Georgia Bulldogs: Todd Grantham

Grantham ready for a new challenge

February, 13, 2014
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Todd Grantham had his reasons.

When Georgia’s defensive coordinator left for the same position at Louisville, many outside the program were perplexed by the move.

To Grantham, though, it was as simple as an opportunity – he said he believes Louisville can win a national title as an ACC member. He pointed to the athletic administration’s support of the program and called Tom Jurich “one of the top ADs in the country.” He pointed to the success Bobby Petrino already has had at Louisville, and said, “in my mind, they were going to do it again, only this time work to do it better.” The chance for Grantham to hire his brother, Tony, from Navy, was important to him and his family. All of those things, he said, coupled with Louisville’s move to the ACC in time for the start of the College Football Playoff, lured him away from the SEC.

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsTodd Grantham sees Louisville as a national championship contender now that they're in the ACC.
“In reality, if you can win the ACC, your chances of being in that tournament are really good,” Grantham said. “The combination of all those things intrigued me, and it was something I felt like I wanted to try to do and I look forward to it.”

He’s also looking forward to the challenge he’ll get it in Year 1.

Grantham inherits a defense that loses seven starters, including five in the front seven, both safeties and the leading pass rusher from the 2013 season. Louisville has to replace linebacker Preston Brown (who led the team in tackles), defensive end Marcus Smith (second in the nation in sacks), and the stellar safety duo of Hakeem Smith (first-team All-American Athletic Conference) and Calvin Pryor (second in tackles).

“That’s part of coaching,” Grantham said. “That’s why it’s important to recruit and develop players. We’ll work with the players we have. Everyone is kind of new right now. Everyone will get a chance. We’ll evaluate everyone and give them a chance to compete for a starting job.”

Grantham compared it to when he arrived at Georgia, and everyone wanted to know how he was going to replace Justin Houston, who had left early for the NFL.

“The big topic then was we had nobody to rush the passer,” Grantham said. “Low and behold, a guy named Jarvis Jones comes along and has 28 sacks in two years and we’re all good again.”

Jones, who was drafted last spring in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and still talks to Grantham on a regular basis, said Grantham would invite the defensive players to his house for a barbecue, and they’d go out to eat as a defense so everyone knew that it wasn’t “just about football.” Jones said he wasn’t surprised by Grantham’s decision to leave Georgia.

“There’s always opportunities,” Jones said. “He probably felt like his opportunity was better, or they put him in a better situation. You never know what’s going on, man. I know he loved the University of Georgia, he loved the guys he had there, but you never know why. I’m sure the guys there are going to love him. The fans at Louisville are going to love him. He brings so much energy to the game. The stuff he did for us at Georgia was great. He’s got that demeanor about him, and it shows. We had the top defense and coach Grantham and his staff was the reason why.”

As he did at Georgia, Grantham plans to change Louisville from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. With the exception of last season, when the Bulldogs were a young, injury-laden group and the scoring defense was ranked No. 79 in the country at 29 points per game, Georgia’s defense received high praise under Grantham during his four seasons as defensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFormer Georgia standout Jarvis Jones raves about playing for Todd Grantham.
Last year’s group still finished eighth in the country in tackles for loss and 28th in sacks. Grantham said he will continue to employ an attacking-style philosophy. He said that heading into last season, Georgia forced 62 turnovers in two years, second only to LSU (63), and that’s why they were able to get to the SEC title game twice.

He has the same plan in the ACC.

“We’re upgrading our schedule and going into a major conference, so we’re going to be playing some talented teams. Anytime the playing field becomes equal like that, your turnover ratio becomes a very critical stat. When you get the ball one more time than the other team, your chances of winning go up about 93 or 95 percent.”

More often than not, it worked.

In 2012, Georgia ended the season ranked 18th in the country in scoring defense, holding five opponents to 10 or fewer points, and finishing eighth nationally in pass defense. In his second season at Georgia, the defense finished fifth nationally in total defense, third in third-down defense, fifth in interceptions, and seventh in turnovers gained (32), which ranked first in the SEC.

“Coach Grantham had a tremendous impact on myself,” said former Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins, who said he was the first player Grantham recruited. “He pushed me to limits I never thought I could reach. He’s a coach who understands players. He’s not a coach who has one way. He knows how to adjust and evolve his coaching style to fit everybody. He’s a go-getter type coach. He allows you to express yourself on and off the field.

“They’re going to love him,” Jenkins said. “They’re going to love him. I believe that with my heart.”

Season report card: Georgia

January, 29, 2014
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An avalanche of injuries and an underperforming defense caused Georgia to slip from its top-five preseason ranking to an 8-5 finish. Let's review.

OFFENSE: B-plus
[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesInjuries took a toll on Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs in 2013.
Georgia's offense deserves a ‘With TG’ grade and a ‘Without TG’ grade because it was a completely different group when star tailback Todd Gurley was healthy. Even with Gurley struggling with a quad injury, the Bulldogs still scored 35 points against Clemson in the season opener. With Gurley out for a month at midseason, the offense sputtered a bit, and the Bulldogs lost twice more. But it's no coincidence that once he returned to the lineup, Georgia won four of its last five regular-season games and nearly pulled off a dramatic upset against eventual SEC champ Auburn. Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray was the glue to this group until suffering his own season-ending injury -- the unfortunate story of Georgia's season, as receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall all missed at least half of the season, as well. Despite the physical setbacks, Mike Bobo's offense still set multiple school records, including a new mark for total offense (484.2 ypg). We'll always wonder what might have been with this group, but it was still a pretty good season.

DEFENSE: D
Georgia fans expected this to be a rebuilding year on defense after losing 12 key contributors off the previous season's defense. But 2013 was a more painful transition than most expected. The Bulldogs gave up some huge point and yardage totals early in the season, and while they did improve a bit as the season progressed, they were still far too inconsistent. They finished the season ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense (375.5 ypg) and tied for 10th in scoring (29 ppg) -- totals that simply weren't good enough for the Bulldogs to live up to their preseason billing once their high-powered offense began to slow down with the injuries. After the season, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and all three defensive assistants left the staff, with former Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt taking over. Georgia returns almost everyone from its 2013 defense, so Pruitt could be set up to enjoy early success.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D
If Marshall Morgan hadn't been one of the best kickers in the nation, this grade might have been even lower. However, Morgan was absurdly good, converting 22 of 24 field goals (including 7-for-8 from 40 yards or more) and all 47 PATs. Otherwise, Georgia's special teams play was a comedy of errors: blocked punts, fumbled snaps, kick returns allowed for touchdowns. Some Bulldogs fans have clamored for Mark Richt to dedicate an assistant coach specifically to improve in this area, but he has thus far resisted that idea. Nonetheless, there wasn't much to like on special teams aside from the kicker making huge strides as a sophomore.

OVERALL: C
Prior to the season, no Georgia fan would have been pleased to learn that the Bulldogs would finish the season with five losses. After nearly playing for a BCS title and returning most everyone on offense from 2012, this was a team expected to at least contend for the SEC East title. It's only fair to cut the Bulldogs a bit of slack (check out what happened at Florida after injuries hit the roster in a similar fashion) for remaining a competitive club despite the physical setbacks. But 8-5 is simply not very good for this program, and it could have been a much better season.

Past grades:
Florida
Auburn
Arkansas
Alabama

SEC lunchtime links

January, 17, 2014
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The coaching revolving door continues to spin as a big recruiting weekend arrives across the country -- including the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league.

Alabama responds to a report involving a disassociated booster's display featuring supposedly game-used and autographed game apparel of current and former Crimson Tide football players.

A number of key prospects will visit Columbia for South Carolina's big recruiting weekend.

It's a big recruiting weekend at LSU, as well, with megaprospects Malachi Dupre and Lorenzo Carter among the Tigers' expected visitors.

What do you know? Alabama and Auburn will host some key targets this weekend, as well.

Every SEC program except Missouri and Georgia has had to replace more than 30 coaches since 2001, the year Gary Pinkel and Mark Richt took over those respective programs.

Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons' suspension will stretch into the first three games of the 2014 season according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said Thursday night that the interview process is not complete as he searches for James Franklin's replacement as head football coach.

Coleman Hutzler is entrusted with improving Florida's uncharacteristically inconsistent special teams units.

Not surprisingly, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are loading up on in-state prospects in this recruiting class -- but this does not appear to be as deep a year for talent in the state as usual.

Chuck Carlton and Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News discuss whether the Houston Texans should take Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham told reporters Thursday that a chance to compete for championships weighed into his decision to leave the SEC for the same job at Louisville.
It appears as if Jeremy Pruitt will have the opportunity to build Georgia's defense according to his own vision. As of Wednesday night, he is the only defensive coach on the Bulldogs' staff.

Multiple media reports Wednesday night have defensive line coach Chris Wilson (leaving for USC) and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (going back to the Washington Redskins, where he previously spent 11 seasons as an assistant) joining defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and secondary coach Scott Lakatos as departures from Mark Richt's staff within the last week.

Richt said at Pruitt's introductory press conference on Wednesday morning that Wilson and Olivadotti would remain on staff “if they want to, and as of right now I think they want to.”

Obviously they decided otherwise, leaving Pruitt with three positions to fill. Pruitt will coach the secondary, but he and Richt must identify candidates to fill Grantham's position coaching outside linebackers as well as Wilson's line and Olivadotti's inside linebackers jobs.

In the short term, that might seem alarming for those around the Georgia program, but it no doubt holds some appeal for the Bulldogs' new defensive coordinator. Richt will allow Pruitt to have a major say in picking the new coaches -- if not allow him to hand select them -- much like he did when Grantham joined the staff in 2010 and brought along Lakatos and Warren Belin.

If Georgia is to take a step forward under the new regime, which shouldn't be difficult with 10 starters returning from a young group that ranked eighth in the SEC in total defense (375.5 ypg), it will be because Pruitt and Richt made the correct hires in the coming days and weeks.

Pruitt's arrival after an enormously successful season at Florida State was widely hailed as a home run for Richt, and that's a great start in rebuilding Georgia's defense. That's only the first step, though, and the Bulldogs need to swing for the fences three more times if the defense is to return to the suffocating form that marked the early seasons of Richt's tenure.
As it turns out, Jeremy Pruitt becoming Georgia's defensive coordinator was a decade in the making.

At his introductory press conference in Athens on Wednesday, Pruitt recalled his first meeting with Bulldogs coach Mark Richt in 2003, when the then-high school coach in Fort Payne, Ala., brought some of his players to a camp at UGA.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIn one season as Florida State's defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt led the Seminoles to the nation's top scoring defense. He's hoping to duplicate that success at Georgia.
“I had the opportunity to sit down with Coach Richt. That was the first time I ever met him, and when I walked out of that room 30 minutes later I was wowed,” Pruitt said. “My father looked at me and said, ‘That’s what college football is all about.’ I said right then and there if I ever had the opportunity to work for him that I wanted to be a part of his staff.”

Of course, it helped that Pruitt's close friend and college roommate at Alabama, Will Friend, is Georgia's offensive line coach. So over the course of one of their regular chit-chats, Friend naturally reached out to his friend -- whose suffocating Florida State defense just served as a leading factor in the Seminoles' BCS National Championship run -- when defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left Richt's staff to take the same position at Louisville.

Less than two days later, Pruitt became the newest member of the Georgia staff.

“This is the University of Georgia -- who wouldn’t be interested in this job?” Pruitt asked. “It’s absolutely one of the premier jobs in college football, and the opportunity to work with Coach Richt is something I just couldn’t turn down.”

Richt joked that divine intervention might have been a factor in such a quick hire. Whatever influenced the decision, Richt has hired a coach whose star quickly rose within the profession.

A former defensive back at Alabama, Pruitt coached the secondary for three seasons with Nick Saban's Crimson Tide and helped them claim back-to-back BCS titles in 2011 and 2012. He then moved to Florida State, where in his one season as defensive coordinator the Seminoles ranked first nationally in scoring defense (12.1 points per game) and third in total defense (281.4 yards per game) and won a national title.

Georgia will stick with its base 3-4 scheme, although Pruitt emphasized that the Bulldogs will be able to play multiple styles based on opponents' schemes. The main point he emphasized in his introductory meeting with the team was that he plans to keep things simple in order for the Bulldogs to play fast on defense.

“He also said that we’re going to be simple enough to where guys can go and play some football, and he said if we can’t execute it we’re not going to call it,” Richt said. “I think that gave those guys some peace that it won’t be rocket science and they’ll all be able to learn it well enough to play fast enough to prove what they can do.”

Pruitt will take over Scott Lakatos' position as defensive backs coach in addition to his role as defensive coordinator, leaving one spot on Georgia's coaching staff still unfilled: outside linebackers coach. Richt said he expects inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti and defensive line coach Chris Wilson to remain on staff.

He added that Pruitt should be able to hit the road recruiting on Thursday, attempting to hold onto the group of defensive verbal commitments the Bulldogs have already attracted and wrap up Georgia's recruiting class with national signing day only a few weeks away.

The message the new Georgia coach will impart seems clear.

“There’s no doubt that this is the best conference in the country, and I feel like the University of Georgia is the best school in the conference,” Pruitt said. “I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t think so.”

Season wrap: Georgia

January, 15, 2014
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What started with a bang ended with a whimper for Georgia, with a season full of promise derailed by injuries to key players and defensive lapses at key junctures.

The Bulldogs were in great shape after a grueling first month -- including wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU -- but injuries devastated the roster starting around midseason and Georgia tumbled from a top-five preseason ranking to an 8-5 finish capped by a loss to Nebraska in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. Now the program is in the midst of a rebuilding effort on defense following the departures of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos.

Offensive MVP: The most gifted player on the roster is tailback Todd Gurley, but it was senior quarterback Aaron Murray who carried the team for much of the season, particularly while Gurley was sidelined by an ankle injury. Murray finished as the SEC's career leader in multiple passing categories.

Defensive MVP: Inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera barely came off the field, so they should share this honor. Wilson led the SEC with 133 tackles and was second on the team with 11 tackles for a loss en route to first-team All-SEC honors. Herrera was third in the league with 112 stops.

Best moment: It's tempting to pick Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU, clinched by Murray's touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 to play, but let's go with Georgia's rally from a 20-0 deficit to beat rival Georgia Tech 41-34 in double overtime. That represented Hutson Mason's first career start at quarterback in place of an injured Murray.

Worst moment: Vanderbilt scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 31-27 win over the injury-depleted Bulldogs. Georgia mustered only 221 yards in the game but still might have won were it not for a fourth-quarter targeting call on fourth down against Wilson that was overturned upon review. The 15-yard penalty remained, however, and kept alive a key Commodores touchdown drive.


Shortly after Georgia made it official that former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was leaving for the same position at Louisville on Sunday, coach Mark Richt took to Twitter.

"The very best is yet to come!! Go Dawgs!!," Richt tweeted from his official account (@MarkRicht).

He didn't need all 140 characters to send out a message of reassurance, but it proved to be the true definition of foreshadowing after the Bulldogs hired away Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt on Tuesday.

That is what you call highway robbery on the part of Richt. After losing Grantham, whose young defense ranked 45th nationally in total defense (375.5 yards per game) but tied for 78th in scoring (29) last season, Georgia will now have one of the top, young defensive minds in the sport overseeing its defense. During Florida State's BCS title run, Pruitt's defense ranked first nationally in scoring (12.1) and third in total defense (281.4).

While Grantham enjoyed a load of success with his 2011 defense, his last two years in Athens raised more questions about the future of the Bulldogs' defense as it continued to slide. However, having such a young group to work with stunted the growth of a team that lost some valuable NFL talent from the year before.

But with Grantham moving north, the Bulldogs made a tremendous splash with Pruitt, who will implement his version of the 3-4 scheme that Grantham worked with. That's good news, as far as continuity is concerned.

He'll also help out a secondary that had a tendency to give up big plays (hey there, Nebraska). Last year, the Seminoles' defense ranked first nationally in pass defense (156.6), interceptions (26) and second in defensive pass efficiency (93.8). Before his year at FSU, Pruitt spent three years as Alabama's secondary coach, where the Crimson Tide ranked in the top 10 nationally in defensive pass efficiency and the top 15 in pass defense all three years.

For all those fans who crossed their fingers, hoping to somehow land Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, you have almost a spitting image of him in Pruitt. They have similar backgrounds and styles when it comes to coaching and football upbringings.

Pruitt was also one of Florida State's top recruiters and is well-versed in the art of recruiting in the Southeast. This is a major win for Georgia, which now moves higher in the pecking order when it comes to SEC Eastern Division favorites next season. With a slew of young defensive talent coming back to complement an offense that should still feature a good amount of explosion in 2014, the Bulldogs could be the leaders of the pack when it comes to making it to Atlanta in what is a question-filled Eastern Division.

SEC lunchtime links

January, 13, 2014
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Football season is nearly over, but the news never stops in SEC country – especially with all of the NFL draft announcements, coaching changes and recruiting news churning this week.

Secondary looking to grow in 2014

December, 31, 2013
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Mark Richt painted a realistic picture last week when asked what it might take for Georgia's secondary to improve beyond its dismal showing of 2013.

It's a matter of inexperienced players -- basically the only kind of defensive back on the Bulldogs' roster -- developing confidence, he said.

“We've got to make a play first, then we've got to have a series that goes well, then a couple series, then a half, a game where you start making plays, you start getting better, you start gaining confidence,” Richt said. “But really we did not see that. I didn't see that throughout the year. There's some work, obviously, that's got to be done.”

Obviously.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons
AP Photo/John BazemoreIt might have been a rough season for Josh Harvey-Clemons and the young Georgia secondary, but 2013's trial under fire should help the Bulldogs next season and beyond.
The stats by now are no secret. Georgia's secondary, which lost four of its top five players from 2012, was the weakest link in a shaky defense this fall. The Bulldogs ranked 10th in the SEC (68th nationally) in pass defense, allowing 232.8 yards per game. They were No. 84 in pass efficiency defense, allowing a 133.99 passer rating. And only two conference teams surrendered more yards per pass attempt than Georgia's 7.6 (Arkansas at 7.9 and Kentucky at 8.2).

It was a rough season any way you view it, although the Bulldogs hope it was only a temporary problem caused by a secondary that ranked second in the SEC in pass defense last season (Georgia's 175.6 ypg allowed in 2012 were just two yards behind conference leader Alabama) breaking in an entirely new group of defensive backs.

“I think every DB we have has played in a game or two,” said cornerback Damian Swann, who along with safety Corey Moore will be the only two seniors in the bunch next fall. “And I think with those guys getting some experience, it's going to be great. Now they know what to expect, now they know how tough it is to play in this conference. I'm really looking forward to seeing these guys get after it.”

Swann's statement is not entirely true. The Bulldogs will also have cornerback Reggie Wilkerson -- who missed the season after tearing his ACL during summer workouts -- and safeties Tramel Terry and Kennar Johnson, who both redshirted this season. They also have commitments from ESPN's No. 1 junior college cornerback, Shattle Fenteng (Loganville, Ga./Hutchinson Community College) along with incoming freshmen Malkom Parrish (ESPN's No. 73 overall prospect for 2014 and No. 9 athlete) and Kendall Gant (ESPN's No. 32 safety).

Add those players to the numerous freshmen and sophomores who played big roles this season -- cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley, Sheldon Dawson and Devin Bowman and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews and Quincy Mauger -- and the Bulldogs are well on the way to rebuilding a depth chart that took a huge hit. The losses started coming after the 2011 season, when cornerbacks Nick Marshall and Jordan Love and safeties Quintavious Harrow and Chris Sanders all departed either by dismissal or transfer, followed by the exodus of Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith for pro football after 2012.

“Some young guys got thrown into the fire,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think it's like I told them, I said, 'When you get thrown into the fire, you can either get hard or you can wilt.' And I think they've gotten harder. I think I've seen a couple guys really improve, probably more than they would've if they hadn't been in that situation. So you've got to play the cards you're dealt and find ways to win games.”

The question now is how they improve to the point where they are not the liability they were this fall, clearing a path for Georgia to win more than the eight games it has won thus far in 2013.

Moore believes progress will be a natural development out of this fall, when Swann was the only regular who entered the season with a start on defense.

“We were pretty young this year and [had a] lack of experience,” Moore said. “Immaturity played a big factor this year and lack of experience and just communication and getting to know each other better on the field. I think that played in big this year. I think next year, we're not going to have those problems.”

That's the plan, anyway, and what Georgia's players and coaching staff will spend this offseason making sure will be the case when the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson.

It was far from a banner season for Grantham's defense and, while that was not entirely unexpected, the coaches know the secondary must show marked improvement over the next year, starting with the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl date with Nebraska.

“Did we have a chance to be pretty good? Yeah. When that's going to happen? I don't know,” defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said. “A hundred different things, how they turn out, is going to affect that. That's what we had do work through, and we're still working through that, as we get ready for this game.”

UGA redshirt review: defense

December, 20, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia signed a massive 33-man recruiting class in February, and many of those signees -- like Leonard Floyd, Shaq Wiggins, J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas -- contributed immediately. Yesterday we reviewed the players who redshirted on offense. Today we move to the defense.

[+] EnlargeDavin Bellamy
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNDavin Bellamy, a former four-star prospect, could work his way into the DL rotation this spring.
John Atkins, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 119 overall in 2012, No. 11 defensive tackle
This season: The prep school transfer did not seize a role in the defensive line rotation, but impressed coaches and teammates with a promising skill set that could help him play multiple positions in the future.
Veteran's perspective: “John Atkins' footwork is crazy for a big guy. He's like 320 -- we're the same size – and he has amazing footwork and work ethic. He's going to be one of those guys popping off the scene next year.” -- sophomore defensive lineman Chris Mayes

Davin Bellamy, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 299 overall, No. 25 defensive end
This season: Underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason, but could have played this season according to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were it not for the emergence of Floyd and Jordan Jenkins at his position.
Veteran's perspective: “Bellamy's a big-bodied kid. I know just from being around him, he has a giant attitude. And when I say that, it's a good thing. He believes in himself and what he can do. He thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, which is the attitude that you have to have when you're playing football because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody will.” -- junior defensive end Ray Drew

Paris Bostick, Fr., ILB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 55 safety
This season: Grantham compares Bostick's skills to those of another converted safety -- former UGA linebacker Alec Ogletree. Bostick suffered a toe injury during the summer and returned to practice during the season.
Veteran's perspective: “Bigger than what most people think -- real big dude now. He's just trying to learn the system and figure out where he's going to fit in at. … He's a real big dude, but he still runs like a safety. He's fast. He's going to be a real good addition to us.” -- junior linebacker Ramik Wilson

Shaquille Fluker, Jr., S
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 36 on Junior College 50, No. 2 safety
This season: Initially set back by an array of physical ailments, Fluker was designated as a redshirt candidate by midseason. He announced this week his plans to transfer in search of playing time.
Coach's perspective: “I can't comment on any medical situation, but everybody wants to play more, obviously, and I hope wherever he goes, he gets to play. I hope he finds a good home. I like him a lot. He's a good kid. I'm very confident we had his best interests at heart the entire time he was here at Georgia and we treated him well.” -- coach Mark Richt

DeAndre Johnson, Fr., DL
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 84 defensive tackle
This season: The youngest defensive lineman on the roster, Johnson needs to have a productive offseason in order to crack a veteran-heavy rotation next season, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a low-pad-level player, just a young guy that's got to build up and get more experience and get comfortable with the game. … I think he'll be able to play the 3-technique as he has to learn the game and progress. For his size, he's pretty shifty, so I think he'll be all right.” -- Mayes

Kennar Johnson, Jr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 4 safety
This season: Injuries slowed Johnson's development early in the season and the coaches opted to redshirt him instead of utilizing another inexperienced player in a youthful secondary.
Veteran's perspective: “KJ is an athlete. He's very fast. It just comes with being able to compete and learning the system. I think he was kind of put in a bad situation coming in playing behind Corey [Moore], playing behind Tray [Matthews], who was here in the spring, and playing behind Josh [Harvey-Clemons] who's been here for two years. … [Johnson and Fluker were] playing behind guys who had already been here that grasped the system very well. That kind of put them behind the 8-ball a little bit.” -- junior cornerback Damian Swann

Shaun McGee, Fr., OLB
2013 ESPN rating: Three stars, No. 43 defensive end
This season: Capable of playing inside or outside, McGee's development this offseason will establish which of the two spots he plays next fall according to Grantham.
Veteran's perspective: “He's a little bit shorter, but he's very strong. His legs are massive and he can run. He has great speed off the edge, so I see that being one of his best contributions to the team.” -- Drew

Reggie Wilkerson, Fr., CB
2013 ESPN rating: Four stars, No. 163 overall, No. 15 athlete
This season: Enrolled in January and was on track to contribute this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during summer workouts.
Veteran's perspective: “Reggie had a pretty good spring and he had a freak injury during the summer doing [pass skeleton drills] and we lost him. But I think he can be a big key and big part of this secondary with what we already have with Sheldon [Dawson], with Shaq and with [Brendan] Langley.” -- Swann

Moore helping Terry adjust at safety

December, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – Corey Moore has taken on the role of teacher this week.

The junior safety's pupil? Redshirting freshman Tramel Terry, who up until bowl practice had been a receiver at Georgia.

“I'm trying to do the best that I can. I know we've got some new faces back there, so I think I'm just going to take their hand like [Bacarri] Rambo and Shawn [Williams] did to me,” Moore said, referring to the pair of longtime Bulldogs starting safeties and current NFL rookies. “So it should be an exciting process.”

Because of his explosive playmaking skills, Terry was among Georgia's highest-rated 2013 signees. ESPN listed him as the nation's No. 89 overall prospect and No. 9 athlete, and coaches raved about his potential as a future offensive weapon.

Needless to say, it seemed like a surprise move when Terry practiced with the safeties this week, but Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said it had been a long time coming. While Terry practiced at receiver along with the other scout team members, the defensive coaches started to take notice of what looked like an excellent defensive back in the making.

“I just think that the defensive coaches were kind of keeping an eye on him and kind of coveting him and kind of playfully recruiting him a little bit,” Richt said. “Sometimes if a guy's on your scout team, they hang around the defensive coaches more than the offensive coaches when it comes to practice time. And they liked what they saw and thought it might be a good move for the defense.”

At 6-foot, Terry certainly has a body type that fits the average NFL safety instead of the rangier pro receiver. That was one of the arguments defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could make in proposing a change to Terry and the offensive coaches.

“I think Coach Grantham's background in the NFL and just how he sees prospects and things of that nature, he really sees him as a great-looking safety prospect,” Richt said. “It was something that the defensive staff was all for, and actually kind of started it off, started the whole conversation.”

The transition is obviously in its extremely early stages, however. Before almost every practice rep in the periods of practice that are open to the media, Terry receives plenty of instruction from defensive graduate assistant Mike Macdonald and veterans like Moore and Connor Norman.

Terry played some defensive back in high school, but has a long way to go to be a proficient college defensive back. But he has already flashed a willingness to tackle – an attribute the big-hitting Moore appreciates.

“I was telling him, 'If you get confused, just do what [Macdonald] says: 'Kick [butt].' Just go out there and just play,” Moore said. “But I told him, 'If you ever run across something that you do not know, you ask a coach first. And if you can't get to him, you can always come to me. Just try to pick up on some of the knowledge that Connor has because this is his last year.' That's where I basically learned the ins and outs of this defense.”

Moore's new role as Terry's teacher is not valuable only for the former freshman receiver. It's also valuable for Moore, who will be one of two seniors in the 2014 secondary along with cornerback Damian Swann. Those are the players who will likely help organize their young position mates for summer position workouts and passing sessions.

Moore just enjoyed his first steady playing time this season after Rambo and Williams' departure, so he was in the pupil's role for most of his career. Now Moore – and the talented young players he will try to lead -- can help Georgia's secondary recover from an erratic 2013, starting with this week's on-campus bowl practices.

“I'm just getting into it now, as you guys know,” Moore said. “I'm pretty much the vet at the safety spot. But it's pretty fun. I know what I have in store for those young guys. We can be a great defensive back corps if we want to. It's just the fact of us going out there and wanting to be great.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Amarlo Herrera isn't ready to assess Georgia's 2014 defense yet. Not when the Bulldogs still have to play a bowl game before this season is complete.

“We're not talking about that yet,” the Georgia linebacker said after last Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech. “The season's not over yet. But when the season gets over, we'll start talking about those things and people will remember these [comebacks against Auburn and Georgia Tech].”

Step one in the evolution of a defense that loses only one senior starter -- defensive lineman Garrison Smith -- will be to put together complete games, not just decent halves. Against both Auburn and Georgia Tech, in particular, disastrous starts forced the Bulldogs to mount dramatic rallies in the game's waning possessions.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews is one of 10 starters that should return on Georgia's defense next fall.
“We've got to stop coming off slow in the first half,” inside linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “We've got to finish, and that's what we've been doing in the second half.”

Wilson has a point. The starts were horrendous -- Auburn scored 27 points and Georgia Tech 20 before halftime -- but Georgia's defense was fairly solid in the second half of more than just those two dramatic comeback bids.

The Bulldogs were awful defensively for most of the first month of the season, with a 28-point second half by Tennessee in Game 5 perhaps ranking as the low point. But since then, Todd Grantham's defense has generally improved as the games progressed.

Since the Tennessee game, the Bulldogs allowed 10 second-half touchdowns in seven games -- half of those coming when opponent scoring started at the 50-yard line or closer because of errors by Georgia's offense or special teams. In the last month of the regular season, the Bulldogs allowed seven second-half points to both Georgia Tech and Kentucky, zero to Appalachian State and 16 to Auburn, although the final six came on a 73-yard Ricardo Louis touchdown catch for the game-winning score after Bulldogs safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews failed to bat down an off-target pass.

“We said it felt like it was like the Auburn game,” Herrera said of the Bulldogs' rally from a 20-0 deficit against Georgia Tech. “We just had to step up and we had to make plays real quick before it got ugly.”

The Tech game was already bordering on ugly before the Bulldogs salvaged it with their second-half rally. They argued afterward that the comeback was an example of their season-long persistence, even against long odds.

“Everybody knows about the tipped pass at Auburn and people wanted to know how we would bounce back off that. Well, we're 2-0 off that loss,” said sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson, who was victimized in coverage on several of Tech's biggest passes. “It's not about how you fall because you're going to fall in this game of football. You're going to fall many times. It's just you've got to get back up.

“Like for myself, to me I had a poor game, but how did I respond? I just tried to keep playing and show my teammates that I'm playing to get better on the next drive.”

The hope for Grantham and his staff is that the rocky moments that Dawson and many other youthful defenders experienced this season will become learning tools as they mature. The 2013 defense was simply not consistent enough, as its program-worst point (opponents averaged 29.4 ppg) and yardage (381.2 ypg) totals reflect, but there were occasional flashes of promise, as well.

He used the game-ending, fourth-down pass breakup to clinch the win against Georgia Tech as an example -- which easily could have been the third such key fourth-down stop by his defense had one of his safeties properly defended Auburn's last-gasp throw or had an official kept the flag in his pocket instead of incorrectly penalizing Wilson for targeting on a fourth-quarter pass breakup against Vanderbilt.

“That's the third fourth-down situation that we've had this year. We had one at Vandy, we had one at Auburn and we had one here,” Grantham said. “We've got a lot of young players on our team that will grow from it and they'll get confidence from it and we're going to develop them and move forward and win a bunch of games.”

The talent clearly exists for Grantham's projection to become reality. Harvey-Clemons, Matthews, outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, defensive end Ray Drew, Herrera and Wilson -- all of them should be back in 2014. If they and their defensive cohorts can perform with discipline that matches their physical capabilities, Georgia's defense could take a step forward next fall.

It's on Grantham and company to ensure that such progress occurs.

“Part of coaching and part of a program and part of being what we want to be, when it's going not the way you want it, you find a way to battle back,” Grantham said.

Richt expects staff to remain intact

December, 1, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt expects everyone on his coaching staff to return for 2014, as long as they want to remain at Georgia.

“Everybody should be back,” Richt said on his Sunday evening teleconference. “Everybody's got to do what they've got to do, as far as if they have opportunities and that kind of thing. We've got some things we've certainly got to get better at, but continuity is a good thing for Georgia.”

Richt's Bulldogs were one of the bigger disappointments in the SEC this season, thanks in part to a spate of injuries that helped Georgia fall from a No. 5 preseason ranking to an 8-4 mark at the end of Saturday's double-overtime win against Georgia Tech.

Georgia's defense was also a glaring weakness for much of the season, tying for 47th nationally in total defense (381.3 ypg) and ranking 80th in scoring (29.4 ppg). The Bulldogs allowed the most points for a season covering at least 12 games (353) and highest scoring average in program history, creating media speculation over much of the season as to whether defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the defensive staff would return.

Richt defended the group's performance, pointing toward the considerable youth on a defense that lost 12 key players from last season and which had only one senior starter -- defensive lineman Garrison Smith.

Nonetheless, he added that the coaches and players must improve to better handle such situations in the future.

“There's a lot of areas that we all need to improve on, but I think that we've got the right group of guys and we have the right staff,” Richt said. “We've got to make sure that we take care of business as far as improving, maturing and keeping that continuity.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Garrison Smith is prepared for the inevitable and knows what he has to do against Georgia Tech on Saturday -- something Florida's defenders struggled to accomplish in last Saturday's upset loss against a similar Georgia Southern offense.

[+] EnlargeGarrison Smith
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIGarrison Smith and Georgia's defensive line will have to be disciplined taking on Georgia Tech's option offense.
“You've just got to use your hands and keep [the offensive linemen] off your legs. That's what you've got to do,” the Georgia defensive lineman said. “You're going to get cut [blocked]. That's going to happen. But you've just got to keep playing.”

Smith's first substantial playing time actually came as the result of a questionable cut block that knocked DeAngelo Tyson out of Georgia's 2011 win over the Yellow Jackets. Smith, then a green sophomore, replaced Tyson in the lineup and recorded seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss, earning SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week honors in the process.

Defensive players don't like dealing with triple-option offenses like Georgia Tech (7-4) and Georgia Southern run, and specifically don't like having to keep their eyes out for pesky offensive linemen who consistently dive at their knees.

“It's just like being out on the streets: you've got to keep your head on a swivel and watch your surroundings,” Smith said. “Protect yourself at all times.”

Otherwise you could suffer Tyson's fate. Or even if you manage to protect yourself, you might fail to fill the proper gap and be the goat when the Yellow Jackets break a long run.

That was the issue for Florida's defense last weekend against Georgia Southern, when the Eagles ran 54 times for 429 yards and upset the Gators 26-20.

Afterward, Gators coach Will Muschamp admitted that the challenges presented in defending that scheme leveled the playing field for the FCS Eagles.

“That's why a lot of these schools run it -- because it takes talent out of the equation,” Muschamp told reporters this week. “A lot of talented guys don't like having somebody at their knees every snap, either.”

Georgia (7-4) has improved in each successive game against Georgia Tech's option since Todd Grantham became defensive coordinator in 2010. That first year, the Yellow Jackets ran 77 times for 411 yards and Georgia barely held on for a 42-34 win. The Bulldogs have won easily in each of the last two seasons, with Tech running 53 times for 243 yards in a 31-17 loss in 2011 and 67 times for 302 yards in last season's 42-10 defeat where their only touchdown drive came against reserves in the fourth quarter.

The problem for Georgia, however, is that only three regulars -- Smith, cornerback Damian Swann and outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins -- have played much against the Yellow Jackets' unique attack. It's entirely different from what Georgia's players and coaches see the rest of the season, so that real-time experience is valuable for all parties.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsVad Lee and Georgia Tech's offense are averaging more than 300 yards rushing per game this season.
“I think the more you see anything, the better you feel about it from that standpoint,” Grantham said. “But they're going to mix up what they do. Every year they try to change up and tweak it.

“But the bottom line, it gets down to players making plays, players executing, being where they need to be, playing with good pad level, playing physical and doing all the things you need to do to stop that kind of offense. Because it's really a team-oriented defense to play against, meaning you've got to take care of your assignment and trust someone's going to be somewhere else because if you don't do that, then you create a seam and that's when they get the explosive plays.”

Tech has largely been successful in that regard. As per usual under Coach Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets rank among the national leaders in rushing offense (fourth at 316.1 yards per game). They have scored 16 touchdowns -- 11 rushing, five passing -- that covered at least 20 yards and rushed for 200-plus yards in every game but one. In fact, they've rushed for more than 250 in all but their losses to Virginia Tech (129 yards) and BYU (237).

As long as Georgia's first-time starting quarterback Hutson Mason and his cohorts keep Georgia's high-scoring offense on track, the Bulldogs don't need to hold Tech to fewer than 200 rushing yards to win. If the Bulldogs keep grinding against Tech's deliberate attack and consistently arrive where they're supposed to be to make stops, they should survive.

“Everybody's got to do their job,” said Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson, the SEC's leading tackler with 119 stops. “Me and Amarlo [Herrera], the inside-box guys, we've got to stop the dive. And we've got two outside linebackers that have got to stop the quarterback. And we've just got to make the plays. If we don't make the plays, we get gashed, so we've got to do our job and everything should be all right.”

That's easier said than done, however, as Muschamp can attest.

“You've got to have your offense moving and scoring because as long as [Tech's offense is] on track and on schedule, it's pretty effective,” Grantham said. “It's when there's a separation and they're off track, whether it be down-and-distance or score, then it becomes more difficult. So that's kind of a team thing right there. Fortunately we've been able to do that the last couple years. But it's a challenge to play it.”

Planning for success: Georgia

November, 27, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- From a preparation standpoint, few weeks of practice are more important for Georgia than the days leading up to the Georgia Tech game.

So when the weather wouldn't cooperate on Tuesday, with a combination of rain and near-freezing temperatures creating a miserable environment, the Bulldogs' football staff had to scramble for a way to get in those valuable practice reps. The solution: packing up the entire team and busing 45 miles to Flowery Branch, where they worked out in the Atlanta Falcons' indoor practice facility.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThe Bulldogs are traveling near and somewhat far -- to Atlanta on Tuesday -- to get the most amount of time to prep for Georgia Tech's triple-option offense.
“You do spend a lot of time on the logistics of it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It's not like we just say, 'Let's go there' or 'Let's start practice and then if it gets bad, we'll go over there.' It's just not that way, so when you have days like this and you're trying to figure out what to do, you spend a lot of time trying to work out all of the details. It's not only me as a coach, but our director of football operations, our managers and trainers, everybody. It changes everybody's life.”

Because of their need to focus on defending Georgia Tech's option-based running game -- and the cut blocks that come with it -- the Bulldogs (7-4) are breaking from their normal practice routine this week and working out in full pads all week. That's why Richt was so appreciative that Falcons officials took his call and allowed him to work in a practice around the NFL club's Tuesday schedule: because the Bulldogs needed the work.

“It was real important because you've got to get good work in,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, whose units have yielded 431 yards and 20.3 points per game in three wins against the Yellow Jackets (7-4). “You try to simulate it as best you can, but being able to go in there and basically go live and tackle and do live blocks -- because that's the only way you can play this stuff is you've got to get in there and experience it -- and we were able to do that today.”

Georgia has an indoor turf field adjacent to its football complex, but the modest facility isn't big enough to host a full-squad practice. Since getting in a full practice was important, and because the weather for Saturday's game in Atlanta should be more tolerable, Richt took the Bulldogs to Flowery Branch to practice for the first time in several seasons.

“When I looked at the weather forecast for the game, it's supposed to be mid-40s and sunny,” Richt said. “If it was going to be rainy and nasty on Saturday, I probably would have practiced here in the rain and the nasty, but I didn't feel like it was that important to do if we weren't going to play in it.”

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