Spring prediction: Slow and steady defense

It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first team workout, this week we'll make five predictions related to the upcoming practices.

Today’s prediction: Slow and steady on defense

Patience will be the buzzword for Georgia’s reconstructed defense this spring, particularly in the early practices.

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt hired an entirely new defensive coaching staff this offseason -- most notably new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt -- so not only will the new coaches need time to figure out the capabilities of players at their respective positions, they will use these practices to get a feel for one another and how their different coaching styles fit together.

That’s one of the big reasons spring practice is valuable. There’s no pressure. The Bulldogs don’t play a real game until Clemson visits on Aug. 30, so there is plenty of time for learning without having to worry about being prepared for an opponent each Saturday like they would in the fall.

This is the time each year when Richt’s staff takes another look (and sometimes a first look) at its personnel and begins making initial evaluations on how those players might be able to help during the season. They work on fundamentals. They begin teaching new elements of the scheme they plan to employ -- which is particularly important at Georgia this spring since Pruitt will begin installing his own tweaks to the 3-4 base defense the Bulldogs used under Todd Grantham.

But don’t expect early practice reports to break down how the defense dominated the day. Georgia’s offense is loaded with experienced players and veteran starters, aside from the three starting linemen and a pretty decent quarterback that it must replace. The defense also has experienced personnel returning, but that group wasn’t nearly as effective a season ago, plus it will be learning new roles from brand-new position coaches.

The defense will be a work in progress this spring, which is perfectly understandable and to be expected.

What you want if you’re a Georgia fan is to hear coaches and players discuss the learning process early in these practices, but for such comments to evolve into compliments on how things are coming together as G-Day approaches. And then you’d like to see the group cap off the spring by showing some competence and enthusiasm when it takes the field for the early series at Sanford Stadium on April 12.

There is only so much you can take away from a spring game, but fans want a little something to feel good about as they enter the four-month break before the team returns to the practice field, which is also understandable.

Given his track record in previous stops at Alabama and Florida State, Pruitt deserves the benefit of the doubt. Our bet is that by the end of spring practice, the potential for this group to become a competitive defense will be evident -- even if the players’ and coaches’ heads might be swimming in the early practices.