March 28, 2012

Defense not wasting time

Make no mistake, when it comes to spring workouts, Todd Grantham takes this time on the practice field very seriously.

Don't believe it? Just ask him.

Tuesday, one area reporter did just that, quizzing Georgia's defensive coordinator on whether or not a team can actually get a lot accomplished during the 15 days allotted by the NCAA.

"I think you get a lot, because what I believe is we kind of went through the SEC teams we're going to face, the personnel groups that we're going to see - two backs-two receivers, one back-one tight end-two receiver - all the multiple personnel groups you see and out of that group you're going to see certain standard formations," Grantham explained. "We're going to play those things a certain way so I think it's real critical that you coach the concepts of each package so once you learn the concepts you can implement, adjust and install for the game because they'll have something to relate to."

In other words, Grantham is already spending much of this spring preparing for the different offenses his defense will see this fall, hence the focus on making sure his players understand the various concepts of what they'll see.

With nine of 11 starters back from a unit which finished ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, getting a jump on the fall is never a bad idea.

"The biggest thing is to get in all your concepts, how you're going to play things, situations that come up during the course of the game. You really try to throw those things at them - it may not be perfect but they'll have something to fall back on and then you go back on it during training camp," Grantham continued. "I think the consistency in teaching is critical, but it's also critical that you go over the things you're going to see from the SEC. Each team is going to be a little different but based on their personnel and what they do, so I think it's real important that you're multiple in what you're installing. Sometimes it's the same as for a player, so there might be 10 things you're putting in, but maybe a guy has to learn two or three things and that's it."

Of course, the spring is also a time to do some mixing and matching and Grantham is doing plenty of that.

That includes sophomore Malcolm Mitchell, who has already impressed Grantham enough to call the Valdosta native a potential star.

"He's a really good player. He's got the length, the measurables to be a physical corner. He's got a pretty good change of direction, he can accelerate back to the ball and to the receiver; he's really instinctive and can read routes and match things," Grantham said. "He's got a little savvy to him. He's got good ball skills so he can catch the ball once he is in position. We originally recruited him as a corner because of those things and truthfully they've shown up in practice so he's done a real good job."

Grantham said he could see Mitchell, along with Damian Swann, wind up being the top candidates to replace the graduated Brandon Boykin as the team's top nickel back.

"We're going to be a match team so if they (opposing offenses) throw three receivers wide they we'll throw three corners out, match people up so that guy (the nickel back) becomes an underneath zoner," Grantham said. "He'll need some instincts and some savvy because he'll need to read routes. Those things are important. Boykin was actually a guy, he was the top DB as far as tackles for losses in the SEC last year and that was strictly because of the position he played there and he was coming, blitzing some, aggressive by being closer to the line of scrimmage."

Ray Drew and Cornelius Washington are finding out what it's like to be closer to the line of scrimmage.

Both Drew and Washington are adding defensive end to their respective resumes and are working with the Bulldogs' big men up front this spring.

"They're multiple. They're playing end and outside backer. They put their hand in the dirt and they do stand up at times. My whole thing is you've got to get our best 11 out there and whatever matchups, however you've got to do that, you've got to move guys," Grantham said. "I just think that it's real critical that you cross-train guys and find ways to get the best players on the field because players make plays and speed is important, athletic ability is important to go along with the size. There are all kinds of matchups that come up within the course of a season and I think it's important that guys can play more than one spot."

Grantham has liked what he's seen from both.

"I think they've done a good job. It's not a lot different than what they did last year, just more of it," Grantham said. "I think they've done a solid job and I think that Cornelius has done a solid job being one of our leaders as far as making sure guys continue to work hard."

With such limited time on the practice field, Grantham is appreciative of any help he can get.

Because the spring is the time to give players as many different opportunities as possible, it's important to make those chances count, and Washington is helping to make sure his teammates understand that.

"It's not like training camp where you start cutting on guys and start giving just your ones and twos reps," Grantham said. "You're really giving three groups reps so I think it's critical that every time you step on the field you try to get better as a player. If you try to get better as a player, our team is better."

Of some of the younger players he's keeping a close eye on, Grantham said Swann is ready to make a big step forward, adding the Atlanta native as "really benefited from being a backup last year."

He also sees improvement from redshirt freshman Devin Bowman and sophomore Corey Moore, who Grantham said will remain at safety and not cross-train at cornerback after all.

Others, however, will.

Ramik Wilson and Chase Vasser are both alternating between inside and outside linebacker as the Bulldogs continue to attempt to have as many different defenders have the ability to play different roles. Grantham added that T.J. Stripling on the outside and Brandon Burrows on the inside are also making stride.

"Last year we had 11 different lineups in 14 games and this time last year I don't think we thought that Mike Gilliard would be a starter for us," Grantham said. "But he worked hard and became a starter and did a really good job, now he's one of the guys who's a leader and makes calls. You've just got to be ready. It's critical that they prepare to get ready."

One player who won't get a chance this spring is redshirt freshman Sterling Bailey, who Grantham said will not be able to practice this spring while recovering from off-season foot surgery.

He is expected to be 100 percent come the beginning of fall practice.

Incoming freshmen Jordan Jenkins, Josh Dawson, Leonard Floyd and Josh Harvey-Clemons will receive an opportunity to earn early playing time.

All four are slated to start their careers at outside linebacker, including Harvey-Clemons who Grantham said gives his defense a dimension not many teams have.

"Josh is an outside guy that is going to be a Sam and go into the mode of what Tree (Alec Ogletree) did for us a little last season," Grantham said. "He's more of a true outside linebacker. In base he'll be a Sam and in Nickel he'll be on the slot receiver because he's pretty athletic. He gives you a dimension that when you bring him in, a back has got to block him."