ATHENS — They’ve been calling Justin Anderson “Bean” for a while. For much of the past two seasons, they called him one of Georgia’s starting guards. This year they may be calling him a starting nose tackle.
That’s fine with him.
“If they tell me to go to wide receiver, which I know I’d probably be horrible at, I’d still go try it,” Anderson said.
That won’t be necessary, luckily, since Anderson is 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds. But plenty of big changes have come with Georgia’s new 3-4 scheme, including what’s basically a new position — nose tackle — and potentially a brand new player at that position.
Originally, it was going to be DeAngelo Tyson, the junior who played defensive tackle the past two seasons. And it could still end up being Tyson. But Anderson and redshirt freshman Kwame Geathers have done well enough at the nose that Tyson is being flexed out to the end, where he could be a better weapon.
Tyson couldn’t put a percentage on how many plays he would see at each position.
“It all varies,” he said. “We’ve gotta find depth, and if we don’t have enough depth, then I guess I have to go nose. Then if we do have depth, then I can go play end. But it’s all about who wants to step up and go be a player.”
So far Anderson has shown he wants to be a player. He started 12 games at guard his first two years, then was moved to nose tackle during spring practice. But he got hurt right away, so his indoctrination to the nose tackle spot, at least as far as live action, didn’t come until preseason practice started three weeks ago.
“Coming onto (playing) defense, I was kind of nervous at first,” Anderson said. “I knew I was eventually going to do well, but in the past on offensive line, I’ve had trouble with playbooks. That was probably my biggest — I wouldn’t say fright, but I was kind of skeptical on it.”
The nose tackle position can be a tough one in the 3-4. That’s why Albert Haynesworth, an NFL All-Pro in a 4-3 system, asked for a trade after the Washington Redskins switched to a three-down linemen setup for this season.
But new Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who imported the 3-4 from the Dallas Cowboys, believes a nose tackle can flourish in his system. He pointed out that Jay Ratliff was an All-Pro and had eight sacks for the Cowboys last season.
The key is whether a nose tackle has to attack one or two gaps in the offensive line. In the Redskins’ new system, for instance, the nose tackle has to attack two, which tends to limit the opportunities to make plays — like sacks.
But in Grantham’s system, the nose tackle only has to mind the one gap and has more freedom.
“You can make some sacks as a nose if you’ve got some initial quickness and some burst,” Grantham said.
Georgia defensive line coach Rodney Garner, a holdover from when the team was using a 4-3 lineup, put it another way.
“I guess the 3-4 (scheme) that everyone’s so paranoid about, when you have that two-gap, you need that big 350-pound nose guard that can just sit in there and just hold the point at center and play both of them ‘A’ gaps,” Garner said. “And I don’t have that.”
The happy beneficiary could be Anderson, who admitted he didn’t expect to pick up the system so quickly.
“To be honest I didn’t,” Anderson said. “But hey, I’m just trying to get better every day. That’s all I can do.”