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Ten@10: Georgia’s defense ramps up the pressure

Junior college transfer Chuks Amaechi has been one of the Bulldogs' most pleasant surprises of the spring. (UGA photo by Sean Taylor)

Junior college transfer Chuks Amaechi has been one of the Bulldogs’ most pleasant surprises of the spring. (UGA photo by Sean Taylor)

1. Georgia moved Chuks Amaechi to outside linebacker from inside linebacker last week and, by the weekend, it looked like a brilliant gesture.

In the Bulldogs’ second scrimmage of the spring this past Saturday, Amaechi responded with eight tackles, four tackles for loss and a team-high three sacks. The junior college transfer led a defensive onslaught that totaled 10 sacks of the quarterbacks.

Amaechi’s new teammates saw it coming.

Amaechi

Amaechi

“Chuks (pronounced chooks, as in chew) is a fast cat,” said fellow outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, a senior. “He’s not the tallest guy, but he can bend and he’s quick as ever, man. We knew, we thought, after one of the earlier practices that he might get moved to outside.”

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Amaechi was a relative under-the-radar signee for the Bulldogs. An Arizona native, the 3-star prospect came to Georgia from Arizona Western College as an early enrollee. The idea was the Amaechi would play inside linebacker, where the Bulldogs need to shore up depth, and he may still. But the raw speed he displayed in early spring drills made it worthwhile to give him a look on the edge, even though Georgia is well-stocked there.

“I don’t know if it was just for the day or he’s doing both or what,” Jenkins said of Amaechi. “I’m pretty sure he could do both of them.”

2. Much is unknown about Georgia’s defense at this point, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that it will be a unit that has the ability to pressure the passer from the edge. Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter are back this spring to man the outside linebacker spots, and senior James DeLoach works there as well as a defensive end. That position will be further enhanced in preseason camp by the returns of Leonard Floyd and Davin Bellamy from offseason shoulder surgeries.

Pressuring the passer would appear to be the least of Georgia's defensive worries in 2015. (AJC photo)

Pressuring the passer would appear to be the least of Georgia’s defensive worries in 2015. (AJC photo)

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have been creating pressure off the defensive front as well.  Defensive ends Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson each had sacks in the last scrimmage and Bailey made the defensive play of the day. According to coach Mark Richt, Bailey beat his man and leaped up to bat down an outlet pass that would have easily resulted in a first down for the offense.

“It was a third down. It was an opportunity to get off the field and we needed someone to make the play,” said Bailey, a 6-3, 285-pound senior from Gainesville. “I got back there and put pressure on the quarterback and got my hand up and knocked the ball down.”

The Bulldogs’ inside linebackers have registered three sacks in the first two scrimmages as well. Bailey said coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and Georgia’s other defensive coaches have been emphasizing pressuring the passer.

“Things you do in practice are going to reflect in the game,” Bailey said. “We work hard to get sacks in practice. Come game time it’s going to come naturally to us.”

As for the 10 sacks this past Saturday, Bailey said he “didn’t even know we had that many. One thing, we’re just out there having fun. We’re just out there playing football. We don’t worry about stats.”

Todd Gurley was pretty awesome whenever he was in the game for Georgia. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Todd Gurley was pretty awesome whenever he was in the game for Georgia. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

3. There’s a pretty good debate going on in the NFL about which running back should go first in the draft later this month, Georgia’s Todd Gurley or Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. UGA’s new running backs coach Thomas Brown  coached the Heisman Trophy finalist Gordon at Wisconsin last year and is more than casually familiar with Gurley. But he said he as “not going there” when asked to compare their talents.

Brown had a deep backfield unit in Madison last year, as well. But he gives the nod to the Bulldogs’ group he’s currently coaching in that regard.

“Obviously, we’re very talented,” Brown said. “These guys work extremely hard every single day. They are kind of no-nonsense about their approach but they can have some fun and can be light-hearted when it’s time to do that. I’m really excited about those guys and how they develop in their future.”

Melvin Gordon was pretty good for Wisconsin, too, and was always on the field. (AP photo)

Melvin Gordon was pretty good for Wisconsin, too, and was always on the field. (AP photo)

4. Brown currently has two of his primary weapons, Keith Marshall (hamstring) and Sony Michel (shoulder), sidelined with injuries. The Bulldogs are also being extra cautious with star tailback Nick Chubb, who’s getting the majority of his work in third-down situations to hone his pass-protection and receiving skills.

A.J. Turman has actually been impressive for the Bulldogs this spring (AJC photo)

A.J. Turman has actually been impressive for the Bulldogs this spring (AJC photo)

That has meant a boon of work for Georgia’s other two tailbacks, Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman. Douglas has compiled 129 yards on 36 carries and a TD in two scrimmages with the No. 1 offense while Turman has gotten loose for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries with the twos.

“It’s fun,” said Douglas, a 5-11, 213-pound junior from Augusta. “It’s fun to get out there and just play football and go live and tackle to the ground. It’s a good time. The offensive line has done a great job. They’re opening holes and really making (us) look good.”

5. The Bulldogs have been particularly impressed with Turman. The redshirt sophomore from Orlando hasn’t played for two years due to various foot surgeries. But he is showing why he earned a 4-star recruiting ranking coming out of high school.

“He’s coming off that foot injury, but this spring he’s really playing hard and running the ball hard,” Bailey said. “It kind of looks like he hasn’t been injured. He’s really toting the ball well.”

Bubba Watson leads another large contingency of Bulldogs in the Masters field. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Bubba Watson leads another large contingency of Bulldogs in the Masters field. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

6. There’s a distinct UGA flavor at the Masters this week. Not only is former Bulldog Bubba Watson the defending champion, but Georgia has one of the largest contingents of alumni in the field at six.

Joining Watson in the 98-player field at Augusta National this week are fellow UGA alums Erik Compton, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk and Brendon Todd. Compton, Harman and Todd are all making their Masters debuts.

“There are a lot of great Georgia golfers here,”  Compton said Monday. “We’re proud of that. The University of Georgia is here, close to Augusta.  You’ll have a lot of fans and people screaming, ‘Go Dawgs.’  I’m very happy to be part of that and hopefully all of us will have a great week.”

7. Georgia has famously been pumping talented players into the PGA under coach Chris Haack, and indications are that legacy will continue. Lee McCoy, a junior from Clarkesville, made UGA history this past Sunday when he claimed medalist honors in the 3M Augusta Invitational at Forest Hills Golf Club. The win was McCoy’s third in a row – the has won four times overall this year, matching the single-season school record set by Kirk in 2006-07.

Is Lee McCoy the next big thing coming out of UGA's golf program? (UGA photo by Steven Colquitt)

Is Lee McCoy the next big thing coming out of UGA’s golf program? (UGA photo by Steven Colquitt)

McCoy fired a final-round 8-under 64 to finish at 16-under 200. The 8-under and 16-under totals are the second-lowest round and tournament figures, respectively, in school history. McCoy’s season average now stands at 69.54.

“Lee is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence right now,” Georgia coach Chris Haack said. “He is finding out just how good he can be, and it’s resulting in one of the greatest seasons we’ve ever seen at Georgia.”

McCoy led the Bulldogs’ second- and third-round surges up the leaderboard in Augusta. Georgia ended up third at 22-under 842, including a 10-under 278 on Sunday after a second-round 11-under 277 Saturday.

The Bulldogs will resume competition at the SEC Championships in St. Simons on April 17.

8. The Georgia baseball team has to be careful not to let its season run off the rails the week. In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Bulldogs (18-15, 5-7 SEC) face four games on the road — at  Clemson (16-15) tonight at 6:30 p.m., and then at Alabama (15-15, 4-8) on Friday

Last week, the Bulldogs dropped a midweek contest to Georgia Tech and were swept by No. 1 Vanderbilt in Athens. The upcoming Alabama series will be played in Hoover at Metropolitan Stadium as the Crimson Tide’s home field is under renovation this season.

On a positive note, Georgia is 5-1 on the road in the SEC this year. The Bulldogs swept Tennessee abd took two of three from the South Carolina, which was ranked No. 7 when they March 27-29.

Also, there’s a good chance Georgia will soon restore its pitching staff. Robert Tyler and David Sosebee, weekend starters, have been throwing regularly on the side. Sosebee reportedly could return as early as this weekend and coach Scott Stricklin has earmarked the April 17 home series against LSU for Tyler’s return.

Brittany Rogers and the Gymdogs got it done in California at the NCAA Berkeley Regional. (UGA photo)

Brittany Rogers and the Gymdogs got it done in California at the NCAA Berkeley Regional. (UGA photo)

9. It is with considerable determination that Georgia’s No. 10-ranked gymnastics team will arrive in Fort Worth, Texas, next week for the NCAA Championships. A lot of observer – this one included – doubted the Gymdogs would get out of the regional when they were dispatched to California this past weekend. But, to their credit, they put together one of their best efforts of the season to edge Utah for the regional championship and earn yet another bid to the finals.

“Everybody has been doubting what we are doing because we have been up and down, but did what we needed to do,” Georgia coach Danna Durante said.  “We didn’t let them talk to the media the last two weeks so they could focus on what they needed to do and they did. We told them they needed to get strong As a staff we have worked hard to make them believe in the work we’ve been doing and they’ve done that.”

The Georgia gymnastics team will compete in the first semifinal of the NCAA Championships April 17 at 2 p.m. ET at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The 10th-seeded Gymdogs will compete against No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Utah, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 UCLA and No. 11 Stanford.

The second session is slated to begin at 8 p.m. and includes No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 LSU, No. 5 Alabama, No. 8 Auburn, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 12 Oregon State. The top three teams in each session will advance to the Super Six on Saturday, April 18 at 7 p.m.

A good time had by all.

A good time had by all.

10. This & that: The No. 6-ranked Georgia men’s tennis team (17-3, 9-1) enters the final week of the regular season in control of its own destiny in the SEC race. After defeating Alabama 4-1 on Sunday, the Bulldogs can win at least a share of the league title and the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament with a pair of wins. They play host to Arkansas on Thursday and Ole Miss on Saturday.  … Judging from all the tweets I saw flying out, the Matt Stafford-Kelly Hall wedding this past weekend was one for the ages. Hate that I missed it. I’m sure the recent postal changes in my area must’ve affected my invitation’s arrival.


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