ATHENS, Ga. -- Coordinators Todd Grantham and Mike Bobo’s respective units enter next week’s preseason camp in positions that are essentially the opposite of where they were a season ago, with Bobo’s Georgia offense now stocked with veterans while Grantham’s defense has numerous holes to fill.
If Grantham’s young defense this fall can make the strides that Bobo’s bunch made in 2012 -- when it had big holes to fill in the backfield, along the offensive line and at tight end -- the Bulldogs should be in great shape.
“The big thing is we need to evaluate the talent. That’s the first thing -- evaluate the talent that we have,” Grantham said of his goals for preseason camp. “Then you’ve got to develop the talent. Then you’ve got to define the roles for the players that are on your team and what they can do and how they can help us win.”
Last season, most expected Grantham’s defense that returned nine starters from a top-five bunch in 2011 to dominate. However, suspensions to a handful of key players damaged the group’s continuity to open the season, and the defense rarely lived up to the sky-high expectations of dominance.
Perhaps that served as a warning for Bobo’s offense, which has 10 starters back from a group that last season scored more points than any offense in program history. Throughout the spring -- and again during Wednesday’s preseason press conference with local beat reporters -- Bobo emphasized that last season’s successes are irrelevant now and that his players must guard against becoming complacent.
“These kids don’t lack confidence. They believe that they are going to light up the scoreboard every time they touch the field,” Bobo said. “So I’m kind of the guy that tries to bring them down to earth and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go to work and do this to get where we want to go.’ ”
And perhaps that’s why Bobo bristled Wednesday at the notion that the offense must carry a defense that must replace 12 key contributors through a nasty early-season slate that includes potential top-10 teams Clemson, South Carolina and LSU.
“I think the offense needs to prepare on getting better every day,” Bobo said. “We’ve got to ignore everything. I talk about it all the time, to ignore the noise. Two years ago, we weren’t worth a crap. Last year the defense was going to carry us. It don’t matter, we’ve got to get ready to play the game the best we can.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to play as a team and however the first game, second game happens, all that doesn’t matter. We’ve got to get better where we can execute our assignment and get ready to attack our first opponent and our second opponent and our third opponent.”
The defense certainly seemed like the hungrier bunch during the spring, with the numerous available starting positions creating healthy competition among Grantham’s players. That competition will continue in August with 17 defensive newcomers joining the fray, Grantham said, and many of those starting jobs still up for grabs.
“We’re going to expect them to know at least the language to understand what we’re trying to get done,” Grantham said, “because they’re going to be competing for jobs, because there’s jobs open, and we’re going to evaluate guys and let the best guys play.”
Turnover is an annual obstacle on college rosters, however, so the coaches fully understand the importance of developing younger players so they will be ready to perform when the opportunity arises.
New offensive starters like tailback Todd Gurley, tight end Arthur Lynch, center David Andrews and right tackle John Theus handled increased responsibilities capably last fall after entering August as question marks. So the challenge awaiting Grantham and the defense is far from insurmountable.
It benefited the defensive staff that seven of the Bulldogs’ 2013 defensive signees enrolled in January and were on campus for spring practice. That enabled newcomers like safety Tray Matthews, linebacker Reggie Carter and defensive linemen Chris Mayes and John Atkins to begin filling spots on a depth chart that was full of holes.
But they recognize the need for a highly productive preseason if September is to play out in the Bulldogs’ favor.
“You have to have the mindset you’re going to get better, because you can’t wait to get better game day. You can’t wait to get better game week. You have to get better day one, and that’s going to be the approach, so if you want to be a part of what we’re doing, you need to practice and play with the effort and intensity that we expect in practice,” Grantham said. “And if you do that, I think that not only makes us better, it makes our offense better.”