Let's be honest: the Georgia defense didn't strike fear into the hearts of any teams last season.
They were mediocre in wins (Vanderbilt and Kentucky) and painful in losses (Alabama, Georgia Tech, and Florida)
From week-to-week, they were mind-bogglingly inconsistent. And, it was hard to say for certain if defensive coordinator (DC) Willie Martinez was bringing the sledge-hammer or the rubber-mallet when he led the Bulldogs into battle.
Needless to say, frustration was a weekly emotion, and, after the loss to Georgia Tech, there seemed to be an ever-widening chorus of "Fire Willie Martinez" playing in Dawg Nation.
If you don't believe it, just check here, here, here, or here for confirmation of how fed up the fans were with the way Martinez was running the show.
Truthfully, it's hard to blame the Georgia fans for their ire, spoiled as they were by former DC Brian Van Gorder—Dawg fans became comfortable that their defenses would pummel every team they faced with an iron fist.
The great defensive teams of 2001-2004 saw national finishes of 17th, fourth, third, and eighth, respectively in scoring defenses.
Now, we're nearly last in the SEC in that same category!
We still get defensive recognition, but it's nowhere near where it was a few years back.
So, what happened to the Dawgs on defense?
How on earth did we fall so far, so fast?
How did we become a defense that allowed 38 points to be scored against them on four different occasions?
One that saw woodshed level beatdowns from Alabama, Florida, and—holy crap—Georgia Tech?!?
Well, you can start with the loss of defensive tackle Jeff Owens and go from there to find a plethora of answers wrought from speculation.
However, this is a new season and that means we work from now:
No big-time ranking, no big-time stars, and no expectations of greatness.
That said, we start from the interior line:
Jeff Owens (Sr), 6'3", 306 lbs.
"The Real Deal" is what Mr. Owens likes to refer to himself as, or at least that's what he calls his blog.
Owens suffered a knee injury during the first game of the season and in his departure, the line crumbled—he was the anchor and without his presence, the ship sank hard and fast.
He returns this year with lots of enthusiasm and plenty of attitude.
If it's hard to believe that just one man can make a difference, you obviously don't know Jeff Owens.
There's a great article written here by a fellow Bleacher writer and Bulldog fan named Cole. It says what Owens brings as a man—the intangibles that cannot be taught, but rather are embodied by Jeff Owens.
Things like leadership, work ethic, enthusiasm, and a genuine team mentality. These are what make him such a special player.
He is a bit undersized for the defensive tackle position, settling in at around 306 lbs., but don't let his size fool you—he's a monster.
He's quick off the line and is a phenomenal run defender.
His ability to get into the backfield and wreak havoc on the quarterback is something that was sorely missed by the Georgia defensive line last season.
He makes the big plays when he has to, and he has the ability to elevate the play of those around him—that makes him the total package.
Expect big things from him this season.
His backups will be Kade Weston (Sr), 6'5", 325 lbs., a pass-rush specialist who has performed well in spot duty, and Brandon Wood (RJr), 6'1", 275 lbs., a versatile athlete with a nose for getting into the backfield.
Geno Atkins, (Sr), 6'1", 287 lbs.
The other defensive tackle will be Atkins.
In seven starts as a sophomore, in 2007, Atkins recorded 64 tackles (14.5 for loss), 7.5 sacks, and 37 quarterback hurries (QBH).
His performance seemed to signal even bigger things from him in 2008, but he found himself regressing—he still performed decently, but not as many expected.
The return of Owens means that defenses will have to play the line more honestly. They won't be able to double-team Atkins as much—he saw more attention last season because he was the only experienced player on the line.
That bit of relief should spell more production out of Atkins this season.
He is a beast as a pass-rusher and, paired with Jeff Owens, should be a part of one of the more talented interior lines in the SEC.
He will be backed up by DeAngelo Tyson (So), 6'2", 294 lbs. and Brandon Wheeling (Sr), 6'3", 277 lbs.
Tyson plays smart and knows how to use his body well to avoid getting overpowered at the line of scrimmage.
He's not the quickest guy on the field, but he has a great feel for the game and uses his natural instincts to read the play and react accordingly
The Defensive Ends
DeMarcus Dobbs (Jr), 6'2", 282 lbs.
Dobbs plays like a linebacker but has the size and skill-set to play his position effectively.
He appeared in 13 games last season and racked up 19 tackles (including two for a loss) to go alongside two-interceptions (one of which resulted in a touchdown).
Dobbs is athletic and fast for his size and has the ability to run down players in the backfield with relative ease.
He exerts great effort on every play and doesn't allow himself to get beat very often.
As far as his pass-rush skills are concerned, he doesn't excel in that arena. However, he disrupts plays at the line by out-hustling everyone and getting his hands up to shut down passing lanes.
His intensity and solid approach to playing the game more than makes up for any deficiencies he may have as a pass-rusher.
Backups include Kiante Tripp (Jr), 6'6", 270 lbs., a converted tight end/offensive lineman who moved back to the position at the end of 2009 spring practice, and Cornelius Washington (RSo), 6'4", 243 lbs., a big and fast pass-rushing specialist.
The other end position is up for grabs as projected starter Justin Houston has been suspended for the first two-games of the season.
Houston (So), 6'3", 264 lbs. showed great promise after his performance in the G-Day game, where he racked up three sacks and was named Most Improved Defensive End at the end of spring practice.
Houston is extremely athletic and knows how to get into the backfield quickly to both disrupt the passing game as well as make a play on the quarterback—he excels at making whoever has the ball very nervous.
His absence means that Roderick Battle (Sr), 6'4", 259 lbs. is likely to get the nod at the starting job, but he isn't likely to make much of an impact at the position and could see a serious challenge mounted by some of the more talented guys on roster.
One of those guys is Jeremy Longo (RFr), 6'3", 241 lbs. He's a little small, but has the frame to add more bulk and strength to his body.
He does very well as a run blocker but is also adept at the pass-rush.
His best asset as a player may be his ability to get free of blockers and pursue the running back—he's quick and has good burst off the line
As of now, he will be limited due to a shoulder injury, but expect him to make some appearances in games as the season progresses.
Neland Ball (RSo), 6'6", 232 lbs. also sat out of spring practice due to injury, but should be back by the start of fall practice.
Georgia's defensive line is looking fairly solid. They just need to find a playmaker or two at the DE position, and they should be much improved over last season's squad.
Next up: The Linebackers