Revamped Defense Could Make Georgia Special
By Dan Mathews
This is the time of year when we all head to the bookstores and load up on the preview magazines. It’s a birthday present come early for many of us and we want to see if our team is in the Top 25 rankings.
In the four magazines I’ve picked up so far, Georgia is in the Top 25 in all of them. People are yet again buying the brand name of Georgia football.
Let’s look at the facts: This team returns eight returners on defense and six on offense after an 8-5 season. The 2013 team had more than its fair share of injuries and bad luck. (Anyone remember the "Miracle at Jordan-Hare" tip drill catch by Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis?) In the coup de gras, Aaron Murray tore his ACL on senior night at Sanford Stadium, of all times.
It’s a new day for the Bulldogs with Murray out and senior quarterback Hutson Mason taking over the position. It’s not like he got the DJ Shockley treatment either. Mason started two games to end last season and has played in 13 games, whereas Shockley was a backup to David Greene until getting his chance to start in 2005.
Mason is still a four-year member of this program and knows this offense front and back. He’s shown that he’s a confident player who has the respect of his teammates. Coupled with the returning talent at wide receiver and running back, this team can reach the high point totals it has put up in the last couple of seasons. Players like running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall inspire confidence.
Another factor working in the Bulldogs' favor is the arrival of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and staff. Out are Todd Grantham, inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti, secondary coach Scott Lakatos and defensive line coach Chris Wilson. In comes inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, and strong-side linebacker/"Star" coach Kevin Sherrer. This staff change has been a boost to this team throughout the spring and competition was at an all-time high during offseason workouts.
Pruitt said numerous times that no player was assured a starting spot. Case in point, sophomore cornerback Shaq Wiggins was not a starting corner throughout the spring practices. He has since transferred to Louisville. Defensive end Ray Drew was also not with the starters all spring after a very impressive junior season.
Complacency seemingly has no place on this team. This seems especially true with the defense. Pruitt seems to bring a no-nonsense approach. He’s not been afraid to take starters off first=team reps to prove a point and knows this team was horrid on third downs last season. He's fostered a competitiveness within the team, and with inside linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera and outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, the defense could be primed for a strong bounce-back.
The defensive line was a strong unit last season. The secondary was the weakness of this team, and Pruitt is the position coach. Keep in mind while Pruitt coached the defensive backs at Alabama, he coached four players that have been drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Not to mention cornerback LaMarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks, who went in the second and third rounds this year after a season of Pruitt’s tutelage at Florida State. Needless to say this guy can coach some defensive backs.
The players believe in him and he’s got the talent on that side of the ball to make this Georgia team dangerous.
Some preseason polls have this team ranked as high at 15 (Sporting News) and eight (USA Today/Athlon). Moral of the story is this team has the opportunity to have a special season in Athens.
The schedule even breaks down well with Clemson, Auburn, and Tennessee all playing at Sanford Stadium. Georgia will take on South Carolina in a hot Williams-Brice Stadium early in the season; however I don’t think Steve Spurrier will have a full complement of talent this early in the season to match Georgia. The Bulldogs take on Florida in Jacksonville, but the Gators will be pedestrian at best this season.
I’m drinking the Kool-Aid and saying this team will go undefeated in 2014. I think there is a perfect balance of offense and rejuvenated defense for them to make a run to the top. We will see the Bulldogs as one of the four playoff teams in January.