Georgia Football: 5 Reasons Why the Bulldogs' Defense Will Improve in 2014
It’s been a very interesting past couple of days for the Georgia Bulldogs. Head coach Mark Richt announced they have dismissed Tray Matthews from the team, which makes him the third defensive player to leave Athens this offseason.
Losing Matthews is a huge blow to the defense because he was the best safety on the team and he had the most experience. And the way the defense struggled last season, they can’t afford anymore losses of personnel.
That said, the defense is not a lost cause. 2014 marks a new beginning for the unit, and with a new coordinator as well as a talented set of players returning, they will be a much better group than what they were in 2013.
And here are five reasons why.
It starts with the leader of the defense, and that’s defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
There is no doubt Pruitt will have an uphill battle and there will be some growing pains in the process. But Pruitt’s a no-nonsense guy who will only have the best 11 players out there. He preaches fundamentals and always doing the right thing. He’s also not afraid to play freshmen if the upperclassmen aren’t doing their jobs.
Pruitt had success at Alabama and Florida State because his guys were fundamentally sound and rarely made mental mistakes. It will take Pruitt some time to get that cemented in Athens, but with the talent that’s on the defensive side of the roster, he will have his players performing as one sooner than later.
And Pruitt has a great player to start with, as linebacker Ramik Wilson returns for his senior season. Wilson was a tackling machine in 2013, racking up 133 tackles, which led the SEC.
Wilson played well under Pruitt’s system during spring practice, and the scheme will allow him to make even more plays than what he did last year. The one thing he has to do this season is become the vocal leader for the defense. Pruitt could use a field general, and Wilson has the necessary tools to be that guy.
The Bulldogs were great at sacking the quarterback, as they had four players record four sacks or more last season. However, they need someone who can get to that 10-sack plateau and be the dominant pass-rusher to help the secondary.
Leonard Floyd looks like he can be that guy, as he tallied 6.5 sacks last year, which led the team. Floyd was only a true freshman last season, so he was still learning how to play the game. Now, with a year under his belt and a new coordinator who will guide him to the next level, Floyd is poised to have a monster season and could see anywhere from 10-11 sacks this upcoming season.
There has to be an X-factor for this group. There has to be someone who will be the reason the Bulldogs make a big step forward on defense this season.
J.J. Green, who played running back last year, is making the jump to defensive back. He was recruited as a cornerback when he signed with the Bulldogs in February 2013, but he had to play running back because of injuries to Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and even A.J. Turman.
Green can play cornerback, safety or the Star position which is somewhat like a nickel cornerback. He performed well during spring practice and could be the best defensive back on the roster right now, and he hasn’t played a down of defense yet. There will be some bumps and bruises in the secondary, but if Green can play the way he practiced in the spring, the secondary won’t have the same issues they had last year, which is mental mistakes and lack of creating big plays.
Experience in the Front Seven
As many question marks as there are in the secondary, the front seven has a lot of answers. Other than Garrison Smith, everyone makes their return from last season and they will only be better under Pruitt.
There will be some changes along the defensive line, as James DeLoach will play defensive end after playing outside linebacker last year. And the starting nose tackle position is still a question mark, but John Taylor and Chris Mayes have the ability to eat up space and give the linebackers room to make plays.
But the defense will improve because the front seven, which was solid last season, will continue to grow. And they will need to be like that because Pruitt will have his hands full with trying to find the right pieces in the secondary.