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Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Spring questions: Can defense start fast?

By David Ching

Editor’s note: Each day this week, we’ll ask a question that Georgia’s football team faces this spring as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: The Bulldogs face one of the most difficult September schedules of any team in the country. Will the rebuilding defense be ready for that challenge?

ATHENS, Ga. -- By the end of September, we should have a good idea whether Georgia, a likely preseason top-10 pick, will live up to its lofty expectations.

Nothing will be a bigger factor in the Bulldogs’ success or failure in the first month -- when the Bulldogs visit Clemson and host South Carolina, North Texas and LSU -- than how quickly the new starters on defense adapt to expanded roles.

“You’ve got to be ready,” rising sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “You’ve got to be in midseason form the first couple of games, really.”

Tajh Boyd
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd presents the Georgia defense with an immediate measuring stick in the Aug. 31 season opener on the road.
The Aug. 31 opener at Clemson -- which was announced Tuesday as an 8 p.m. ET kickoff on ABC -- presents the most obvious challenge. Coming off an 11-2 season, the Tigers return seven starters from an offense that ranked sixth nationally in scoring offense (41 ppg) and ninth in total offense (512.7 ypg) last fall. Among those starters are a Heisman contender at quarterback, Tajh Boyd, and 2011 All-American Sammy Watkins at receiver.

The other offenses the Bulldogs will face were more pedestrian in 2012, but each will have the advantage of experience over a youthful Georgia defense that returns just four starters. South Carolina (seven returning offensive starters), North Texas (eight) and LSU (eight) feature players who already have established themselves in their given roles on offense, and that creates an obvious advantage against a green defense.

Georgia’s players understand that their inexperience is going to be one of the media talking points this offseason and say that motivates them to be prepared to face that tough early slate.

“I feel like the whole nation, some of the fans even, might start talking jazz about the defense. But I know that’s just going to make us play with a chip on our shoulders,” rising sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I just know we’ve got young guys and we’re going to come out with that swagger like, ‘Whether you like it or not, we’re going to come hit you in the mouth and if you don’t like it, you can back down or we’ll make you back down.’ ”

Although the pressure is not particularly heavy now, with roughly six months remaining until the first game, the September grind will make the Bulldogs’ 15 spring practices, summer workouts and month-long August training camp the make-or-break period for the season.

If the new starters and contributors on defense learn their roles well enough to be competent before the Clemson game arrives, perhaps they can neutralize their opponents’ experience advantage as they expect. They also realize it will be important to stay out of the headlines with arrests -- a problem for some of last year’s defensive starters during the offseason -- that will keep them out of the lineup at the start of the season.

“[Spring practice is] very crucial, looking at the schedule,” rising junior defensive end Ray Drew said. “But I believe with the people that we’ve brought in and the people we have in place now, everyone’s capable of learning the plays and everyone’s capable of going out and executing them, as well. So as long as we keep everyone safe, healthy and out of the media, I believe we’ll be just fine.”