Analysis: Pruitt gives Georgia’s defense a fresh start

semerson@macon.comJanuary 15, 2014 

Georgia Pruitts Challenge Football

DAVID TULLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESSJeremy Pruitt, left, is about to start his first spring practice as Georgia’s defensive coordinator.

DAVE TULIS — AP

ATHENS -- Georgia’s past few defensive coordinator searches have looked a lot like a presidential election in which the incumbent isn’t on the ballot: Everyone seems to be looking for a contrast with the previous officeholder.

Willie Martinez was seen as too nice and not adjusting to the changing offensive landscape. So here came Todd Grantham, who was fiery and had these great NFL schemes.

Then Grantham left, without a Georgia counteroffer, because his schemes had proven too complicated for some younger players, and his approach was perhaps too professional for some of the collegians.

And now here comes Jeremy Pruitt, who in being introduced Wednesday talked about building a bond with his players and simplifying schemes.

“To me, a lot of people try to make football harder than it is,” Pruitt said. “It’s the fundamentals. It’s the blocking. It’s the tackling. It’s getting off blocks.”

Mark Richt, who watched last year as his young defense showed evident confusion on the field, indicated Wednesday that Pruitt would make it easier on the players.

“We’re gonna be simple enough where you guys can turn it loose and play some football,” Richt said. “If we can’t execute it, then we’re not gonna call it. It won’t be rocket science. That they’ll all be able to learn it fast enough to try to prove what they can do.”

A change just for change’s sake would have been in error, which is why Richt didn’t fire Grantham. The new man running the defense had to be an upgrade, and on paper it is.

This past season, Florida State had the nation’s best scoring defense and was third in total defense. His pass defense has ranked among the top 15 in the nation each of his four years, including No. 1 in 2011.

Yes, it helps to have future pros, and at Alabama and Florida State you’re going to have a lot of them. But anyone who watched Georgia’s defense in 2012 can attest that future pros doesn’t automatically equate to great defense.

Georgia returns all but one starter, as well as most key reserves. That’s a big reason Richt didn’t want to overhaul the system, and why he said several times that the “continuity is good for Georgia.”

Now that he had change forced on him, and was saying how “ecstatic” he is about his new coordinator, Richt thinks the transition won’t hurt.

“There are similarities in what Coach (Pruitt) has done and what we do,” Richt said. “There’ll be some terminology issues, and he’ll decide whether he’ll learn a little bit of how our guys are used to it or have everybody learn a new way.”

But it will be nowhere near the drastic change that occurred in 2010, in the transition from Martinez to Grantham.

Pruitt and Grantham both run the 3-4 as a base defense, and both will alter the gameplan week to week, depending on the opponent. Georgia will continue to run a 4-2-5 or even a 4-3 when it deems it necessary.

“You’ve got to be able to do both. And that’s what we’ll do,” Pruitt said. “We’ll figure out who our best players are and figure out how to get them on the field.”

Pruitt will contrast in style with Grantham, and some of his calls and schemes will be different. But their coaching tree has one common branch -- Nick Saban -- and therefore they won’t be too different.

When Pruitt was asked what’s most important to him in coaching defensive backs, he mentioned “eye control.” Grantham mentioned that often, too.

But Grantham’s departure and Pruitt’s arrival provides a fresh start for the defense, without a drastic change in scheme, and that might be just the combination it needed.

“We want to be sound. We want to be aggressive. But we want to make the other team earn it,” Pruitt said. “There’s a fine line between being aggressive and giving up plays. We want to be as aggressive as we can possibly be. But at the same time make the other team earn it, make them go the distance.”

Contact Seth Emerson at semerson@macon.com and follow him on Twitter@SethEmerson.

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