Five early observations of Georgia’s defense

New Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brings a different coaching approach to the Bulldogs' practices. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

New Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brings a different coaching approach to the Bulldogs’ practices. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

ATHENS — Georgia has completed just four of its 15 spring football practices so far and had its first full pads workout only yesterday. But slowly and surely things are starting to come into focus in regard to how the Bulldogs might look in the fall.

Georgia’s defense is undergoing the most radical transformation as first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and three new assistant coaches put their fingerprints on that side of the ball. Here’s a few observations I’ve been able to make so far:

1. In general, your No. 1 unit looks like this: Noseguard — Chris Mayes; defensive end (or 3-technique tackle) — Toby Johnson; defensive end (or 5-technique tackle) — Ray Drew OR Sterling Bailey; Jack (or rush end) — Jordan Jenkins; Sam (strongside outside linebacker) — Leonard Floyd; inside linebackers — Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson; left cornerback — Damian Swann; right cornerback — Brendan Langley; safeties — Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger.

2. As with any lineup, that’s subject to change and fluctuation. For instance, Tray Matthews most certainly will be in the running for a starting spot at safety once he gets out of the doghouse. Same with Jon Taylor and James DeLoach. And Ray Drew was running with the first team, in the first couple of practices, but Sterling Bailey was on Tuesday. Meanwhile, offensive transfers J.J. Green and Tramel Terry could end up being major factors once they absorb the defensive techniques and concepts.

3. Some of the early beneficiaries from the defensive coaching change appear to be Langley, Johnson and Floyd.

  • Langley, a 6-1, 181-pound sophomore out of Marietta, started the first four games of last season as a true freshman but barely played and never started the rest of the way. He finished with just 12 tackles and 2 pass break-ups.
  • Likewise, due to a number of factors, Johnson played only a bit role last season after coming to Georgia as one of the top junior college prospects in the country. First, he was playing behind Garrison Smith. Secondly, he was coming off knee surgery and dealt with some other nagging injuries throughout the season. But he’s healthy and a svelte 305 pounds now and the new coaches love his athleticism.
  • The new staff feels Floyd was under-utilized last season. The 6-4, 220-pound sophomore started eight games and played in all 13 as a true freshman and his 6.5 sacks led the team. But Floyd was often got subbed out of games based on down-and-distance. The belief is he may the best overall defensive player on the team. Expect Floyd to stay on the field more under Pruitt’s watch.

4. Other than the two new additions from offense (Green and Terry) there hasn’t been a lot of radical change from a positional standpoint. One move that has been somewhat under the radar is that of Johnny O’Neal from inside linebacker to outside linebacker. O’Neal told that he dropped 20 pounds since the end of last season and coaches are pleased what they’re seeing in terms of speed and quickness. O’Neal was rated the fifth-best inside linebacker prospect in America by coming out of West Laurens High in Dublin. But he played almost exclusively on special teams as a freshman and tallied but a single tackle in four different games.

5. Much has been made about Pruitt’s intense demeanor on the practice field and he’s definitely very vocal in his coaching methods. But less has probably been made about why he’s that way. Not saying it’s better or worse, but former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and most of his assistants (line coach Chris Wilson was very vocal) were more cerebral in their practice approach. They’d have their call sheets and go over them repeatedly with their respective positions players. Pruitt is clearly more technique oriented. His emphasis appears to be more about executing fewer sets well than trying to perfect multiple sets. It won’t be until well into the fall before we know how the Bulldogs respond and perform. But coach Mark Richt and defensive players already have remarked that communication is better and there is less confusion over calls, particularly when the offense is in hurry-up mode.

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