Williams’ comments reverberate around the Georgia football program

Williams’ comments reverberate around the Georgia football program

semerson@macon.comOctober 23, 2012 

ATHENS -- The interview that Shawn Williams gave the media on Monday night lasted less than seven minutes. But the Georgia safety’s verbal carpet-bombing of his own defense may last awhile.

The fact that Williams felt bad about it the next morning, according to head coach Mark Richt, did little diffuse the situation. It remained a dominant topic among his coaches and teammates, including ones that Williams appeared to criticize.

“My roommate pulled it up on the computer. And I was like, ‘Whoa … OK,’ ” Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith said. “It’s definitely shots fired.”

To review: After Monday’s practice Williams offered a withering critique of the defense, saying it was “playing soft” and without emotion, and players weren’t giving it their all. He also said that Amarlo Herrera and Alec Ogletree needed to play more, which was taken by the other inside linebackers as a shot at them.

“When I read that, I felt disrespected, and I’m definitely taking it personally,” senior Mike Gilliard said.

“It wasn’t what I want to hear,” senior Christian Robinson said. “But we all make mistakes.”

Other teammates, however, agreed with Williams’ overall message.

“It needed to be said sometime soon,” sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “Somebody needed to stay something. So he took it upon himself to say it.”

“It was definitely needed,” said senior cornerback Sanders Commings, whose only quibble with Williams was that he thought the defense was “lazy,” and not soft. “Everybody came back, but we played better last year. So it doesn’t make any sense why we shouldn’t be a top-five defense in the country.”

“Everybody knows Shawn is a very passionate guy,” junior linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “Just looking back at this year and last year, we’re playing down a level, and we’re not executing like we’re supposed to. I felt like that woke a lot of guys up. Guys understand where he came from and respect him.”

Georgia’s defense was expected to be the backbone of the team this year, returning nine starters from a unit that ranked fifth last year in yards allowed. Instead, the Bulldogs have plummeted to 47th, allowing 20 or more points to teams like Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Kentucky.

There have been suspensions and injuries to key players. But after Saturday’s game, a closer-than-expected win over Kentucky, Williams privately expressed his feelings, then he went public Monday.

“Shawn is a real passionate guy,” Richt said. “I think he loves Georgia and loves his team and wants us to play the best we can possibly play. I think (his comments on Monday) were more public than you would like, but I don’t think he meant any harm by it. I think his teammates know that, so it’s really not an issue.”

Then again, there is some thought that the comment could serve as a much-needed spark, both for the defense and the team.

Richt hedged on that idea, just smiling and saying: “It might. We’ll see.”

But Herrera was more certain.

“It’s gonna be a spark,” he said. “It’s gotta be a spark. If we don’t have a spark around here, then our chances at the SEC championship are over with.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham called it “no big deal.” But he did let Williams speak to the defense before Tuesday’s practice and air his grievances again. Grantham said Williams spoke “for a couple minutes.”

Williams may have already accomplished his goal of lighting a fire under the defense, or at least two players: Gilliard and Robinson.

Robinson admitted that hearing Williams’ comments did hurt.

“But at the same time, nothing you hear is 100 percent true, and 100 percent wrong,” Robinson said. “I take it as: We have been a little soft. But has that gotten us beat? I don’t think so.”

“(Tuesday), I was just upset today at practice,” Gilliard said. “So (Tuesday), anytime the ball carrier came my way, I tried to knock the (expletive) out of him. But yeah, like Christian said, he was hurting -- I wasn’t hurting. I just felt like I was disrespected. He said my name without saying my name. Basically, he just gave me motivation.”

Whether players agreed with the assessment of the inside linebackers, there was little dispute regarding the accusation they were playing soft and had their heads elsewhere.

“Y’all look at the film, we’ve been playing soft around here,” said Herrera, who is second on the team in tackles. “We haven’t been showing the old D that we were playing last year. We’re the same people; we’re just not playing the same.”

Commings opined that there was a motivation gap between last year and this year.

“I think last year people didn’t expect much from us. I guess that made us want to come out and play harder,” he said. “This year we started out, what, top five, I don’t know what it was. But we started out higher, and then I guess people were like, ‘All right, we’re good.’ I guess people felt like we didn’t have much to prove.”

Williams spared the offense from his carpet bombing, understandable given its superior performance this season. But from the perspective of Marlon Brown, a senior receiver, Williams’ comments were a positive.

“I don’t think it’s negative, I don’t think it’s finger pointing,” Brown said. “I think he had something on his mind and he said, and I feel like as a grown man I feel like he can say what he wants to say. I think if guys take it the wrong way they should go talk to him, but I don’t think anybody took it the wrong way.”

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