Georgia’s struggles on defense in 2013 were just as well-documented as the attrition that has plagued the unit’s secondary this offseason.
That degree of negative sentiment is in direct conflict with the optimism surrounding the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the end result is a general uneasiness concerning the defense.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, rising sophomore Leonard Floyd is braced for impact in 2014 and if the season goes as many experts anticipate, Floyd will prove to be the Dawgs’ X-factor this season.
Floyd arrived in Athens last summer as the nation’s fifth-best prep school product, according to the 247Sports Composite. It didn’t take long for his size and athleticism to catch the eye of coaches and fans alike. In fact, he registered his first of eight starts in the season opener at Clemson.
When his productive freshman campaign was complete, he’d tallied 55 total tackles (including 6.5 sacks), intercepted one pass and forced two fumbles. Not surprisingly, he was selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
Breakout Season Ahead
Now, Floyd is preparing to have an even bigger sophomore campaign, and his new defensive coordinator may enable him to do so. While Pruitt’s arrival has been hailed as a coup for a defensive secondary in desperate need of relief, his new scheme will also benefit players like Floyd.
“I love it,” Floyd told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald about Pruitt’s new system. “[I] Don’t have to think as much. All I’ve got to do is think about rushing.”
For a player whose greatest physical attributes are speed, explosiveness and an ability to use length to create leverage, focusing on chasing the quarterback has to be a welcomed change. And now Floyd, who will line up at both defensive end and his typical outside linebacker post, will get to do just that. 2014 will bring less dropping into coverage and more chasing the passer for Floyd.
Apparently the promise Floyd showed as a freshman and his newly simplified (but more aggressive) role under Pruitt has captured the attention of a number of experts and their preseason award lists.
Athlon Sports named Floyd to its All-SEC second team as an outside linebacker. Meanwhile, prognostication guru Phil Steele named Floyd as a Preseason All-America selection, according to GeorgiaDogs.com.
Such high praise is likely not a surprise from his teammates. Fellow linebacker Amarlo Herrera told Seth Emerson of Macon’s The Telegraph simply, “Floyd, he’s so fast, and so athletic.”
Defensive end Ray Drew offered more detail to Weiszer, saying, “Leonard Floyd is a man. He’s awesome. Violence off the ball with his hands. For an offensive lineman, he’s a nightmare. He’s quick, he’s powerful. He’s a presence off the edge, great in this defense.”
Great for This Defense
The hope, of course, is that Floyd isn’t merely great in this defense but that he is great for this defense.
The woes of the secondary will remain a factor until on-field performance proves otherwise. For the time being, one full-time starter (Damian Swann) returns to a mediocre secondary that will be looking to fill vacancies with veterans who failed to take ownership of starting spots in years past and green newcomers.
To be sure, the tutelage of Pruitt and the simplification of the scheme will help, but the defense’s weakness will be in the secondary.
If Floyd can develop into one of the nation’s most elite pass-rushers, some pressure will be taken off the fragile defensive backfield. If he can terrorize quarterbacks with relentless pursuit and consistently collapse pockets with his potent combination of size, speed and tenacity, he will give the secondary time to develop.
For a Georgia team with very few questions on offense and a plethora of talent returning in the front seven of the defense, development of the secondary could make or break the entire 2014 campaign. Ironically, it could be up a hybrid linebacker/defensive end who enables that to happen.
A lot hinges on Leonard Floyd this season.