ATHENS, Ga. -- Most of the numbers were respectable for Georgia a year ago in the first season in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense.
But as Grantham points out, respectable and acceptable are two different things.
Obviously, what wasn’t acceptable to anybody in Georgia’s camp was the 6-7 record, and a big part of the Bulldogs’ first losing season in the Mark Richt era was not being able to finish games in the fourth quarter.
“My whole thing is: I don’t care what the score is. Just finish the game,” said Grantham, entering his second season as Georgia's defensive coordinator. “If we’re up 6-3, then win it 6-3. If the score is 31-31 in overtime, like it was against Florida, find a way to win it.”
The Bulldogs finished fourth last season in the SEC in total defense. They were fifth in scoring defense.
But what killed them was giving up too many plays on third-and-long, and according to Grantham, just too many explosive plays in general.
As a rule, Grantham said you should stop teams at least 80 percent of the time when it’s third-and-10 or more. He said the Bulldogs were in the 60s last season.
“That’s something we’re going to address and get better at,” Grantham said. “We were actually better on the intermediate third downs [third-and-3 to third-and-7] than we were on the longer ones.”
The Bulldogs also gave up 13.5 yards per completion a year ago, and Grantham said that needs to be closer to 9 yards.
And in the red zone, the Bulldogs only had 38 defensive chances down there, which ranked them in the top 20 nationally. The problem was that they gave up 21 rushing touchdowns in the red zone.
“It’s the second time around for most of these guys [in the 3-4 scheme], and we’ll be able to start out faster this spring and play a lot faster,” Grantham said. “Even in the meetings right now, we’re a little bit smoother.”
Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said there were too many times last season when guys got caught thinking about what they were supposed to be doing or were unsure and gave up a big play.
“That happens sometimes when you’re making a transition to a new defense,” Boykin said. “There were also times when we had a chance to make the play and just didn’t make it. The inconsistency is what we want to get away from, but that comes from playing and not thinking and just being more instinctive out there.
“We’ll be a more instinctive defense this year.”
Grantham is equally confident that it will be a defense more equipped personnel-wise to play a 3-4.
One of the biggest keys (with the emphasis on big) was landing 340-pound junior college nose guard John Jenkins. He won’t be on campus until the summer, but is expected to have an immediate impact.
DeAngelo Tyson will now be able to move over to his more natural position of end, and the Bulldogs have that wrecking ball in the middle of their defense in Jenkins.
“Going through all the cut-ups, DeAngelo didn’t play that badly in the middle,” Grantham said. “He just didn’t command double teams. That guy has to be able to command double teams, and if he doesn’t do that, you’re going to struggle.”
The other key addition is USC transfer Jarvis Jones, who will step in at strongside outside linebacker and be one of the Bulldogs’ rushers in the nickel.
“Justin [Houston] was a great pass-rusher,” Grantham said. “But as linebackers go and playing the linebacker position, we didn’t play with anybody like Jarvis last year.”
The reason the Bulldogs were able to move Jones from the inside to the outside was Alec Ogletree’s emergence. He’s up to nearly 240 pounds after playing safety as a true freshman last season.
“When I was watching [Ogletree] at safety and the way he could run and hit and do those things, and he’s really one of our better blitzers, I just said, ‘Let’s just play him down at a linebacker all the time,’” Grantham said. “And by putting Ogletree inside at linebacker, it allowed us to move Jarvis to the outside.
“Getting both of those guys closer to the ball will help us make more things happen.”
The other safety spot opposite Bacarri Rambo is up in the air right now. Grantham said Jakar Hamilton is a better athlete and tackles well in space, but that both Hamilton and Shawn Williams gave up too many big plays last season.
They get a chance this spring to show that they can get the job done.
If not, Grantham feels like there will be more options when the freshmen arrive this summer.
Corey Moore and Chris Sanders are both incoming safeties, and Grantham also likes the fact that all of the cornerbacks the Bulldogs signed are taller than 6 feet.
One of the other options would be moving Sanders Commings, who’s a bigger cornerback, to safety.
“Our approach in the spring is that we’re not going to give a position away,” Grantham said. “But we have 15 opportunities in the spring and 29 opportunities before Boise. I’ve told them, ‘You have to show what you can do now. Take it one day and win that day, because if you let it go and don’t produce, then we will put a freshman in front of you.’
“You play the best guys.”