For my two cents, the most interesting story of the spring and summer isn’t about any of the players, like it was last year.
It’s about Todd Grantham and how he’s going to adapt to all the personnel changes on Georgia’s defense and to the offensive variety in the conference – or, more specifically, what steps he takes to design a defense that can handle smash mouth running games better than what we saw in the SECCG.
Last year was all about coping with the suspensions and the complacency that appeared to set in early in the year. Assuming those aren’t problems now (I know, I know), this year’s job is more about being the defensive mad scientist who schemes to get the right guys in the right places at all times. That’s Grantham’s mantra about getting the best eleven on the field at any given moment in a game.
There are already a couple of stories along those lines that we should keep close eyes on. The first is the move of John Taylor to a 3-4 defensive end. While he’s working there exclusively now, it sounds like it’s more about creating personnel options on the defensive line:
The 6-foot-4 Taylor said he’s in the 325-to-330-pound range. He’s working behind Garrison Smith. He said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham came to him before spring practices about wanting him to learn end. Grantham told reporters prior to spring practice that Taylor and John Atkins were “multiple guys” that could play end or nose.
“Coaches thought it was the best fit for me,” Taylor said of playing end. “We’ve got a lot of nose guards coming in. We’re going to need some people on the outside. Coach said he moved here so I can make some plays.”
That’s a big defensive end, peeps. In fact, that’s a defensive end who outweighs the guys at the nose by 20-30 pounds. But it’s also a clear indication that Grantham’s intent is to have some serious beef on the field in the post-Jenkins/Geathers era. It’s just that size may be in different places than it has been. (Along those lines, remember that if Jordan Jenkins and DeLoach are the outside linebackers, Georgia’s linebacking corps will be bigger than last year’s, too.)
The second story isn’t about getting bigger. It’s about getting Josh Harvey-Clemons on the field as early and as often as possible. Right now, he’s a classic tweener, so that isn’t as easy a task as it sounds. What to do if you believe the kid is too talented to stay off the field? You create something that makes use of his skill set.
The dilemma with that has been Harvey-Clemons appears too rangy and raw for safety, and too small (about 215 pounds now) for linebacker. So you solve that problem by forcing him into the lineup and molding a position for him – a position that might match up well with the offense played by Georgia’s first two opponents.
Throw away for a moment the normal visions of a 3-4 defense (three defensive linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs.) When Harvey-Clemons is on the field, Grantham could instead utilize a 3-3-5 formation: three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Harvey-Clemons will basically be a third safety on the field. Freshman Tray Matthews is very likely to be at free safety, and either Corey Moore or Connor Norman will most likely be the third safety.
The fortunate thing for Georgia, as Emerson smartly notes, is that this is a strategy that matches up neatly with the opponents on the early part of Georgia’s slate.
Clemson plays a spread offense and normally lines up at least three receivers. So Georgia figures to be playing a lot of nickel defense in that game anyway. South Carolina, the second-week opponent, will play three receivers a lot too. Not as much as Clemson, but the Gamecocks will also flex out their tight ends. And both the Tigers and Gamecocks have mobile quarterbacks, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a bigger, faster guy on defense who could spy on him, rather than a second edge-rushing linebacker.
Cornerback Damian Swann pointed out that two years ago Georgia had a package with Alec Ogletree as the nickel cornerback. The Bulldogs used that against Auburn, as well as some other isolated times.
“Josh is a guy who has the athleticism to play that nickel back. And he’s long,” Swann said.
I’ve got no idea how this plays out, of course, and neither does anybody else. But how personnel get sorted out on the defensive side of the ball between now and September bears watching. What Grantham comes up with is likely to define Georgia’s 2013 season.