Quite understandably, the University of Georgia’s hiring of Jeremy Pruitt was met with high expectations. After all, Pruitt, who arrived in Athens following a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Florida State and several seasons as a position coach with Alabama, might boast the best three-year resume in all of college football.
- 2011: BCS National Champion
- 2012: BCS National Champion
- 2013: BCS National Champion
But merited as the hype may be, this won’t be an overnight transformation for the Bulldog defense. Fans should expect big things out of Pruitt, but give him some time.
Given the Dawgs’ recent struggles under former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, this project was never going to be a renovation. More accurately, the best way for Pruitt to reshape this defense is to tear it down and start over. Thus far, he’s done a lot of demolition work.
Even returning starters have been temporary victims of this rebuilding process. “There’s one thing about football coaches,” Pruitt said in his introductory press conference (according to GeorgiaDogs.com). “Everybody may not agree with who we always play and all of that, but I think we always try to play the best players. We'll do that, and we'll give everybody an opportunity. I think competition is great.”
Opportunities for some have yielded demotions for others. Georgia has famously lost three defensive backs (Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews) to dismissal or transfer and another (Brendan Langley) to the offensive side of the ball. But none of those players started in the team’s spring game despite experience with the first team in 2013.
Ray Drew registered five sacks over the course of three consecutive games against SEC competition last year. As reported by David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the senior defensive end bounced between the second and third teams during the spring.
Personnel changes will hardly be the only alteration under Pruitt. His defensive scheme is less exclusively a 3-4, an emphasis is being placed on both fundamentals and speed and even the physical shape of players is being altered to fit Pruitt’s desire.
Pruitt wants a speedy, lean, aggressive defense with a knack for swarming the ball. He’s willing to tear the unit down to its core to achieve such results.
Change Takes Time
While there’s enough silver lining to more than encompass Pruitt’s efforts, it’s important to remember that rebuilding can and will take time. Last year, Georgia’s defense was young in the secondary. With the aforementioned departures and position changes, the unit could be equally green in 2014.
Furthermore, many longstanding habits—both on and off the field—need to be changed. And as last year’s defense proved, bad habits die hard.
Culturally speaking, a higher expectation has already been established. Last month, Wiggins told Kipp Adams of 247Sports he was looking for a team that would embrace his personality. Wiggins went on to describe himself as a “jokester.” Pruitt’s defense doesn’t have room for class clowns during practice or in the film room. Accordingly, Wiggins probably won’t be the last Dawg to depart in search of a more relaxed environment. Expect more attrition.
As far as on-field performance is concerned, progress may more closely resemble a slow-churning grind than a greased-up track to improvement, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—at least not in the long run.
Optimism surrounding Pruitt is well-founded but paradoxically misplaced. Georgia fans should be excited about his arrival and quick start in Athens, but that excitement should not be rooted in exorbitantly high expectations for 2014. Rather, that eagerness should stem from an appreciation for Pruitt’s willingness to change the defense to a meaningful and lasting degree.
That process, as Pruitt will likely point out repeatedly this fall, will take time.