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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More Glass Half Full From Grantham

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.

This year?

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.


Anonymous said...

Yes, this is all very nice but I still haven't seen you comment on LOST from last week much less this week!
Please let me know your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

There is no reason to be drinking warm Coors Lite when the bottle tells you if its reached optimum guzzling temperature.

Anonymous said...

Hey David: Have you heard anything of how players are taking to Willie and his schemes/philosophies out in Okie?

Andy said...

Yeah with the cold activated bottles there really is no excuse to not enjoy the taste as cold as the Rockies. If the mountains aren't blue, keep it in the fridge.

And I think my #1 complaint about last year's defense was the coverage. I remember vividly how a mediocre quarterback like Stephen Garcia threw for over 300 yards, in large part to hitting Saunders 15 yards deep on the back side of the play. It was their bread and butter. And almost every team did that to us for the rest of the season.

So glad to hear Grantham/Lakatos talking sense.

Anonymous said...

"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."

I have to be honest...that more than SOUNDS counterintuitive. I almost threw my computer out the window reading that.

Kathleen said...

Yes! I remember the guy next to me at the Arkansas game just about put his foot through the bleachers he was so stomping p!ssed about the parade of open receivers in that game.

Good news.

JRL said...

Anon 1:27 like you I was stunned. I had to read that quote several times to make sure I was in fact reading and not fabricating.

Anonymous said...

@JRL - seriously...I was so mad when I read that. I think I would have felt better if I had been able to keep thinking that we just didn't cover well. Oh but not...we INTENTIONALLY didn't cover well. Couple that with the "don't play the ball" attitude and it's amazing we didn't always suck at D the way we did in 08 and 09.

David Hale said...

Understandable frustrations on the open receivers thing, but keep in mind, that isn't a completely novel concept invented by Willie. It's relatively common, but it relies heavily on the push from the front four (or five or six or seven depending on blitzes) to get the job done, and that's where the problems arose most of the time. If the pressure isn't there, the scheme doesn't work. So it's not that Willie was doing something incredibly stupid on D, it was that the scheme itself wasn't working properly and it wasn't fixed quickly enough.

(*and also note, it wasn't like there was a free receiver on EVERY play. It was a situation-dictated defensive scheme.)

Regardless, Grantham sounds like he's going away from all that anyway, so it won't be an issue regardless.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen, I might of been sitting by you. I was thinking about the Arkansas game as I read this. Their receivers were unbelievable open to one side in that game. They kept going there and we never did adjust. It's was maddening. If Cox hadn't had the game of his life we would have lost.....

UGA69Dawg said...

Not to beat a dead horse but that was the fault of both Willie and Fab. If the scheme is not working change the scheme. Neither one of them would adjust. At least in the Arkansas game we were going toe to toe with them on O, the UT game is were I lost a TV set. The QB is rolling out you (expletive deleted) adjust the D.

Anonymous said...

Silly Dave,

Coors Light drinkers can't afford flat screens.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to Evans he was horrible at CB but actually an upgrade over CJ Byrd at SS.

Kathleen said...

Anon 3:36... if you were in the family section just up above the big hog cage, then you were sitting by me!

That stadium taught me the lesson to not get there too early for the visiting family seats because I ended up all the way at the end under the overgrown hedge and couldn't see the jumbotron. I moved and ended up sitting next to angry fan....

ALL that money renovating a stadium and they couldn't afford a hedge trimmer?

...But we won, so all was forgiven..!

Anonymous said...

If you watched replays of games GA played under Willie, you would have seen many, many open receivers for the reasons stated. In the year that we beat Timmy and Gators, my Gator friend was beside himself that wide open receivers were not thrown to by Timmy. However, in that game we sacked Timmy 5 times so they were not able hit every receiver. They still scored 30 points whihc would have been enough to beat us most years. So when we did not pressure a quarterback, they took advantage of our defense.

T-Rey594 said...

I'm as excited as a four year old girl. Sounds like Grantham has a championship attitude. Hurry up August!

Dr. Merkwurdigliebe said...

I think we will make incremental improvements this year. Remember Grantham and company have not yet recruited the players that best fit his scheme. He's working with players that fit Martinez's philosophy. Everything I hear would make me believe we won't make the same type of consistently boneheaded mistakes we have in the past, but it will take a year or two before this 3-4 is running like an Enzo Ferrari.

Having said that... all of this is welcome news!