ATHENS — When it comes to filling out his depth chart, age is just a number in the mind of Georgia’s first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
With preseason practice set to begin in less than two weeks, Grantham plans to find out who can play at the highest level, regardless of age, class or experience, which means he’s not opposed to using freshmen.
Grantham says he’ll use the same methods he learned while coaching in the NFL to see if young players are ready to contribute.
“My philosophy when you have freshmen, it’s just like when you have rookies,” he said. “We’re going to put them in there early and evaluate them and find out first of all the best position for them this year and how they can help and what kind of role they could have for this year. We’ll start that once we get going with those guys, and we’ll evaluate all those guys.”
Spending the past 10 years coaching in the NFL taught Grantham the importance of depth, establishing each player’s role and that injuries will happen. He plans to further evaluate the best 50 players from spring practice and to adjust accordingly to the fresh faces added to the locker room by incoming freshmen.
“During the course of the season you’re always going to need a guy,” Grantham said. “You’re always going to need something. I think it’s important that you stack your players in a sense that it allows you to put the next best players on the field to give you the best chance to win. So when our freshmen hit the field we’re going to evaluate all those guys and put them in a position to help us if they’re ready.”
Depth is a primary concern at outside linebacker, so there will be an emphasis to get as many able bodies ready in the event of injury at the position. Incoming freshmen T.J. Stripling and Dexter Morant were highly sought recruits who are projected to have the best chance to help out at the position. So far this summer, they’ve been working under the guidance of starters Justin Houston and Cornelius Washington.
“I tell them just to keep working hard and don’t quit,” Houston said. “Everything is not going to go as smooth as high school. It’s not going to be as easy as high school, so just keep working hard and whatever you do don’t quit.”
Outside linebacker is the most glaring spot lacking in depth, but adding players who can contribute at each position will be important. Grantham hesitated to point to any freshmen who could potentially be ready, as he isn’t concerned with speculating at this point. The plan is to get each player on the practice field under the watchful eye of coaches and to check the videotape.
Grantham doesn’t see names, numbers or past accomplishments when grading players. He’s only concerned with players making plays and hustling to the football. Those will be the players penciled into the depth chart.
“We’re certainly going to give everyone of them a chance,” Grantham said. “I don’t mind playing young players. My philosophy is you play the best players. It’s a production business meaning that defense is about making plays so we’re going to evaluate the guys. The big thing with me is we’re going to evaluate productions and also loafs, making sure they’re running to the ball.
“If we’re evaluating guys on that, and a freshman is coming on and doing the kinds of things we’re asking I think it enhances your team because they see, ‘Hey I really can see the field. I don’t have to wait until I’m a sophomore or a junior. I can do it now.’ I think that’s the fairest way — to let the players that have earned the right to play, let them play.”