was primarily a middle linebacker in 2009 but who is learning all four linebacker posts now: “It’s good to change. It seems like we’re going to be a more aggressive defense. That’s something we’ve needed here.”
Well … yeah. There was never an excuse for a defense staffed by such big and fast men playing so passively, and now the passive is past.
An example, courtesy of Tyson: “Last year I was supposed to control a gap. This year I’m supposed to be more physical. It’s more about attacking and getting upfield.”
In 2010 Justin Houston was a defensive end, which means, in football argot, that he aligned himself by sticking his hand in the dirt. Now he’s an outside linebacker, and not just any old OLB — he’s the weakside backer, which was Lawrence Taylor’s position and is DeMarcus Ware’s.
Ware has had 64 1/2 sacks over five NFL seasons. Not coincidentally, he plays for the Dallas Cowboys, where Grantham was previously employed as the defensive line coach. Not surprisingly, he has become Justin Houston’s model.
“I watch DeMarcus Ware almost every night,” Houston said. “I’ve got my own personal cut-up [a DVD that isolates Ware].” Then this: “If I could be half as good … ”
There’s a chance Houston, who had 7 1/2 sacks as a down lineman in 2009, will double that number in 2010. If the 3-4 is built for anyone, it’s for big men who can come hard off the corner. Asked how often he figures to blitz this season, Houston said: “It all depends on the game plan.”
Were he designing the game plan, how often would he have himself blitz? Said Houston, laughing: “One hundred percent of the time.”
It must be emphasized that Grantham’s defense is a work in the earliest stages of implementation. Spring practice was mostly spent showing guys where to line up and teaching them terminology. August will offer more teaching, not all of it from coaches. Said Tyson: “I’ve been able to show other people what to do because people showed me what to do. This is a team; we don’t have secrets.”
Not every Saturday is apt to be sunny, D-wise. Games 2 and 3 offer tests against Steve Spurrier’s and Bobby Petrino’s teams, and nobody knows how Grantham’s men will respond. Said Richt: “That’s part of the reason there’s a little more energy and anticipation. There’s something you’re not sure of.”
This much, however, is a given: If Georgia’s D fails, it won’t be for lack of effort. You’ll see Bulldogs running hither and yon, and they figure to be happy Dogs.
Said Tyson: “People who look to attack have more fun.”