(Updated 10 p.m.)
ATHENS — Mere minutes into spring football practice at Georgia, Todd Grantham did not like the way his players broke from a huddle. So the Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator ordered them to do it again with more enthusiasm.
The revamping of the Georgia defense began in earnest Thursday, the first day of spring football for the Bulldogs and the first day on a practice field with college players in 12 years for the intense Grantham.
“You can tell he came from The League,” said safety Nick Williams, meaning the NFL. “You can tell he’s used to coaching grown men.”
Grantham, an NFL assistant for the past 11 seasons, began the process of converting Georgia’s former 4-3 defense to a 3-4, meaning three linemen and four linebackers rather than vice versa. Many players took the practice field in unfamiliar positions.
For example, former defensive ends Justin Houston, Cornelius Washington and Montez Robinson were playing outside linebacker. And their transition is tame compared to that of Richard Samuel, who has moved from running back to outside linebacker.
“We all looked lost today,” Houston said, “so [Samuel] fit right in.”
After practicing the 3-4 for the first time, Houston conceded that the transition might be a bit more difficult than he thought from watching film. “There was a lot of stopping and looking around,” he said. “It’s not as easy as it looks on film. Those guys in the pros make it look easy.” Houston said the biggest adjustment for him and the other ends-turned-linebackers is dropping back in coverage on occasion.
Defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson, who is playing the nose position in the 3-4, said he was encouraged that “we didn’t have as many mental errors as we thought we would have” in the opening practice. “As we continue learning, we can play faster,” he said.
Georgia opened practice with three defensive coaches who were working elsewhere when the Dogs were last on the field – Grantham, formerly with the Dallas Cowboys; inside linebackers coach Warren Belin, formerly at Vanderbilt; and secondary coach Scott Lakatos, formerly at Connecticut, who donned red pants for his first UGA practice.
“I got a chance to walk around the field a little bit and observe our new coaches do their job,” head coach Mark Richt said after practice. “I just thought they looked locked in. They were very decisive about what they were doing. They all looked like they had been working together for quite some time.”
Grantham and the other assistants were not made available for interviews after practice.
Players said the new coaches brought new teaching methods, new styles, new philosophies. But not everything was new.
“Ultimately it’s all the same,” Williams said with a smile. “When you do something wrong, you get your butt chewed out.”
As promised, the three candidates for the starting quarterback job –- Logan Gray, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger –- divided snaps evenly.
So who’s the starter based on Day 1 of practice?
“I am,” Gray said with a laugh.
Turning serious, Gray said his sense is that “no one has an upper hand” at quarterback. “I think right now, it’s just everybody trying to get better, [like] at all positions.”
Tailback Washaun Ealey is wearing a new number: 3.
Ealey wore No. 24 –- Knowshon Moreno’s old number –- last season, but lobbied the coaches for a switch to No. 3, which he wore in high school. Ealey said it’s a tradition for athletes in his family to wear No. 3, which was unavailable when he arrived at UGA last year because it was being worn by senior safety Bryan Evans.
– The Bulldogs’ first practice of spring ball also will be their last for a while. UGA’s spring break runs from this weekend through March 15, so the Dogs won’t practice again until March 16.
– Georgia lost both of last season’s starting safeties, Evans to graduation and Reshad Jones to the NFL draft. But Nick Williams, like most other observers, sees only one opening for a starting spot at the position. “Because [Bacarri] Rambo’s got his locked,” Williams said after practice Thursday. “He’s ready to go.” Williams returns to safety, his original position, from linebacker this spring. “I knew I wasn’t big enough” for linebacker, he said.
– These players were wearing green non-contact jerseys, signifying injury: wide receivers Marlon Brown and Israel Troupe and defensive linemen Kiante Tripp, Brandon Wood and Kwame Geathers. Geathers was riding a stationary bike off to the side. Wood was jogging. Brown and Troupe, who seemed to be moving around fine despite hamstring tweaks, are expected to shed the green jerseys for the next practice.
– Here are the jersey numbers for the two incoming recruits who are participating in spring practice: junior-college-transfer safety Jakar Hamilton No. 23 and freshman offensive lineman Kolton Houston No. 66. Linebacker Michael Gilliard has switched from No. 55 to 35, Rennie Curran’s old number.
– Among those playing inside linebacker: Darryl Gamble, Akeem Dent, Marcus Dowtwin, Akeem Hebron, Gilliard. And among those at OLB: Houston, Washington, Robinson, Samuel, Chase Vasser.
– There seems to be a larger than usual amount of media interest in Georgia’s spring practice, undoubtedly because of the QB battle and the defensive makeover. About 20 media members were on hand Thursday.
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