March 30, 2011

'Tackle the runner'

The question posed to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was simple and to the point - what do the Bulldog need to do in order to improve a run defense which ranked fifth in the SEC, albeit at 136.4 yards per contest in Georgia's eight league games?

Grantham's answer couldn't have been more succinct.

"Tackle the runner," Grantham shrugged during an approximate eight-minute session with beat writers Tuesday evening.

Actually, there's a little more to it than that.

Granted, tackling was an issue for Georgia in a number of the Bulldog games as South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn each rushed for at least 166 yards against the Bulldogs, with the Gators piling up 231 yards and the eventual national champion Tigers gobbling up 315 of terra firma.

A 411 yard effort by Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale didn't help the final numbers, either, although Georgia was able to outscore the Yellow Jackets that afternoon 42-34.

That said, Grantham knows for his charges to be the type of defense he wants it to be, some adjustments need to be made and the only way to find the solutions it to learn from the mistakes of the past.

So, what was the problem?

"I think it's a combination of everything. Some of it can be run fits, some of it can be where you play your guys or who's playing those positions, some of it can be maybe we need to play it this way instead of another way. So I think it's a cumulative effect of everything," Grantham said. "I think it's a matter of playing physical up front, knowing where your fits are, getting your hands on blocks and then running to the ball. Truthfully, I don't think it's any more than that. We've all got to continue to work to do that to be the kind of run defense we want to be."

Personnel moves have already been made.

Alec Ogletree has been moved from strong safety to Moe linebacker, with Cornelius Washington sliding over to Will linebacker with Jarvis Jones settling in at Sam.

Inside, DeAngelo Tyson is now at defensive end with Kwame Geathers getting most of the snaps at nose, at least until Johnathan Jenkins arrives with the rest of Georgia's signing class in June.

"We'll have to wait and see on them but the reason we made the moves that we did was to create depth with some guys we feel can make plays closer to the ball," Grantham said. "It's also created an opportunity in the secondary for guys to step up, so I think the other thing is anytime you can show players it isn't etched in stone and if you work hard, you're going to play, I think that's a good thing. We've created that, we're going to continue to work."

Apparently, Geathers is one of the players taking that comment to heart.

Although it's been assumed that the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Jenkins would become the starting nose the second he steps on campus, Grantham said that's not necessarily true.

"I've seen Kwame do some things that I like. He's busting his tail and he is competing so I think like anything competition makes us all better," he said. "Anytime you can create competition it makes everybody better and the team better. Defensively, that's what we want to do. Nothing is etched in stone right now; we're going to rank them every day and if we need to make some more adjustments we will. I think you've got to learn how to compete before you can win a position, before you can help us win a game."

As for Ogletree, who is competing with Richard Samuel for the starting job at Moe, the switch from safety to linebacker has been relatively smooth.

Both players still have much to learn, but according to Grantham, the fact that Ogletree moved over from safety has actually helped work in his favor.

"You're taking a guy who played in the secondary so he kind of knows the rotations, where guys fit and he kind of knows where his help is and those kind of things, so even though he didn't play that position last year he's familiar with the calls and the adjustments," Grantham said. "I think it will allow him to come up to speed quicker because he knows what he's doing based upon the safety work he did last year."

In Samuel's case, it's more of a matter of getting used to playing again after being injured for most of the year.

"They're (Ogletree and Samuel) very similar because even though Tree wasn't there he knows what's happening because of his safety experience," Grantham said. "Neither one of them has played there, so when the bullets come at them and things start flying it can be a little quick, but they're working hard and they're adjusting well."

Grantham said Jones is ready to make an impact as well.

"He's working hard, he's a young player. I'm excited about him, I think he will make plays for us, he's conscientious, he works hard and he's got ability. We'll be glad he's out there next year," said Grantham. "He was full tilt in bowl practices. In the summer when he first got here we gradually progressed him and I'd say mid-year, somewhere around there, he was basically full tilt, scout-service work; he's been full tilt ever since."

Of course, Grantham is counting on the fact his players are now in the second year of his system will make a difference, too.

"I think anytime the more you do something the better you are. We've been pretty consistent in what we're doing and we work on our habits every day, running to the ball, playing hard, trying to create those habitual traits and I think those carry over," he said. "The more comfortable you are with what you're doing, that kind of stuff shows, too."

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