By FLETCHER PAGE
(*Check out Fletcher's story on the progress Georgia's 3-4 defense is making HERE.)
The theme of spring practice should be dubbed "competition."
Occupying most of the headlines coming into spring, a three-way quarterback battle figured to be the most exciting competition. However popular the quarterback race, Logan Gray, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger aren’t the only Bulldogs dealing with competition.
“It’s definitely a big competition,” said tight end Orson Charles. “It’s competition everywhere. I mean, how am I going to get better if I don’t have a competition? How is Aaron going to get better without Zach and Logan? It’s competition everywhere, and that’s how you get better.”
The competition for playing time has noticeably picked up on the defensive side of the ball. Last spring, the defense was predominately upperclassmen laden, with most starting spots locked up early.
That’s not the case this year, not with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham keeping players on their toes. Grantham has ratcheted up the competition by implementing the new 3-4 defense. No player has been guaranteed playing time, and no starting spot announced.
“It’s great because it brings a lot out of players, knowing that you might not be the starter,” said safety Nick Williams. “Nobody has a starting job. You can get kind of content when you know you’re going to be playing as a starter on Saturday nights, so you don’t practice as hard.”
The winner amid all this competition? The Georgia team as whole, since players say practice has been intense, with each man bringing his best every day.
“Everybody is out there just flying around,” Williams said. “And I like how the coaches are doing it. They haven’t set on who is starting at each position. They have swapped everybody out, keep everybody wondering really. No one knows, so you have to come out every day with your best.”
HOUSTON ROUNDS OUT HIS GAME
Justin Houston says he’s in a familiar position.
Two years ago, while redshirting during his freshman season, Houston was moved to outside linebacker. He worked in pass coverage, briefly learning how to do more than just rush the quarterback.
He was moved back to defensive end, his high school position, and enjoyed success the past two seasons, only having to pin his ears back and get to the quarterback.
Now in Grantham’s new 3-4 scheme, Houston finds himself changing positions again. He’s back at outside linebacker, and while he still gets to rush the quarterback on most occasions, he’s trying to complete his game at the new position.
“The main focus right now, what I’m trying to do, is drop back into coverage,” Houston said. “I pretty much, in pass rushing I’ve still got some moves to work on, but my main focus right now is learning how to drop into coverage.”
Houston says the time spent at outside linebacker, even though in the 4-3 scheme, helped prepare him for his current role.
“I’m starting to get back in the groove of things, and starting to get back used to it,” he said.
SHAKE-UP AT OLB
Houston and Cornelius Washington are the projected starters at outside linebacker, but there have been some moves made behind the tandem on the depth chart.
Grantham announced the changes Tuesday.
“We moved Reubon Faloughi to Sam [strongside], and Montez Robinson to Will [weakside],” Grantham said. “So Reubon is now behind Cornelius and Montez is behind Justin. I thought that went really well. I was pleased thought, I really was.”
Faloughi and Robinson, as well as Washington, made the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker, just like Houston.
“I think we’re all in the same position,” Houston said. “I think as defensive ends, you learn how to pass rush, but you don’t learn how to drop in coverage. I think everybody is in the same shoes, learning how to drop into coverage.”
GRANTHAM SETTLING IN
Moving from the NFL back to the college coaching ranks could be considered a culture shock.
Professional players already have a foundation of knowledge and understanding. College coaches get players basically starting at square one.
Grantham shrugs off the notion of a culture shock, but says he has made some adjustments in his coaching approach.
“The level of teaching is different,” he said. “You’re taking guys that are really raw, and you’re teaching them quite a bit of stuff. So you’ve got to make you’re your mechanics, and methods of teaching are one that they can understand, and that they can improve. It’s a little but slower process probably from that standpoint. But at the same time, I still think we’ll get there. It just takes time.”
So far, Grantham’s message, and methods for delivering it, has worked.
“Coach Grantham is a good coach,” said defensive end DeAngelo Tyson. “He gives me advice how to play, and how to make me a better person at the position. So, I think he is a good coach.”
Thursday, March 25, 2010
By FLETCHER PAGE