The defense for the Georgia Bulldogs is expected to be better with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who has won national titles at Alabama and Florida State.
How much better remains to be seen, but Pruitt will inherit a group that has the talent to be great.
Losing Josh Harvey-Clemons is a significant blow, but the Bulldogs will return 10 starters on defense from last year, including probably the best player of the group, linebacker Ramik Wilson.
After being a reserve player for a couple of years to learn from Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones, Wilson burst onto the scene in 2013 and led the SEC with 128 tackles. Because of that, he was named to the All-SEC first team. One could make the argument that Wilson was one of the surprise players in the conference.
#UGA's Ramik Wilson went from playing 10 games last year (no starts) to leading SEC in tackles and being named 1st Team All-SEC this year.— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) December 9, 2013
That sets up a possibility that Wilson will not only have strong season but also be the best defensive player in the SEC.
Wilson was effective at tackling opponents, but he was also able to chase down skill players in the backfield, as he had 11 tackles for loss. He could also get after the quarterback, tallying four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
He was the bright spot for a shaky defense, and with 10 starters returning, the defense should be better and give Wilson more opportunities to make bigger plays.
One of the key returning players who will help Wilson be a better defender is fellow linebacker Amarlo Herrera. Wilson did finish the season as the No. 1 tackler in the SEC, but Herrera was not far behind him. He recorded 112 tackles, nine quarterback hurries and one interception, and he finished third in the SEC in total tackles.
Wilson also has two skilled outside linebackers who can fly to the football. Leonard Floyd notched 63 tackles and led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks. Jordan Jenkins recorded 45 tackles and five sacks and led the team with 12 tackles for loss.
The supporting cast is set for Wilson to have another monster season. But the coaching maybe the reason he becomes a difference-maker.
Pruitt has been successful since joining the college ranks in 2010. With Pruitt as defensive coordinator last season, the Seminoles finished first in the nation in scoring defense and third in the nation on total defense.
Before that, he was the defensive backs coach at Alabama for three seasons, and the Crimson Tide were ranked in the top 15 in passing defense each year.
Having Pruitt helps, but Wilson’s position coach will also be beneficial. Mike Ekeler was the linebackers coach at USC last season, and he was the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator at Indiana from 2011-12. Ekeler has coached players such as Lavonte David, Cody Glenn and Will Compton, who are currently on NFL rosters.
The combination of Pruitt and Ekeler should help Wilson become a much better player, which will make the entire defense more aggressive. However, Wilson will have some competition for the title of SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Players such as Trey DePriest (Alabama), Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) and A.J. Johnson (Tennessee) had strong 2013 seasons and will only get better this season.
But the fact that Georgia has 10 returning starters and a new (and most likely improved) defensive coaching staff should give Wilson the chance to become a household name when it’s all said and done.