- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Aside from his first preseason camp, when Georgia’s defensive players were still learning the nuances of his 3-4 scheme, this might be the most important August of Todd Grantham’s tenure as defensive coordinator.
With numerous starters to replace and a boatload of newcomers joining the team this spring and summer, the Bulldogs’ defensive staff has its work cut out in first determining which players can help the team this fall, and then preparing them for that job.
When he met with reporters last week, Grantham explained how the staff will break its August preparations into three segments, starting with Thursday’s first preseason practice.
Evaluate the talent: All 19 of Georgia’s defensive signees qualified -- although defensive backs Reggie Wilkerson and Paris Bostick are both out for the season with injuries -- so the first thing the defensive coaches must do is evaluate who is ready to play.
“The first third of camp, we need to evaluate our talent and find out what our pieces are,” Grantham said. “And then find the guys that can help us win and put those guys in those positions.”
The Bulldogs would be in a particularly tight spot had seven of those signees not enrolled in January. Most, if not all (except Wilkerson), of those early enrollees could play in some capacity this fall. And some -- like safety Tray Matthews, linebacker Reggie Carter and defensive linemen Chris Mayes and John Atkins -- could play a lot.
The learning process will continue for the early enrollees in camp, but they have a head start on signees who arrived during the summer. Confusion will be the typical state of being for that bunch over the next couple of weeks.
“I think we got a pretty good idea of what those guys can do and the fact that they came in in the spring was very beneficial to us and them,” Grantham said. “Even though they are freshmen, they’ve been through the system for a spring, got a good grasp on it so they’re going to get to do it again in August. The big thing is we need to evaluate the talent.”
Prepare for different offenses: This category required some adjustment for Grantham as well, having spent a decade-plus in the copycat NFL before returning to the college game in 2010. A defensive coordinator in college has to be on his toes because he will face a wide array of offenses over the course of the season -- an issue that doesn’t exist for coordinators in the pros.
The Bulldogs will spend the middle third of the preseason practicing concepts that will help them defend some of those offenses, from the Clemson spread in week one to the Georgia Tech option in the regular-season finale.
“You’ve got some tough games coming along. Obviously the first two [Clemson and South Carolina] are going to be important, but ... we have Florida in the middle there, we’ve got Missouri, we’ve got Tennessee that’s new, and then you’ve got Georgia Tech at the end that’s completely different, too, and you’re always going to have different nuances each week.
“My approach and our approach has always been to introduce those guys to the concepts that they’re going to have to have or understand to stop these style of offenses. So during the middle session, you’re going to get ready for your season.”
Dig into Clemson: Georgia’s coaches formulated general plans for their first two games weeks ago. Once they’re two-thirds of the way through August, it will be time to begin implementing and modifying their plans for the Aug. 31 opener at Clemson.
The Tigers boasted one of the nation’s most productive offenses last season. And while they lost talented running back Andre Ellington and 1,400-yard wideout DeAndre Hopkins, they still return a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tajh Boyd and another star in receiver Sammy Watkins. But Grantham said they will approach preparing for the opener in their standard fashion despite the challenges that exist in defending the Tigers’ explosive attack.
“Once you get to the back end there, that’s when you start focusing in on the first game and getting ready for that,” Grantham said. “I think that no matter who your opponents are, you need to do it that way because you need to be ready for the long haul. You’ve got to be ready for the entire season and the things that present themselves each week.”
4dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough