Going into Todd Grantham’s third season in Athens, I’m beginning to think the guy rolls out of bed in the morning mulling over how many combinations of players in the front seven he can come up with.
– Who he learned about this spring?
“I learned about everybody. Everybody who wasn’t a returning starter I kind of learned about. Because that’s what you’re doing, you’re evaluating. For example, I already know what Jarvis (Jones) and John (Jenkins) and Abry (Jones), I know what those guys can do. I know what Shawn Williams can do. But you’ve gotta find out what the guys that don’t play all the time can do. For next year, if there’s an injury, who’s the next guy in the game. And how you match people up. That was the biggest thing that to me I learned. I think it’ll help us make sure we get the next-best player on the field.
– Did Cornelius Washington play well enough at defensive end that that’s not just an experimental thing this spring?
“Oh yeah. He’s a versatile guy. He’s athletic enough to play outside backer. But he’s got enough size and strength and explosiveness and pad level that he can play as an inside guy. And what he does in there, is he’s got athletic ability. So I think we’ll continue to play him at both (spots) as we move forward, which gives us more depth, and gives us a chance to play some other guys. Like Ramik Wilson, who made an interception there in the first half, he’s a guy we’re looking at, at outside backer too. So I just think it allows us to get another guy on the field.”
If I had to point to the biggest difference between his defensive philosophy and that of his two predecessors, it wouldn’t be the scheme change (Georgia doesn’t play in a true 3-4 half the time, anyway), it would be his relentless pursuit of mixing and matching personnel to get the best players on the field at any given time.
… Exactly how much did the addition of talented prospects like Jordan Jenkins and Josh Harvey-Clemons affect Grantham’s decision to test outside linebackers Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew at defensive end during spring practice?
“A lot,” Grantham said, “because I kind of have an idea of what those guys can do and their skill set, and also what Ray and Cornelius can do. By making that transition, it allowed us to give us more flexibility. The big thing you’ve got to have is flexibility while you’re on defense, because like I’ve said, it’s always about getting your next best guy in the game.
“I think that those guys being as dynamic as they are and I think the versatility of a Ray and a Cornelius allow us to do some good things.”
For the moment at least, VanGorder is still the gold standard for defensive coordinating in the Richt era, but I don’t remember him being this consumed with flexibility. (Mercifully, I’ll leave Martinez out of the discussion here.) It’s a big issue now, even – maybe particularly – on the recruiting trail.
“Defense is a game about athletes. The bigger, faster and stronger you are, the more you can win a one-on-one matchup,” he said. “Generally what happens is [big, fast, strong] guys in high school tend to play those positions. They can grow into things. To me it’s all about recruiting big, strong, physical, fast guys that can run and then, as their bodies take off and go, you kind of filter them in where you need them.”
That may be as good a distillation of the “Jimmies and Joes, Xs and Os” wisdom as you’re ever gonna get.