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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Notebook: New Scheme Creates Plenty of Questions

Abry Jones admits it has been a popular topic of conversation among Georgia’s defensive linemen and linebackers. As the Bulldogs prepare to switch schemes to a 3-4 defense, no one is quite sure where they’ll end up or what their role will be, which makes for an interesting, if somewhat anxious, guessing game among the holdovers.

“It’s pretty much just talking about where we could play,” Jones said. “But mostly we’re just waiting to see.”

Jones played exclusively at defensive tackle last year but said he’s prepared to play defensive end in new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme that features just three down linemen.

Other players could find themselves on the move, too. Some of Georgia’s defensive ends from a year ago could make the move to linebacker, while the Bulldogs are still in search of a player to fill the void at nose tackle.

While the process has made for a confusing few days for players still unsure of what lies ahead, senior Demarcus Dobbs said the change in scheme could create some new opportunities, particularly for some underutilized reserves like Cornelius Washington and Kiante Tripp.

“Cornelius being the athlete he is, he’s excited he could be a stand-up guy and play outside (linebacker),” Dobbs said. “But it’s all where your heart is. Those are talented guys, and with the coaching change, everybody’s on a clean slate. People are out to compete again, and that’s going to make everybody else better. A guy like Cornelius, an undersized D end, he might get a lot better. It gives us options.”

Options are nice. Answers might be a bit better for Georgia’s defenders.

But that will come in time as Grantham and his new staff get settled – their first team meeting is slated for Friday – and begin to implement their scheme during spring practice.

What isn’t a concern, Jones said, is the Bulldogs’ ability to adapt. While few players are certain of what’s in store for the 2010 season, he’s sure there is enough athleticism and talent on the roster to navigate any early turmoil.

“At Georgia, we have a lot of athletic players, so I’m pretty sure we’re all going to be able to adjust,” Jones said. “The athletic ability is still going to be there. It’s just catching up to learning the scheme as well as we knew the last scheme.”


Two of Georgia’s rookies for 2010 are already getting started in their preparations for the coming season.

Offensive lineman Kolton Houston and safety Jakar Hamilton, a junior college transfer from Georgia Military College, enrolled early and have spent the past two weeks in school, getting accustomed to classes while hitting the weight room and working out with teammates.

“I just wanted to get an edge on some of the other players and get stronger and faster and learn the playbook, so when they get in here, I already know all that stuff,” Houston said. “Just adjust to the college life without all the practice stress in the summer and fall.”

The adjustment to college isn’t quite as big a transition for Hamilton, who spent two years studying for the role under the strict rules at GMC and head football coach Bert Williams.
So when his new teammates warned him about the big obstacles ahead, he hasn’t gotten particularly stressed about meeting the challenge.

“Coach Williams is a great coach, and I know he pushes everybody there that plays football hard,” Hamilton said. “Everybody kept talking about mat drills. We did mat drills there, too, but it was like 5:30 in the morning outside in the cold.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Hamilton sees his new life at Georgia as a walk in the park. Quite the opposite, actually.

“It’s been pretty busy lately,” Hamilton said. “Everybody’s been trying to call me and I tell them, ‘I’m pretty busy right now so I’m going to have to hit you up later.’”


Grantham’s introductory news conference last week met with a fond reaction from fans who drooled at his promises of an aggressive, attacking defense. Those promises weren’t lost on his players either.

“You want to have that mentality as a player and when you hear that, it gets you excited,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “I remember last year in spring football, we were real aggressive. So if we can bring that same excitement, I think it’ll be able to carry over to next season.”

As aggressive as Georgia may have been last spring, the evidence didn’t show up on the field in the fall. The Bulldogs ranked second-to-last nationally with just 12 takeaways all season and in their five losses mustered just two interceptions and didn’t recover a single fumble.

That’s an issue Grantham and new secondary coach Scott Lakatos hope to address immediately.

"I think those takeaways come basically with guys being in position to make those plays when they come about,” Lakatos said. “I think you put yourself in position by being fundamentally sound and that's one of the things I bring to the table with those guys on the back end. … That's something we'll definitely emphasize and practice and hopefully it will carry over into a game situation."

Grantham said his hope was to create a defense that left the opponents glad to see a game end, and that’s music to the ears of Georgia’s defenders, including newcomer Hamilton.

“On defense, you’ve got to be aggressive,” Hamilton said. “I’m one of those players who just doesn’t care. I’ll throw my whole body even if I have to break something to do it. If I have to catch a concussion, I’ll do it. And having (Grantham) coming in, I’m real excited to see what he’s bringing to the table.”


A year ago, Boykin was trying desperately to soak up all the knowledge he could as the lone newcomer in Georgia’s secondary.

As the Bulldogs begin their offseason workouts in preparation for spring practice, Boykin now finds himself as the lone holdover from last year’s unit.

“It’s a quick change,” Boykin said. “I’m trying to take over that leadership role like they did, but it’s going to be fun. A lot of us are going to be young out there -- me, (Bacarri) Rambo, Branden Smith. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but I think we’re up to it.”

Seniors Prince Miller and Bryan Evans and junior Reshad Jones are all gone – Jones leaving a year early to enter the NFL draft – meaning a big shakeup among the defensive backs. Smith and Rambo are likely to land two of the open spots, and Hamilton, a junior college transfer, is hoping to secure the free safety job as an early enrollee.

“I knew nobody was going to give me a starting position,” Hamilton said. “I knew I was going to have to come in and work hard and earn that starting position, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

Veterans Vance Cuff and Quintin Banks figure to be in the mix for starting jobs along with youngsters Sanders Commings, Jordan Love, Shawn Williams and Makiri Pugh and incoming freshman Alec Ogletree.

Grantham has promised that the depth chart starts fresh upon his arrival, and no jobs are secure. So while Boykin remains the lone holdover among Georgia’s starting defensive backs, he’s also one of the biggest proponents of the newfound competition at the position.

“I think it’s an opportunity for people who didn’t really play a lot last year to have a fresh new start and for the people who played last year not to get complacent,” Boykin said. “I think it’ll definitely help us as a team.”


Beyond Grantham’s hard-nosed approach to defense, he brings another big plus for Georgia’s defenders: A road map to the NFL.

Grantham has spent the past 11 years coaching in the NFL, including his last stop with the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive line coach. Those are credentials that look awfully impressive to Georgia’s players hoping to turn their performance in Athens into a professional contract in the coming years.

“It’s exciting knowing that he came from the NFL so he can give us tips and tools to get us where we want to go,” Jones said. “He’s a person who’s been there before and he knows how it’s done.”

Even for seniors like Dobbs, who might otherwise have some concerns about adjusting to a new defense in his final year at Georgia, Grantham’s resume offers a measure of enthusiasm about the lessons that can be learned from a former NFL defensive coordinator.

“Being my senior year, you want somebody to steer you right,” Dobbs said. “With all his experience, you know he has a lot to share with all of us, and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can. It’s good to have somebody like him come in, and I think it’s going to work out for the better.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Holy Sh*t this Jakar Hamilton kid sounds like he's got a great mentality at safety. Like a derailed train....