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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Pick to Click

Last year, Asher Allen opined that someone must have spiked the team's Powerade supply. He suggested Super Glue for the players' gloves. He slammed his fist against the turf every time he missed yet another shot at an interception.

While defensive end Demarcus Dobbs picked off two passes during the season and proudly proclaimed he had the best hands on the team, Georgia's defensive backs were left shaking their heads.

The Bulldogs intercepted only 11 passes in 2008, and just five came in the secondary -- all by safety Reshad Jones. For the rest of Georgia's DBs, it was a frustrating season filled with missed opportunities -- a problem they hope to rectify before taking the field in 2009.

"We know we didn't get the job done last year," senior cornerback Prince Miller said. "But I think we started off the spring at a good pace. We're getting batted balls, catching interceptions."

Well, not necessarily.

While the coaching staff has been generally pleased with the productivity of Georgia's secondary this spring -- from Miller's consistency to Bryan Evans' leadership to Brandon Boykin's emergence -- those missed opportunities have still been a problem.

In Georgia's first scrimmage of the season, the defense picked off two early passes, but ended up handing the ball back to the offense both times after fumbling the football.

A few days later, the DBs got their hands on four passes, but didn't come down with an interception on any of them.

It has become a significant source of consternation for Mark Richt and his staff.

"Defense has got to take as much of a serious attitude toward ball security and turnovers as the offense does," Richt said. "I've tried to make a bit point that how are we going to win – if four balls hit our hands in a game and we catch them, we're going to win."

Capitalizing on the offense's mistakes will be crucial this season for a secondary that lost its leader in Allen, who departed for the NFL a year early, and its most experienced safety in CJ Byrd, who graduated after handling the starting duties for the past two seasons.

But for all Allen and Byrd brought to the defense a year ago, neither managed a single interception, and Evans said that can't be the case this season. When a defender has a chance at a turnover, they have to make the play. If they don't, it affects the whole team.

And that's where this spring's newest bit of motivation comes in to play.

In years past, if a defensive back dropped a pick, he did 10 push-ups. This year, everyone does them.

"We're trying to cut dropping picks out completely, so now as a team, as many picks as we drop, that's the pushups we have to do after practice," Evans said. "To know that we're together, one pick affects the whole team. If you drop a pick, the next play they can score a touchdown. So that's how we look at it."

It's a plan Richt has gotten behind. The first step toward fixing the problem, he said, is changing the mind-set.

Richt said that too often the defensive players have been satisfied with simply disrupting a pass or knocking the ball out of a receiver's hands because they haven't been trained to go after a pass the same way an offensive player would.

"A lot of those defensive kids, they didn't catch when they were kids," Richt said. "They can't be satisfied with just saying, well I'm not supposed to catch it. They're getting all excited about a ball disruption, but no -- catch the ball."

It's a learning process, Boykin admits. Without Allen and Byrd, there isn't much experience in Georgia's secondary. Only Evans, Miller and Jones have taken significant snaps in their careers, and Evans is now playing at a new position. But the message is getting through, Boykin said, and by fall, he hopes Georgia's secondary will be back in the business turning opportunities into turnovers.

"That's what the spring is for," Boykin said. "We had young guys out there who haven't really played in a game, so we're going to make mistakes. But we'll see who can build on it, and that's how we get better as a team."


jferg said...

DH, I apologize if this sounds ignorant...but were you covering uga football last year? I didn't find you until january 09.

The reason I ask is I don't remember many (or any) stories about doing the little things right--like tackling to the ground and intercepting the ball versus tipping it. I like the focus on the minute details...these things sound like a championship team in the making!

Can you or anyone else comment on my correct or incorrect observation?

David Hale said...

Yup... all season. Go back on the blog and check out a lot of what I wrote after the Kentucky and Georgia Tech games... tons of stuff on assignment football and fundamental details like you're saying. I think there was a reliance on having a lot of elite players last year that maybe led to less of a focus on the fundamentals. Hard to say for sure if that gets resolved this year, but the players are at least SAYING the right things.

Hobnail_Boot said...

Has there ever been a less underwhelming 2-year starter than C.J. Byrd?

I honestly think the biggest play of his career was his TD recovery off of a Prince Miller blocked punt in 2006. I think it was against UAB.