With spring practice over, the Georgia Bulldogs can focus on what they need to do to get better before the 2014 season begins in the end of August.
We know the offense will be in pretty good shape despite not having Aaron Murray under center. Hutson Mason proved he can get the job done last year, and having players like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall behind him as well as Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley beside him will make things a lot easier.
The defense, on the other hand, will have a few question marks coming into the season.
The unit struggled last year under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who is now at Louisville. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has taken over Grantham’s spot, and while the group did some good things during the spring game, Pruitt knows that this unit will be a work in progress all summer long.
So how can Mark Richt and Pruitt resolve the issues on the defensive side of the ball before the season begins?
The first thing is to find out what the real issues are on defense. The Bulldogs did give up 29 points per game, which ranked near the bottom of the SEC. However, they also ranked sixth in the conference in run defense, giving up 148 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry last season.
The front seven for the Bulldogs is solid and the group is led by linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. Both players placed in the top three in tackles last season and both got better as the season progressed.
The outside linebackers for Georgia were not bad either, as Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd each had at least five sacks last year.
The defensive line was also strong, but there could be some changes this season just to make it stronger.
Sterling Bailey had a good year and should be back in the mix for starting defensive end. As for the other defensive end spot, Ray Drew, James DeLoach and Josh Dawson are battling for that spot.
As for nose tackle, Chris Mayes made eight starts last year, but Johnathan Taylor and Mike Thornton are making a push for the starting job as well.
Therefore, the battle for the starting defensive line rotation is something Richt will have to finalize in preseason practice.
However, that is not the most glaring issue for the Bulldogs.
The secondary for UGA last season had its share of ups and downs last year. Based on the big plays it gave up in crucial moments of important games last season, fans will remember the downs more than the ups.
Jeremy Pruitt thinks UGA's tailbacks and its QB look pretty good. His defense? 'We've still got a long ways to go.' http://t.co/k1CG1JktoC— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) April 16, 2014
The one thing Richt and Pruitt have to do is start from scratch and make every position in the secondary an open competition.
Damian Swann, Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Aaron Davis were on the first-team defense during the spring game, but that is not set in stone. Everyone—including Shaq Wiggins, Lucas Reed, Sheldon Dawson, Quincy Mauger, Devin Bowmann, Reggie Wilkerson, Brendan Langley and J.J. Green—should and will get a chance to win a starting job.
Richt said during the UGA Days speaking tour that no player has nailed down a starting position in the secondary. He also said that he wants to see what the new players have to offer.
Those new players are Shaquille Jones, Dominick Sanders, Shattle Fenteng and Malkom Parrish.If any of those four players impress Richt or Pruitt, they could see themselves thrown to the wolves this season.
Despite what Richt says, it’s safe to say that Swann has one cornerback spot down and Green will likely play the "star" position. After that, it’s anyone’s guess and something the coaching staff will have to figure out quickly.
Even if the Bulldogs do set the secondary starting lineup in stone, it will still have growing pains because the group is learning a new defense despite still being a 3-4 scheme.
The most important thing Richt and Pruitt can do is make things simple. Don’t have the players worry about terminology and anything that will prevent them from making plays. All the players need to do is line up in the right sport and get after the skill players.
It sounds simple, but it’s something the Bulldogs lacked last year.
If Richt can make sure he has the right 11 players ready to go and they know exactly what to do each time they are on the field, the defense could make significant strides in 2014.
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