Every year it seems around late spring to early summer everyone is buzzing about the potential of Georgia’s football team. Year-in and year-out the Bulldogs recruit some of the best talent in the country, but usually all that talent does not pan out and gets lost somewhere on campus.
Particularly speaking about the defense, the Bulldogs have not been the same since Brian VanGorder left after the 2004 season. Georgia was quite physical, and VanGorder’s defenses were smuggling during his time in Athens.
That sense of physicality has not been the same on defense since VanGorder left for the NFL.
But it could be back now.
Todd Grantham, a former NFL coach himself, has this defensive unit primed to be the top unit in the SEC, maybe the country, in 2012. But not only are they very good as a cohesive unit, but Grantham has given this defense an identity: physicality.
We hear a lot about the 3-4 defense and how college has been implementing it more and more. Nick Saban coaches it as well as Grantham.
Georgia’s front seven is as good as, if not better than, anyone in the country, in all of college football.
“The nose tackle and the inside linebackers, those are three guys that are very important. But when you go through it, the nose tackle is probably the single-most important guy [3-4 Defense].
– Joe Collier, Denver Broncos Assistant (1969-1988)
The single most important factor on any 3-4 defense is the nose tackle. And Georgia has two man-beasts playing that position in John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Both are 350-plus, and both want to eat you as one of their five main meals a day.
Jenkins started to make his presence felt in the Tennessee game, which happened to be his first start of his Georgia career.
Jenkins’ and Geathers’ impact is not exactly quantifiable statistically. While linebacker Jarvis Jones will get the most pub, Jenkins and Geathers will not wow you with big-time numbers. Except for their weight, their numbers are irrelevant. What is relevant for both is the amount of blockers they tie up in the middle. When a running play happens, whether off-tackle or up the middle, Jenkins and Geathers are expected to clog up the middle and take on two blockers, freeing up more linebackers and ends to make plays ideally in the backfield. The two combined for only 42 tackles, but behind them, they helped produce the best linebacker in the country in Jarvis Jones.
Both Jenkins and Geathers will benefit from each other, with Georgia ultimately able to keep each fresh throughout an entire football game.
Alongside Jenkins and Geathers, defensive ends Abry Jones, Cornelius Washington and Garrison Smith will be staples at defensive end. Jones is very much an underappreciated player, and he is back this year. Washington proved to be a force to reckon with last year, as he had 6.0 tackles for loss and was second on the team in sacks with 5.0. Garrison Smith is an interesting player, and this spring and some of last year, he proved to be unstoppable at times. We’ve all seen the flashes, and now it’s time for Smith to develop into the player the Bulldogs recruited him to be.
When you look at this deep defensive line, you see talent and expectation. But combine both – talent and expectation – with the linebacking unit, and this defense can be ferocious.
The 3-4 defense is held down by two inside linebackers, flanked by two outside linebackers. We all know about the aforementioned Jarvis Jones. Jones was a consensus All-American last year, leading the SEC with 13.5 sacks during the season from his outside rushing position. He passed on the opportunity on entering the draft early this year, but he knows how good this defense can be and decided to come back. Jones will go on to have another great season.
Along with Jones, seasoned veterans – Michael Gilliard, Alec Ogletree and Christian Robinson – will combine with big-time up-and-comers – Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera – to feature a very, very strong linebacking group in the SEC.
Gilliard returns as the Bulldogs third leading tackler from a year ago with 65 total tackles and 2.0 sacks. Ogletree only played in eight games last year, but he was tied for fourth on the team in sacks. The Bulldogs need more production from him this season. He has big-time potential and athletic ability.
This front seven has an opportunity to create more havoc than any other team in the country. This group is fast and physical – they play with an edge, and it all starts with their leader Todd Grantham.
What About The Secondary?
The secondary has the biggest questions entering 2012 simply because of all the suspensions. All-American free safety Bacarri Rambo and corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are all suspended for at least the first two games. I know the schedule is weak the first three weeks, but Georgia will need every bit of that easy schedule to escape SEC-newbie Missouri. The coaching staff knows it needs numbers here, and they brought over All-SEC freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (the blazer) to play corner. He did that this spring. He will be a fine corner; however, you most likely lose him on the offensive side of the ball, as he was Georgia’s biggest playmaker at receiver last year. While there are players to plug in for the secondary and there is some depth on this team, it is the biggest question mark simply because of the three dynamic yet suspended players.
After they return, look out. This defense has a chance to be very special.