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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Notes: Outside Look at Inside Linebacker

It’s safe to say Justin Houston is excited about his new role on Georgia’s defense. His job – mainly crushing a few quarterbacks – won’t change much, but he’s loving the new setting of the 3-4 defense, where he moves to outside linebacker from defensive end.

“It was a good experience to be out there learning what we’ve got to work on,” Houston said of the Bulldogs’ first taste of the new scheme last week. “I just have to drop back (into coverage) every now and then. I like to drop back. I get tired of just banging all the time.”

Houston admitted he wasn’t always fully aware of where he was supposed to be or what he was supposed to do during Day 1 of practice, but he thinks he’ll pick up the basics pretty quickly. His teammates playing inside linebacker, however, won’t have it quite so easy.

“The inside guy has a lot to learn,” Houston said. “The outside guys, to me it’s simple. I’m picking it up pretty fast. But the inside guys, Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble, we were talking about it coming off the field that the things they have to learn, they’ve got a long ways to go.”

New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be coaching the outside linebackers and said their primary role is still to rush the quarterback. The inside linebackers, however, will have an increased presence in the running game, will be required to work in coverage and the Mike linebacker position will essentially be the quarterback of the defense.

“It’ll mean more communication, especially from my part,” said Gamble, a senior who played middle linebacker for much of the past two seasons. “You’ve got to be able to see more, get the line and even the DBs adjusted to what’s going on in front of us.”

It’s no surprise then that the two top contenders for the job are Georgia’s most veteran linebackers – Gamble and Dent.

“Me and him, we’ve got a lot of reps under our belt, more than a lot of other guys on the defense,” Gamble said. “So it’ll be better off hearing it from us than hearing from somebody else that doesn’t know a lot about what’s going on on Saturdays.”


Nick Williams arrived at Georgia as a safety. Midway through his freshman season, he moved to linebacker. When injuries disrupted the depth chart at safety last spring, he moved back to safety. By the time the season started, however, he was a linebacker once again. And now, as spring begins for Georgia in 2010, Williams is once again on the move – and he couldn’t be happier.

“I was excited when I heard I was back at safety,” Williams said. “I liked linebacker, but I wasn’t big enough. I knew that, but I was going to play it regardless. So when Coach (Mark Richt) told me I was going back to safety, and this was my permanent spot, I’m like, ‘That’s good.’ It wasn’t hard switching back.”

Williams said he needs to drop a few pounds before the season starts – he’s at about 220 now – but beyond that, safety feels like home.

Even better than the new position, however, is the new style, Williams said. In Grantham’s new defense, the safeties are given a lot more room to run and make plays, and that’s exactly what Williams wants to do.

“This is just a fun defense to play in,” he said. “You’re running around making plays. You’re not just assigned to one gap. You’re making plays. You never know who’s blitzing, the safeties are always running and moving around. It’s fun.”

Of course, before Williams can make too many plays, he needs to land a starting job. Both of last year’s starters are gone, which leaves the competition this spring tight between Bacarri Rambo – last year’s top backup – junior college transfer Jakar Hamilton, veteran Quintin Banks and Williams.

During Georgia’s first practice, Williams said he and Hamilton split most of the first-team reps, but said the other safety position really isn’t up for grabs.

“I see it as one open position because Rambo’s got his locked,” Williams said. “He’s ready to go.”


Branden Smith had plenty of highlight moments in his freshman campaign, but he didn’t exactly secure his place in the pecking order of the defensive backfield. In fact, much of Smith’s impact in 2009 was felt on the offensive side of the football.

That should change a bit this season as Smith battles to land the starting job at cornerback opposite Brandon Boykin, but his playing time on offense last year didn’t necessarily maximize his study time for his current job.

“I wish I could have played defense a little more last year, but on the other hand, I’m just here to help the team win, that’s all,” Smith said.

Smith finished last season with just 14 tackles and two pass break-ups, playing in a back-up role on defense, generally in nickel coverages.

On offense, Smith met with a bit more success – rushing for 208 yards and two touchdowns on the season. He handled kick returns, too, but has occasional problems hanging onto the football.

This spring, Smith said he plans to focus on developing his skills at corner and said he hasn’t spoken with new defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos about playing offense or special teams, too. Still, the idea of being an all-purpose contributor remains of keen interest for Smith.

“I like playing both ways, but my main focus is just winning,” Smith said. “If I had to play offense the rest of the season to help the team win, that’s what I’d have to do.”

For now, however, Smith's role is to be the student, and he's enjoying the early lessons from his new coach.

“Coach Lakatos is real different from (former) Coach (Willie) Martinez. Both of them have their ways, just teaching different stuff," Smith said. "Now we’ve got to learn the things (Lakatos) is teaching us, and … his teaching style is way different. Coach Lakatos, he sits down and shows us how to do things. He is a teacher, really.”


Kris Durham is thrilled to be suiting up this spring in order to finish out his Georgia career on a high note. But it's not just on the field.

Durham gets decked out for his other full-time gig each day this semester, too. He's student teaching a history class at Oconee County Middle School to finish up his degree, and while he's in charge of the classroom, he said he's learned a few lessons along the way.

“It’s definitely different," said Durham, who plans to begin grad school at UGA this summer. "I used to think I was getting away with a lot of stuff, but teachers see more than you think they do.”

Each weekday from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., Durham is in the classroom, with recent lectures focusing on civil rights, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott.

Of course, before he could get to teaching, he had to get past the excitement among his students that they would be learning from a Georgia football player.

Durham didn't reveal his other job, but his students had no trouble unveiling his true identity.

“They figured that out after about the first 20 minutes," Durham said. "I had to get that out of the way real quick and make sure they saw me as not just a football player, but I’m here to help you guys learn and help educate.”

As much as Durham is looking forward to getting back on the football field after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, his off-field work is proving every bit as rewarding.

“I’ve been blessed by having so many good teachers and coaches, I just feel like that’s how I’ve got to pay it forward,” he said. "I get to enjoy the youth of America. I get to have my influence on them. It’s just a good way to give back.”


Not sure if I had posted this before, but here's Mike Bobo's take on the 3-4 defense:

“I think the big difficulty in the 3-4 is you have the outside backers that are backers/rush guys. As an offense, it’s hard to account – do I account for those guys as outside guys as a D lineman or as a linebacker? You’re worried about mismatches and blocking. I still want my left tackle to block that guy, but in that front, my fullback or my back might have to block that outside backer, and that’s a mismatch. So that’s where it causes some confusion for offenses is identifying personnel and trying to get the right matchup on those guys. In a 3-4, you can disguise and you don’t know where they’re coming from. You create mismatches, get to the quarterback and cause confusion.”

1 comment:

Riley said...

Any word on how Garner is blending in with the new staff? How's he enjoying coaching the D-line and their new responsibilities in the 3-4?