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Friday, January 29, 2010

Changing Faces: 5 Potential Breakout Players on Defense

At this point, it's hard to gauge how Todd Grantham's new 3-4 defense is going to affect the current roster of Bulldogs other than to say it's definitely going to shake things up.

But of all the fan-friendly quotes I've heard from Grantham so far, I think this one caught my eye more than any others when it comes to player development:
"The best thing you can do is create one-on-ones. You try to get the guys that can win for you against the guys that can’t win for them. I don’t think there’s any question that can be an asset for us, and I think that some players will thrive because of that. I think some guys will enhance their careers because of that, because we’re going to find ways to make guys in protection – whether it be a back or a freshman guard or tackle – we’re going to find ways to make those guys block.”
Add that to Grantham's insistence that the best players will play and there's a clean slate for those who hadn't seen much playing time in the past, and I'd say it's a safe bet that we'll see some new stars emerge on defense next season.

So, with that in mind, I tried to put together a quick list of five players I think might see the biggest impact in Year 1 from Grantham's arrival.

Now, keep in mind, this isn't a list of which players I think will find the most success. My guess is Justin Houston is going to be a first-team All-SEC guy in 2010 -- but he might have been that anyway.

And it's not a list of who the new faces will be this season. Players like Garrison Smith and Jakar Hamilton appear to have bright futures, but again, they would have likely had bright futures regardless of the DC.

This list is of five guys who have already been in Athens for at least a year who have a chance to see the career path they were on shifted in a positive direction now that the new staff is (almost) in place. For some, it's a matter of the scheme now matching their skills. For others, it's about getting a fresh start with a new opportunity to prove themselves. And for others, it's just about getting some better coaching to iron out the flaws in their game.

Anyway, here's what I came up with...

Cornelius Washington (RSo./DE). At 6-4, 250, Washington is a big boy, but his pass-rush skills have always hinged on his speed. Add to that the fact that in the 4-3, he was going to be stuck behind Houston and Demarcus Dobbs on the depth chart, and you have a guy with a ton of skill who wasn't being utilized in the best way. Enter the 3-4 and it's a completely different story. While Dobbs possesses the wider frame that could keep him at DE, Washington is a prototype outside linebacker in Grantham's scheme and could be an absolute stud as a pass rusher. If he teams with Houston at OLB in 2010, Washington's numbers could be off the charts, and Georgia's pass rush could be downright frightening.

Akeem Hebron (Sr./LB). I'm not entirely sure where Hebron fits in, but the fact of the matter is, he arrived at Georgia as one of the most highly recruiting linebackers the Dawgs had landed in recent years and his career has come and gone with about as little fanfare as any top-100 recruit could have. He has appeared in just nine games and made just four tackles total at Georgia, but with a fresh start under Grantham and the departure of Rennie Curran, there's a chance Hebron could salvage the final season of his college career much the way Brandon Miller did in 2007.

Marcus Dowtin (Jr./LB). Dowtin made huge steps forward in 2009 and was arguably Georgia's second best linebacker already. But the biggest chink in Dowtin's armor has been his consistency. I've been told by Curran and John Jancek and Darryl Gamble and even Dowtin himself that he has a tendency to take a play or two off on occasion or to let down his guard from time to time. Something tells me that Grantham and his 11 years of NFL experience won't be letting that happen any longer. Dowtin is talented enough to be a future star at the next level, and I wouldn't be shocked if Grantham gets him to just that point. Add to that Dowtin's strong tackling skills, strong work in blitz situations and ability to play in coverage and he seems like a good fit at ILB in the 3-4 to boot.

Kiante Tripp (Sr./DE). This might be wishful thinking on my part, but for anyone who has followed Tripp's career, you have to root for the kid to finally make something of himself at Georgia. He's been misused from the beginning, and he hasn't complained. Wherever coaches have needed him, he's gone. And each time he makes a position change, he gets thrown to the wolves, then cast aside quickly. The same was true last year after moving to DE when Tripp struggled to get onto the field after some early injury concerns. And as much as it would be a shame for a guy who has given his all for Georgia to miss out on a finding some success, it would be a crime for UGA to let someone with Tripp's combination of size and athleticism to graduate without turning him into a real player. Tripp's body type could work very well on the D line in Grantham's 3-4, and while he'll no doubt be pushed by some younger talent like Abry Jones and Kwame Geathers, he won't be without a good group of fans pulling for him to turn the corner after so many setbacks.

Jordan Love (RFr./CB). A lot of competition for the final slot -- with Geathers and Jones among the younger players who might thrive in new roles and Darryl Gamble or Akeem Dent among the older players who might cap their careers nicely in the 3-4 -- but I didn't want to only consider the front seven. In any defense, it's incumbent upon the corners to provide solid play in the run game, and Prince Miller did that really well last year. In the 3-4, that responsibility becomes even more important. Certainly Branden Smith could fill that role and do it well, but Love is bigger and more physical and could find himself in competition for a bit more playing time this season than he might have been otherwise. A foot injury kept him off the field in Year 1 of his career, which might have put him behind the 8-ball with the previous regime, but a strong spring could now leave him in prime position to be, at worst, the top corner off the bench in nickel situations.

So, what do you guys think? Any sleepers you're particularly excited about in 2010? Any veterans you're hoping will get one last shot?


Anonymous said...

i think you are overthinking this...guys like hebron dont suddenly emerge after giving no sign of such.

i dont know which five but i think it will come from the following list

both williams LBs
rambo and commings
mike gilliard
montez robinson
abry jones
dent and gamble - actually becoming playmakers with good coaching

Carter said...

Sometimes guys like Hebron get in the doghouse or lose a coach's confidence and can't get a fair shake thereafter. I remember him playing in the Army All-American game and it would be a shame to see his talent never materialize.

I expect Cornelius to play like Shawn Merriman did when he was still taking steroids.

Also, Branden Smith said he never lifted before coming to UGA so I expect him to be more physically advanced this year. But to paraphrase Deion, "No coached ever asked me to bench-press Jerry Rice.”

Dave, on a side note, if you have a chance to watch Real Sports on HBO this week the second half to the show is a follow-up on Bernie Goldberg’s report on concussions in the NFL. It is enough to make me feel guilty about watching football.

Anonymous said...

Richard Samuel

brad said...

I firmly believe Marcus Dowtin is as talented as any LB we have had in recent memory. I can't wait to see him play without that freaking club on his hand for once. I was beginning to think he was born with it.

I also am excited about the new mentality this attacking style of D brings. I'm not envisioning a revolution at first, but I think this style has real potential.

UGA69Dawg said...

Having heard the DC from the Saints talking about how their game plan was to hit the QB on every play and see if they could keep focused, I see some very scared QB's in the SEC. This 3-4, bring the house D will keep the QB's happy feet going in overtime. Unless we run into a NFL QB next year I think it's going to fun to watch.

dawgjammin said...

if sanders commings performs this spring like he did in the spring game last year i think it will be hard to keep him off the field. i remember sitting in the stands last year this #19 is making plays everywhere.

kiante tripp is just another example of the talented guys that uga has wasted with position moves through out the past several years. Dez Williams, Samuel, B. Miller, Marcus Howard, etc. Its like they get a kid that natually gifted and treat it like tommy boy treats a sale.

Remember this quote from Searles "Son, I can make you a lot of money if you come play LT for me." How long did that last 1.5 games?

Donnie said...

I would love to Kiante break out and play like a man with his hair on fire. Same with Akeem, although I have heard injuries have taken a toll on his body. All of the linebackers should be better, based on performance they have had zero coaching the past few years, so as long as the final position on the staff is better than Jancek we should be improved at every linebacker spot.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Abry Jones would qualify as a breakout player but I expect big things from him. Brandon Wood is a sleeper too!

Anonymous said...

I really feel that we will see alot of Nick Williams this year. I am not sure if it will be at safety or LB, but the kid always seems to be around the ball. If CTG is looking for playmakers he could see alot of playing time.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't aware that Brandon Miller salvaged his senior season.

Wild Bill said...

Cornelius washington ran track in high school too! he was one of the fastest track stars in the state. he could potentially be an awesome OLB in a 3-4!

Anonymous said...

Most Likely to Succeed - C. Washington; J. Houston; N. Williams; M. Dowtin;

Most Popular - Rambo;

Best Fish out of Water Story - Montez Robinson (or Hamilton);

Best Backstory - Dobbs;

Best Use of "Rocky" Theme in Spring Practice - Kiante or R. Samuel;

Best Comeback Story - Kiante; Hebron; Samuel; Montez; Rambo; you name it;

Best Sh**-Eating Grin on Day 1 of Spring Practice: Grantham.

David - it may just be the way you spin a yarn, but, man, we have some truly compelling stories on the D-side of the ball this coming year. Should be fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I think Washington, Houston and Robinson could all be great at OLB. Also think Tyson is going to step it up.

Anonymous said...

Im excited in Granthams philosophy of getting the best 11 on the field. Wille really struggled in that department and wasn't very creative with personel. Way to much talent sitting on the sideline , can't wait to see a new #3 , still having nightmares!

The Watch Dawg said...

This off-season won't be boring at all if you keep up at this pace, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Emerging Players

Montez Robinson All SEC 2nd Team
Justin Houston All SEC
Nick Williams
Daryll Gamble All SEC 2nd Team
Jakar Hamilton All SEC
Cornelius Washington
Deangelo Tyson All SEC

Players that could get lost in the shuffle if they don't step up their game.

Demarcus Dobbs
Vance Cuff
Akeem Dent
Sanders Commings