DOMINANT. That was the word often used heading into last season when describing just how good Georgia’s interior defensive line could be. Thanks to the emergence of Justin Houston last spring, there was also a buzz surrounding the defensive ends heading into the 2009 season. At times these units played the way most Georgia fans expected them to…very well. Other times they did not. Maybe the most obvious sore spot for fans and the DAWGS defense was a lack of a pass rush and an inconsistent ability to stop the run. On the other hand, Georgia’s senior defensive linemen played very well down the stretch of the season and with the emergence of Houston and Cornelius Washington at defensive end, the DAWGS defensive line led a resurgence of a determined Georgia defense that managed to shut down Georgia Tech’s vaunted running game to end the season. As spring practice 2010 gets cranked up, there is a big hole in the DAWGS defensive line. Georgia lost five players that earned starts along the D-Line in 2009 to graduation, including three future NFL players in Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens and Kade Weston. Now, there is talent on hand to step into the gaping holes along Rodney Garner’s defensive front to be sure. The question is will the DAWGS young pups with new homes step to the front of the line and get the job done?
SPRING PROVING GROUNDS III: DEFENSIVE LINE
A couple of things are clear about the new 34 defense that the DAWGS will be playing…Georgia’s defensive line athletes will be asked to take on more of a role as a play-maker due to the one-gap style of defense Coach Grantham prefers, and we also know that despite where they are listed on the roster, all of the defensive linemen will be cross-training at all of three positions that will play with their hand in the dirt. To better understand why this information is telling, let’s look at a one-gap defensive mentality as compared to the two-gap style.
Two things are vital to good defensive line play…playing with great technique and maintaining gap responsibilities. Depending on the play called and the philosophy of the defensive coordinator, a defensive lineman could be responsible for either one or two gaps.
One-gap responsibility is relatively simple: the defender attacks a hole and must take care of whatever business happens there. He is expected to tackle any running back who goes through that hole, or to force the running back to move laterally into the arms of another tackler. If the offense is passing, the defender's gap is his route to the quarterback.
Two-gap responsibility requires more discipline on the part of the defender. A defensive tackle may be responsible for both the A and B gaps on his side of the field. His job is not so much to crash through a gap as to read the play, occupy blockers, anticipate which gap a running back might choose, and clog it. The two-gap defender must quickly diagnose the blocking scheme (whether he is battling a base block, a reach block to seal an edge or a down/back block to get a ball carrier to the outside) and determine which of his gaps is more vulnerable.
Three of the DAWGS defensive line hosses from 2009, Justin Houston, Montez Robinson and Cornelius Washington, have been moved to outside linebacker this spring to take advantage of their pass rushing abilities. In recent days, the coaching staff has indicated that DeAngelo Tyson, Kwame Geathers, Derrick Lott and incoming freshman Mike Thornton will man the Nose position. The defensive end spots will be held down by Abry Jones, Demarcus Dobbs, Brandon Wood, Kiante Tripp and 2010 signees Garrison Smith, Dexter Morant and Brandon Burrows. Dobbs and Wood are the only two seniors among this group. This youth, coupled with the position changes, leaves a lot of things to be sorted out.
Every coach’s goal is to put his players in position to make plays. All indications are that Coach Grantham’s 34 style defense will be player friendly and will allow the DAWGS young and athletic defensive players to attack offenses, run to the football and have success early and often as they find their way in the new scheme. Of course, this is all conjecture at this point, but not for much longer. This is what spring ball is for. Soon enough we will know if the boys are out there mixing it up and getting excited about the opportunities to get after the football that most certainly await them. Youth will be served along the DAWGS D-Line this year and it all starts this spring. If there is really going to be a new identity of aggressiveness and intensity on Georgia’s defense, the evidence will be in the play of the DAWGS defensive line…regardless of their youth or relative inexperience at a new position.