ATHENS, Ga. — Like most teams ranked in the preseason top 10, there is a prevailing narrative of what Georgia will be like in 2013.
That narrative goes like this: The best offense in school history (set records for yards and points) brings everybody back. The quarterback (Aaron Murray), if he remains healthy, will finish his career as the SEC’s all-time leading passer. Sophomore running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
But, the narrative continues:
The defense lost a lot of guys to the NFL and will be a liability for at least the first half of the season. With Clemson, South Carolina, and LSU among the first four opponents, Georgia’s offense is going to have to score a lot of points to keep the Bulldogs in the SEC race until the defense grows up.
When I shared this narrative with Garrison Smith, Georgia’s senior defensive end, he just shook his head and smiled.
“We’re going to be OK,” said Smith. “Yeah, we’re going to have to grow up fast but we think that’s a good thing. We’re not afraid. Let’s go compete and see where we are.”
If you look closely you’ll see a lot of rookie Georgia Bulldogs in NFL training camps. Linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree were taken in the first round. Jones left Georgia as a two-time All-American and is projected to be the Steelers’ next great player on the outside. Defensive backs Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, and Shawn Williams plus nose tackle John Jenkins were drafted and are expected to make NFL rosters.
In all, 12 players who started games on defense for Georgia last season are gone.
“What we see is an opportunity,” said junior nose tackle Mike Thornton. “We know a lot of people doubt us because we lost so many good players. We have a lot of guys who have been waiting their turn and they are hungry. Trust me. We’re going to surprise some people. This group of guys has an edge to them.”
That edge, said Georgia’s players, is being brought to this defense by coordinator Todd Grantham.
“He’s electric,” said Thornton of Grantham. “He sets things on fire quickly. He makes you want to work harder.”
When Mark Richt became Georgia’s head coach in 2001 he had some immediate success. The Bulldogs went 13-1 and won the SEC championship in 2002. They played LSU, the eventual national champion, in the 2003 SEC Championship game. They won another SEC title in 2005.
But what Georgia lost after that, many fans thought, was the nasty edge to their defense created by former coordinator Brian VanGorder, who left for the NFL after the 2004 season. Willie Martinez was the DC for five seasons and was let go with two other defensive assistants after Georgia finished No. 71 in total defense and posted a record of 7-5 in 2009.
Richt hired Grantham, who learned defense from Nick Saban at Michigan State and Bud Foster at Virginia Tech (his alma mater) before spending 11 years with four NFL teams. In Grantham’s first season (2010) there were growing pains but in the last two seasons Georgia’s defense has forced 62 turnovers (second only to LSU in the SEC), while the Bulldogs have twice won the…
- SEC Scouting Report: Georgia (thefarmclub.net)
- Georgia Bulldogs Football: Todd Grantham Must Prove His Value in 2013 (bleacherreport.com)