According to an article by Tom Dienhart of Rivals.com, the SEC has made some very good position coach hires this offseason . Georgia, in particular, nabbed the best defensive backs coach in the nation in Scott Lakatos.
Dienhart states that Lakatos is "an adept teacher and well-respected tactician".The statement gives even more credence to what appears to be a wave of change in Athens, GA.
The one thing that coach Richt's staff seemed to lack since the departure of Brian Van Gorder is the ability to maximize the talent on it's roster. For as good of a position coach as Willie Martinez was, his ability to light a fire under his staff as the teams defensive coordinator fell a bit flat.
He just didn't seem to be as great a motivator in a position of leadership as he was in the position of assistant.
By contrast, his ability to develop and nurture talent as an assistant was excellent. He's well-respected in the league for being able to get the most out of his players. Case in point, that same list that Lakatos appears on also mentions Martinez's hire by the Oklahoma Sooners. So, for all the lashings Martinez took as a DC, he obviously is equally as revered as a position coach.
That said, Georgia needed to get back to being the kind of football team that can recruit the best of the best as well as the underrated talent and still be a power in the SEC. The way to start doing that was to bring in guys who are accustomed to making the most of what they are given.
The new defensive coaching staff is the very definition of that mantra. Each hire was an important step in changing the culture and attitude that was beginning to become synonymous with Georgia Bulldog football.
You have to have heard the criticism's by now, right? The naysayers, and even fans, that continually point out how the Dawgs constantly bring in the best players and the best coaches but still fail to become the best team. The statements tend to start with the following, 'If Georgia's so good, then':
"Where's the national championship"?
"Why do they continually lose to the Gators, even in the years where their (Georgia's) talent is decidedly better"?
"Why do their 5-star guys continue to underachieve"?
"Why has Richt been able to make the hires, yet, still fail to bring legitimacy to the program on a national level "?
"How can Kentucky and Vandy beat the Dawgs with LESS talent....how does THAT happen"?
The criticisms are numerous and, in most of cases, they are understandable.
The Dawgs have had their chances to be in the BCS conversation but always seem to trip up against teams who aren't nearly as stacked. In 2002, it was Florida. In 2007, it was Tennessee. In both instances, Georgia had an opportunity to be in the championship conversation. In both instances they blew their shot.
The coaching isn't completely to blame for this, not by a long shot. The players on the field have to make the plays and execute consistently. That goes without saying. It would be irresponsible to not place some accountability on the guys wearing the jerseys. Even still, it's a fine line. If the players aren't executing, the coaches look bad—period.
That said, the recent performance of the fired staff left little to be desired. They recruited well but didn't get as good a return on their investment. For every Rennie Curran, there was a Darius Dewberry. The hiring of Todd Grantham (DC), Scott Lakatos (DB), and Warren Belin (LB) hopes to remedy that trend through a greater focus on discipline and development.
For his part, Lakatos is lauded for his ability to elevate the play of a lower-tiered prospect into that of a pro-level player. His nurturing of both Darius Butler and Tyvon Branch are testament to his ability as a coach to find the best in his players and bring that out on the football field—both are now solid players on their respective NFL teams.
Warren Belin, who was an 'honorable mention' on Dienhart's list, managed to coach-up players on a yearly basis at Vanderbilt. Guys who, on most teams, would just be reserves became All-Conference players under Belin's tutelage. Chris Marve, Chris Bordano, Jason Simonton, Marcus Buggs, Jonathan Goff, and Hunter Hillenmeyer are all products of his coaching—all were two-star products—all have ended up in the pros or as pro prospects.
Currently, the Dawgs are transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4 and, despite the high level of talent on the roster, the scheme will have it's share of bumps in the road as players attempt to learn their new responsibilities. The ranking of a guy won't necessarily matter.
Why? Because regardless to how great of an athlete a player is, not every one will excel in the 3-4. That means we might see a guy like Chase Vasser be able to supplant a Darryl Gamble. I'm not saying that will happen just that anything is possible as the guys transition and start attempting to execute the scheme.
Lakatos, charged with the daunting task of making a secondary that was often burned by the passing game last season, will have his hands full too. The veteran presence of Bryan Evans, Reshad Jones, and Prince Miller is gone—leaving behind a fairly young group of players with little experience.
The presence of new coaches and a new system mean a re-evaluation of the talent on the roster and a shuffling of the depth chart. That could be a good thing as the presence of competition could light a fire under the guys who may have spent too much time underachieving. It's a story that Dawg fans know all too well.
The highly-touted , equally, high regarded player from xyz comes to Georgia and ends up doing one of three things:
- Getting lost on the depth chart.
- Battling a nagging injury and never really being able to play.
- Transferring because they simply can't cut it in the SEC.
It's happened far too often at Georgia under coach Richt and is an area of concern for a number of fans who just don't get what the problem is--if it's not the coaching. Here are just a few of the names who became hit and miss prospects:
2003 : Des Williams (4-star prospect) signed with Georgia and was thought to be one of the top linebacker prospects in the south. As a freshman, he was listed behind Odell Thurman on the depth chart. He ended up playing sparingly at fullback before ending his career due to injury issues.
2004 : Josh Johnson (4-star prospect) had 342 tkls, 23 tackles for loss (TFL), and 5 sacks between his junior and senior seasons. He chose Georgia over Florida and Tennessee. He never played a down and was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons in 2005—to this day he is still trying to find his way.
2005 : Darius Dewberry (4 star prospect) was ranked No. 7 in the State of Georgia but so far he has not played up to his potential. He's spent more time watching the games than playing in them and, this season, is hoping to make a position change to DE to see if that will grant him a better shot at playing time.
2005 : Marcus Washington (4-star prospect) started off with a bang in 2007 but an injury sidelined him in 2008. He switched to DE in 2009 and was mildly relevant but not at all the force he was hoped to be. He's looking for more opportunities to showcase his talent in the 3-4 this coming season.
And the list goes on: Tavares Kearney? transferred and never played a down.
Akeem Dent? Promising when he's on the field—emphasis on the word when .
Akeem Hebron? A former Parade All-American, has been a non-factor in three seasons thus far.
It's even more disappointing when you recall the talent and depth we have recruited for the secondary. Bryan Evans and Reshad Jones showed flashes but never became the big time players Georgia envisioned.
DeMario Minter (disappointing and inconsistent), Paul Oliver (one-year of greatness), Ramarcus Brown (physically gifted but never truly given a chance to shine), and Quintin Banks (perpetually injured=perpetually irrelevant) are just as easily added onto the long list of hit and miss prospects.
The point here is that the talent and the potential has been at Georgia all along. However, the prior lot of coaches may have had a different philosophy about how to coax that talent into production on the field. Whatever their methods, they were never truly able to bring out that extra something.
Guys like Belin, Grantham, and Lakatos who are used to working with 'under the radar' talent will look to find the guys who actually want to do the work as opposed to allowing the perceived talent on paper and film to be the prevailing choice.
That will hopefully translate into more discipline on the field and off as there will no longer truly be a starting spot that is guaranteed or given. Everyone will have to compete and bring his 'A' game if he wants to see his name high on the depth chart.
Competition is needed just as much amongst the players on the practice field as it is wanted against the opposition on the field. Make guys work for their shots and see what happens. In my opinion, that is the type of philosophy that Grantham, Lakatos, and Belin will bring to the Georgia defense in 2010. The result of which should be more effort and consistency come 2010.
That's a change that I can definitely get behind—let's get it done.
*Photo courtesy of OnlineAthens .