I wrote last week about a few reasons to be encouraged by how quickly the new staff has addressed many of the primary concerns fans had last year. For what it's worth, here are a couple more that jumped out at me from Tuesday's interviews with Todd Grantham.
Both of these quotes came from our discussion of Darryl Gamble's move to outside linebacker, but I think they both illustrate big changes in terms of philosophy on the defensive side of the ball.
ISSUE: Receivers could cruise downfield uncovered far too often.
This sounds counterintuitive, but part of the Georgia coverage schemes in years past included allowing certain receivers to go uncovered in order to cover a specific side of the field. The idea was that if the pressure was good up front, it could push a play to one side of the field, and Georgia's coverage there would be strong.
What happened too often last season, however, was that the uncovered receiver would find his way into the end zone with the football in his hands. The sheer number of wide open receptions last year was enough to make fans toss a warm Coors Lite through their new flat screen.
So, a throw-away line in Grantham's response to a question I asked about how well seniors Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble have been able to help train the younger players should come as some very good news.
“Everybody’s a rookie, everybody’s a freshman," Grantham said. "Everything’s new. Terminology is new, understanding splits of receivers means something, rerouting means something. We don’t want to have a free access defense where we let receivers run free into our defense. That’s new for them. Run-fits are new. Everything’s new. But what helps those guys is, because they’ve played, they kind of have a feel for, if this guy’s here, I need to be here. But really, everyone’s a freshman, but those guys have done a good job of learning the system and they’ve done a good job of adapting. They’ve got to continue to do that and help the younger guys come through.”
(*Update: I should clarify a bit, since this seems to have boiled a few fans' blood... the "free receiver" defense isn't entirely uncommon, and it's used situationally -- both at UGA and elsewhere. It relies heavily on the pressure up front though, and that's where things often fell apart in years past. Much like the directional kicking, it's not that the philosophy itself is completely flawed, it's that the execution didn't work repeatedly, yet the philosophy didn't really change. Regardless, Georgia won't employ directional kicking or free access defense this season, so things are looking up.)
ISSUE: The best players didn't always play.
Bryan Evans is a good kid, a good leader and a hard worker. But he wasn't as good a player last year as Bacarri Rambo, and yet that didn't matter. Evans was the senior leader, so he continued to be the starter.
Well, here's what Grantham had to say about how much Gamble might play at OLB this season:
“It’s very possible he could stay out there based upon how he plays this week and how the guys inside play," Grantham said. "Our whole deal is, I believe it’s a production deal and the guys who produce and make plays and give us a chance to win are the guys we’re going to put on the field. To do that, sometimes you have to move guys around to various spots to see what they can do and see what your best combinations are. We’re going to play the best players come September.”
Now on that front, I'll admit that Willie Martinez & Co. often gave lip service to the same philosophy, even if that didn't play out during the season. But hearing Grantham's opinions on playing time -- and he's made clear from Day 1 that he'll be giving all players a fair evaluation -- I'm inclined to think he's being honest when he says this.
Again, the news always seems positive in the spring, and the defense still has a long way to go, but comments like these should at least give some cause for optimism.