Georgia Bulldogs: Scott Lakatos

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.

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.

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.

Georgia DBs coach Lakatos resigns

January, 9, 2014
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Georgia announced Thursday evening that secondary coach Scott Lakatos has resigned for personal reasons.

“We are very appreciative of Scott's contributions to our program over the last four years and I have a great amount of respect for him as a coach and as a person,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said in a release. “We with him and his family nothing but the best.

Lakatos joined Richt's staff in 2010 and the Bulldogs ranked second in the SEC in pass defense last season. That secondary was stocked with senior talent -- including NFL draft picks Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings -- but their departures ushered in an inexperienced set of defensive backs and a far less effective pass defense.

The Bulldogs finished 60th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (227.4), and the secondary was the weakest link on a green defense that took an overall step backward from its efforts in 2011 and 2012.

Georgia should return all of its key defensive backs from this season, including starting cornerbacks Damian Swann and Shaq Wiggins and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger.

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.”

Georgia now has options at safety

November, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Whenever an injury or suspension has impacted Georgia's lineup throughout his time as defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham's standard line was that it was a chance to create depth.

That being the case, Georgia has had more than enough opportunity to build depth at safety this season -- although the transition from longtime starters Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo to a group of newcomers has frequently been bumpy.

“It's just a process,” Grantham said. “You just stay the course and believe in the system and get the guys the reps they need and build on what they do well and try to improve the things that maybe they didn't do as well.”

Williams and Rambo started the vast majority of Georgia's games at safety between 2010 and 2012, so their departure for the NFL after last season created a huge hole at the back end of the Bulldogs' defense. Sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons -- the team's defensive MVP of spring practice -- and true freshman Tray Matthews were the offseason favorites to fill that vacancy, but a one-game suspension to Harvey-Clemons to open the season and a hamstring injury for Matthews have allowed the duo to play together for just three games.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsSafety Tray Matthews is expected to be back in the lineup for the first time since the Bulldogs' win over LSU in September.
Matthews should play Saturday for the first time since the Bulldogs' Sept. 28 win over LSU, which was the last time that Matthews, Harvey-Clemons and fellow safeties Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger all played in the same game.

Matthews has battled injuries essentially since preseason practice started in August, which put a damper on the excitement he generated during spring practice after enrolling at UGA in January.

“Even though he was here in the spring, he still has got to continue to work hard at perfecting what he does,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “In the meantime, some other guys have been playing a good bit and getting some experience and things like that. But yeah, we'd definitely like to get him going out on the defensive scrimmage downs, and I'm sure he'll do it this week.”

Georgia's long list of injury issues on offense has been the main storyline of the season entering Saturday's game against Appalachian State, but the issues at safety have been nearly as devastating -- particularly when you consider the lack of experience the group brought into the season.

True freshman Mauger is the only member of the foursome who has played in all eight games, while injuries and illnesses to the two junior college defensive backs in the 2013 signing class, Shaquille Fluker and Kennar Johnson, have prevented either from playing in a single game.

“This season has been a devastating year, but I feel like moments like this, it brings out the best in people,” said Moore, a junior who joins senior Connor Norman as the group's elder statesmen. “'You can never be scared of competition,' my dad always told me. Injuries create opportunities, and there were plenty of opportunities out there that different players had to step in and make plays.”

Moore has dealt with injuries himself. He tore the LCL in his knee while trying to block a punt during preseason practice and missed the Bulldogs' opener at Clemson. He didn't practice without a brace until the week of the Oct. 12 Missouri game. But he has made a couple of big plays for the Bulldogs in recent weeks, intercepting a pass two games ago against Vanderbilt and recording a 14-yard sack on Florida's final drive last week that helped Georgia put away a 23-20 win.

For the first time in a month, Moore is part of a safety group that is close to full strength -- Harvey-Clemons is also back after missing the second half of the Vanderbilt game and was frequently subbed out against Florida -- which provides options for Grantham and defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos that largely haven't existed this season.

“All four of those guys have had some snaps, so you feel comfortable rolling those guys in there,” Grantham said. “That allows you to maybe have some different packages where you can play with three safeties and things like that, too. Injuries create depth. It's been a process for those guys, but they've done a good job working hard and now we've got some depth.”

Mauger -- one of the least-heralded members of the 2013 class -- was thrust into position to where he had to play, but Grantham credited him for learning both safety positions and for his cerebral approach to the game. Mauger did not expect to play as much as he has, but the long list of injuries at his position forced him to fill a larger role than he might have otherwise.

“It is quite a surprise at some point,” he said, “but then again I worked so hard for it, so why not?”

Now with Matthews back, Grantham and Lakatos are actually in position to consider their options at safety. Grantham didn't tip his hand as to whether Matthews will start, noting only that “he'll definitely play,” but production matters more than who plays the first down, he said.

All four players will have an opportunity to produce, and slowly the group is becoming less of a liability than the one that was nearly devoid of on-field experience when the season started.

“You've just got to stay the course, believe in what you're doing and know the system works and just keep being consistent in your message to them and the things that you want them to do from a technique/fundamentals standpoint,” Grantham said. “And then it'll start clicking and they'll start playing fast and they'll make some plays.”

Recapping UGA post-spring reviews 

April, 29, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Over the last two weeks, we reviewed the competition for playing time at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and identified a player to watch at each position.

A defense that lost 12 significant players will be a focal point well into the fall, and it was in our post-spring recaps. Let’s take a look at the defensive positions first:

Post-spring position review: S 

April, 26, 2013
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Editor’s note: DawgNation's post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the safeties:

Returning players/stats: Connor Norman, Jr. (Two starts. 18 tackles); Corey Moore, Jr. (One start. 14 tackles, one tackle for a loss); Marc Deas, Jr. (One tackle, one blocked punt); Josh Harvey-Clemons, So. (14 tackles, one TFL, one pass breakup);


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Post-spring position review: CB 

April, 25, 2013
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Editor’s note: Our DawgNation post-spring positional analysis continues this week after focusing on the offense last week. Today we examine the cornerbacks:


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ATHENS, Ga. -- After his 2012 offense set several school records, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo received a three-year contract that includes a $240,000 raise, pushing his guaranteed salary to $575,000 annually.

“I think he deserved a three-year deal because that’s really what’s happening out there in this league,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said before Thursday’s practice. “And his salary’s very competitive with his peers and I think he’s earned that.”

Mike Bobo
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo received a three-year contract that included a $240,000 raise.
Bobo and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham now both are operating on three-year deals. Bobo had been coaching on renewable one-year contracts since joining Richt’s first UGA staff in 2001.

According to salary figures that UGA released to ESPN.com on Thursday, Bobo and each of Richt’s nine assistant coaches received salary increases following a 2012 campaign when the Bulldogs fell just short of an appearance in the BCS championship game.

“I think we’ve got a great staff and I want to keep them,” Richt said. “But it’s a very competitive league in a lot of areas. There’s the competition on the field, there’s the competition in recruiting and then sometimes there’s a competition to hang on to your assistant coaches.”

Offensive line coach Will Friend received a $90,000 raise, pushing his annual salary to $300,000 per year. Friend also added the title of running game coordinator to his resume.

Meanwhile, wide receivers coach Tony Ball received a $50,000 increase to $260,000.

Each of Georgia’s remaining assistants received $25,000 raises: Grantham (to $850,000), inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (to $285,000), defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos (to $235,000), tight ends coach John Lilly (to $235,000) and running backs coach Bryan McClendon (to $235,000).

New defensive line coach Chris Wilson is scheduled to make $250,000 in 2013.

“It was good for them, but it was good for me as well because I really think these guys are tremendous,” Richt said of the staff raises. “I think every one of them are and over time, I want to continue to try to bless them the best we can financially and stay as competitive as we can in that area.”

Georgia safety commit clears hurdles 

January, 31, 2013
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Safety Kennar Johnson (Clermont, Fla./Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) was supposed to enroll at Georgia this month.

He had been committed to the Bulldogs for more than three weeks when the junior college signing period began Dec. 18, and was expected to sign then. By Dec. 19 it was obvious something was wrong. Johnson could not be reached for comment. His coach stopped returning phone calls. Georgia put out a press release with the names of two junior colleges players that had signed with the Bulldogs. Johnson was not on the list.

Recently, a couple of Georgia coaches went to visit Johnson.


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Spring a big opportunity for Matthews 

January, 16, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps it says something about the seasoning of Georgia’s 2013 defense, or lack thereof, that safety will actually not be the Bulldogs’ least-experienced position.

Nose guard takes that dubious honor. And yet with the departure of a pair of essential seniors Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo, the back end of the defense will face just as many questions when spring practice opens in early March.

U.S. Army All-American Tray Matthews -- who graduated from Newnan (Ga.) High School early and enrolled at Georgia this month -- hopes he can provide some answers.

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Richt checks on his top commit 

January, 15, 2013
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ESPN 150 cornerback Shaq Wiggins (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek) spent Sunday morning eating breakfast with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, then ended that night on the phone with Georgia coach Mark Richt.


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ATHENS, Ga. -- This won’t be the most crucial offseason of Todd Grantham’s relatively brief time at Georgia -- that honor goes to 2010, when he started installing his 3-4 scheme shortly after joining Mark Richt’s staff in January -- but it might be the one with the most roster uncertainty.

The Bulldogs will lose 11 key players off its 2012 defense, and that number could grow to 12 if junior nose guard Kwame Geathers declares for the NFL draft, so spring practice will feature major competition within every defensive position group.

“I kind of put them up on the board the other day and we’ve got some talented guys. It’s just a matter of developing them and working them and filtering it,” Grantham said. “Our depth is going to be better than it’s been the last couple of years, but it’s going to be young. So there’s a little bit at every spot.”

(Read full post)

Title in hand, LB Thomas sets visits 

January, 2, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Five-star linebacker Matthew Thomas (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington) said he wanted to win a state championship before he would deal with his recruitment.


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