Ah, spring. The time of year when hope springs eternal for each of the 120 full members of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision and the last bastion of news of substance for those of us that follow college football 365 days a year until the dog days of summer when fall camps get underway. In honor of the opening of spring camps around the country, especially the one in Athens, we present the first installment of a series of pieces that will take a look at some of the things we here at the BEAST hope to see come out of the 2010 Georgia Bulldogs spring practices.
SPRING PROVING GROUNDS: LOOKING FOR SOME TNT FROM THE DEFENSE
Since arriving in Athens, new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has found sure footing at every step, winning over the fan base and the players as he has prepared us for the installation of his favored 34 defensive scheme. One Grantham quote that got my attention was this one…
"…we're more of an aggressive style 3-4. We're going to play one-gap defense. We're going to attack block up front. We're going to rush the passer. Our outside backers are going to be what we call edge-setters. They're going to be aggressive. They're going to be coming. They're going to be solid setting the edge on the run but we're going to develop those guys as pass rushers. The inside ‘backers, we're going to call them Mike and Moe, they'll be downhill guys to the ball.”
Being a defensive minded guy, this was music to my ears. I hold firm to the belief that while defenders must play their responsibilities within any given scheme, there are certain positions that must have a disruptive impact on the opponent’s offense and the defensive end (in a 4-3 scheme) or the outside linebacker (in a 3-4) is one of those positions. Through the first part of last season, that disruption coming off the edge was one of the key factors missing in Georgia’s defensive attack. Much too often the DAWGS were forced to rely on the blitz to generate any pressure at all. Once Justin Houston returned from his two-game suspension the DAWGS started to get off their chains and get after the quarterback with more regularity. Houston led Georgia in sacks last season with 7.5 and the DAWGS managed just 28 sacks as a team during conference play which placed them fourth in the league. Down the stretch of the 2009 season, the defense began to see consistent pressure from Cornelius Washington, Demarcus Dobbs and Montez Robinson (MR90) off the edge and that carried the DAWGS to their final position in the conference statistical standings.
Everything is new on the defensive side of ball this spring for the DAWGS…scheme, philosophy, coaches and coaching techniques. Word came down just this afternoon that Houston, Washington and Robinson have been tapped to run in the OLB positions in Grantham’s new 3-4 defense and that Marcus Dowtin, Christian Robinson, Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent will be holding down the two ILB spots with Richard Samuel seeing time at both inside and outside linebacker.
Now that we know the basic distribution plans, I want to see indications that these changes implemented in the spring will lead to an explosion of disruptive plays for the DAWGS defense in the fall.
The players that will be lining up at OLB seem to have all the ingredients needed to become a top-tier unit. Houston seems poised to have an all-conference caliber season in 2010. Washington has prototype size and speed. Dobbs is the productive grizzled veteran of the group and Robinson has already earned conference player of the week honors. I think this group has tremendous skill and a fantastic opportunity to really break out in 2010. There is plenty of speed and strength here and with the right guidance I believe this group can be very special for the DAWGS.
Courtesy Kelly Lambert
Looking at the inside linebacker positions, the options appear no less promising. Dowtin has shown great physicality and tenacity. Robinson impressed when given the opportunity to play last season. Dent brings a physical presence as well as experience to the group and Gamble has displayed a knack for making plays during his time in Athens. Gamble is one player that I think will benefit greatly from Grantham’s aggressive style of play. There have been times when I have questioned whether Gamble is hard-nosed enough to play in the middle, but when turned loose to rush the passer and attack the football, I believe Gamble can be very successful.
When you add the speed and strength that Samuel will bring to the linebacker corps to the fact that Dowtin has been quoted as saying the 3-4 scheme “is not that hard” to learn, the prospects for the athletes lining up to play at the linebacker positions to have impactful seasons for Georgia really seem bright.
The 34 defense that Grantham will be installing this spring is predicated on an attacking style of play that pressures the quarterback and disrupts lanes and timing in the rush game. Every defensive position on the field plays a role in the ultimate productivity of the unit, but the athletes in Georgia’s linebacker corps are the key to successful implementation of the new plan. If there are signs out of Athens this spring that the ‘backers are finding there way in the new plan and will be able to play fast and free come the fall, I will certainly be pleased and I believe that everyone in the DAWG Nation will be very happy with the on-field results.