Is 2009 going the be the year of redemption for the Georgia Bulldogs defense?
I'd say absolutely, and it's especially likely if Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez has anything to say about it.
And he's got a mouthful, considering he was the one man from Georgia's coaching staff that had fans clamoring for his resignation at the end of last year's season.
Georgia's defense needs leaders to step up and motivate the team to keep fighting until the last whistle blows. They need leaders in the locker room at halftime who are firing up the boys, getting them ready to come out and fight, regardless of what the score board says.
This coming year more than ever, Georgia's defense must play with aggression, and the entire coaching staff needs to not care about hurting the other team's feelings by running the score up.
I'm not saying Georgia should never let up off the gas, even if they're blowing a team out.
What I am saying is that UGA needs a defense that makes the opposing offense afraid to even come on the field.
Playing hard each down and finishing the game with as much enthusiasm as they start could quickly make Georgia's defense the dominant force in the SEC in 2009.
Leading the way will be defensive tackles Kade Weston, Geno Atkins, and Jeff Owens. All three are veteran linemen that, if healthy, will be lining up side-by-side and striking fear into Bulldog opponents.
Here's what the DTs in the Red and Black had to say about each other:
“Geno is going to take the load off me,” Owens said. “He’s going to dominate, and they aren’t going to be able to block both of us.”
“We talked about how we want to set the tempo,” Atkins said. “It starts up front. We determine where the ball’s going to be.”
“It feels like we’ve been here all together through all this stuff, but it’s been hard trying to stay on the field together,” Weston said. “So I think it’s important to go out with a bang.”
All three linemen are seniors this year and are very experienced at their positions. It's that sort of certainty that's exactly what Georgia's defense needs.
It's what Willie Martinez is counting on to get redemption for the lack of performance in the past campaign. The good thing is that he's never run from responsibility.
“It starts with me,” Martinez said of his defense’s performance. “You take the three losses, but in particular the (loss to Georgia Tech), we played outstanding in the first half. You take the second half, and we played the complete opposite.
"It wasn’t the same intensity, it wasn’t the same focus, and again, that comes down (to) me. We’ve got to play 60 minutes, and we didn’t do that in big games."
The second half struggles came to a head in the late-season matchup with the rival Yellow Jackers. After the half, Georgia's defense was literally nowhere to be found, and GT took advantage of that in a big way.
In the upcoming season, Willie Martinez and the UGA defense are determined to get back to elite status. With three strong leaders on the line alone and the "finish the drill" mantra fresh in every Bulldog's mind, I'm expecting the defense to give the offense a lot more time on the field and a lot more opportunities to put points on the board.
I don't see expectations as lofty as 2008's No. 1 preseason ranking being an issue this year. The Dawgs can focus on fundamentals and play defense with the enthusiasm of a team that is heading to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
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