Trent Thompson's ability to destroy gaps will take UGA's defense through the roof
Remember that, University of Georgia fans? That was the recruiting pitch for the 2011 recruiting cycle that featured some of the most prominent names in high school football at the time: Isaiah Crowell, Jay Rome, Malcolm Mitchell, Damian Swann and Corey Moore, among others.
And while it’s hard to label that class a bust, I … um, er, yeah, it was a bust.
Especially as it pertains to the once-thought-of savior of Georgia’s between-the-tackles run defense, former 5-star prospect Ray Drew.
Fast forward to present day, while many aren’t talking about Georgia’s haul from a national perspective, I’d venture to say it may be the very best in the nation when you factor in the combination of new recruits and who decided to not enter the NFL draft.
Returning edge-players Leonard Floyd and Lorenzo Carter are without a doubt the most talented returning edge duo, perhaps, in the nation (although the University of Tennessee disagrees). And when you throw in the versatile Jordan Jenkins, you can pretty much pen UGA in at the top of the pass-rush list.
But despite the interior presence of a player like Drew, combined with a physical inside presence like the one departing senior Mike Thornton (6’1″, 300 lbs) provided — in addition to the conference’s best off-the-ball linebacker duo in Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson — Georgia’s defensive woes came in the form of a swiss cheese-like rushing defense which may have ultimately doomed its bright title hopes.
Head coach Mark Richt, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, went above and beyond the call of duty and pulled in a class, on paper, that looks capable of being exactly what the ‘Dawgs need to take that next step — specifically along the defensive line.
Normally a recruit like Jonathan Ledbetter, a defensive lineman capable of playing multiple techniques, would receive top billing as his skill set lends itself to him being an impact player from day one.
But this is an unusual cycle as UGA may have brought in the most talented interior player in the school’s rich history, Westover High School’s 5-star interior wrecking machine, Trenton Thompson.
Thompson’s Fit In Pruitt’s Multiplicative Scheme
I’ve expressed it before and it bears repeating: I feel as though I’m one the foremost voices of all things Nick Saban, famed head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
As a former defensive back, I learned at a young age that there wasn’t a better teacher at the position than the former Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) pupil. I made it my mission to follow every coach who came off his staff no matter where they’ve gone.
For my money, current Auburn Tigers’ defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is Saban’s best pupil. He’s gone on to have top-ranked defenses at numerous stops while developing some philosophies and tendencies of his own.
But right behind him, and coming with a bullet, is Pruitt.
And being as though he was on Saban’s staff as recently as the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championship Game (DB coach), which pitted Alabama versus Georgia in an all-time great tilt, his scheme most closely resembles what Saban is doing currently.
Both operate out of an odd-front alignment but mix in plenty of principles from a four-man front.
The name of the game is confusion by way of fabricated-pressure packages and stiff man coverage on the edges. But none of this can happen without stout play in the middle of the defensive line.
Alabama was at its best when the line featured current NFL star Marcell Dareus, a 6’3″, 331-pound freak of an athlete, and his ability to play anywhere from the o- to the 5-technique.
This meant he possessed the ability to both eat and defeat multiple blocks in the run game while being an absolute terror with his pass-rushing prowess. Thompson is a scheme-specific fit in Georgia’s 3-4-based alignment, much like Dareus was for Bama, and he can get after it when the front moves to even.
Here we see how Georgia normally looks in its base defense; Thompson has a chance to play a couple of different spots in this alignment:
0-Technique, NT – I’m not a fan of playing a talent like Thompson at the nose tackle position in an odd-front defense. Yes he has the strength to apply the stack-and-shed technique and dominate the gaps to either side, but, to me, this dampens his explosiveness and only takes advantage of his strength. Since UGA’s implementation of a “34” front, under another former Saban pupil in Todd Grantham, the 6’3″, 359-pound John Jenkins has played this position most effectively.
5-Technique, DE – Depending on his responsibility, playing Thompson at a defensive end may unearth one of the most dominant players we’ve seen at UGA. The NFL has a growing number of stars at this position: J.J.Watt (Houston Texans), Muhammad Wilkerson (New York Jets) and Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals). Here we would see Thompson’s ability to shoot gaps as well as tie up blocks.
This particular play stood out to me from the Army All-American game practice (props to 247 Sports’ Barton Simmons). While in “Thud,” Thompson destroyed a running back by merely bumping into him!
Here we see Thompson operating from a 0-tech: He stacked and shed the center, shot the gap and made a spectacular backwards, one-armed tackle-for-loss on the running back.
Thompson will add plenty of value in the pass-rush game, as well. If he is deployed as a 3-tech (from an even-front alignment), and allowed to predominantly one-gap penetrate, his ability to get quick in-your-face pressure will be worth its weight in gold when you factor in Floyd, Jenkins and Carter on the edges.
Case in point: Thompson ate the double on his way to demolishing the QB. (Looks like something he might do to Florida QB Treon Harris)
Georgia is consistently one of the most talented teams in the nation despite the fact it hasn’t been in the thick of the national title picture under the current regime, in a while.
But when you factor in it will have, perhaps, the best rushing attack in the country, and is making huge strides to dominate the defensive line of scrimmage, now is as good a time as ever for them ‘Dawgs to procure that natty.