ATHENS - Jeremy Pruitt hasn’t coached a Georgia practice yet. His interaction with his new players has been limited to some personal contact and evaluating mat drills.
But already the new defensive coordinator has exerted some influence on the football program. Some of the changes either already in effect or underway:
1. Trimming players down
Pruitt told reporters Wednesday that he’s looking for slimmer, sleeker players. That’s especially true up front.
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“We’re trying to get a lot of our bigger guys down,” Pruitt said. “Personally we feel like everybody’s a little heavy. We’d like everybody a bit faster. That’s our preference. We’re trying to slim up just a little. Including the coaching staff.”
Defensive end Ray Drew said he’s now about 282 pounds, after playing at 287 last year. His goal is to be at 275 by the fall.
“It’s that little 1/10th of a second that counts,” Drew said. “There were a few times last year where I had an opportunity to make some plays if I was a step quicker here or a step quicker there.”
2. Philosophy of schemes
The basic tenets of Pruitt’s system will not differ much from the way things have been done before. After all, Pruitt and his predecessor Todd Grantham both come from the Nick Saban coaching tree.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” Pruitt said. “Coach Grantham coached with Coach Saban, and we’re all kind of from the same tree. From a schematic standpoint, there’s going to be some similarities, which is a good thing.”
Pruitt will continue to move players around based on the package, especially outside linebackers and defensive ends. That doesn’t really change from the Grantham era.
But it seems clear he will show more flexibility with personnel in different packages, which means more subbing.
For instance, Pruitt was asked if he could envision a dime package (not used last year by Grantham) where the lone inside linebacker was either a non-starter or someone from another spot.
“Absolutely,” Pruitt said.
3. Position switches
Pruitt revealed several minor position changes: James DeLoach and Josh Dawson, who struggled to see the field at outside linebacker the past two years, will be defensive ends. And Pruitt also gets the services of J.J. Green, last year’s third-leading rusher who shifts back to cornerback, where he played in high school.
Those won’t be the only ones. Pruitt pointed back to how he did things last year at Florida State, when they liberally shifted players around, before and during the season.
“It was probably in November,” he said, taking a deep breath, “We were looking at our two-deep, and there were actually only seven or eight guys who were participating at the same position in the fall as they did in the spring. And some of that had to do with injuries. And there’s some of that here too. And yes, we’ve gotta see where everybody fits.”
Pruitt also indicated that it won’t just be his decision.
“The big thing right now is we’re gonna give everyone the chance to play where they want to play,” Pruitt said. “If they’re happy where they’re at they’re going to give you a little better effort and a little better attitude.”
4. More opportunities
It was already evident that the complete turnover on the staff meant a fresh start for every player. Those who had been buried on the depth chart had renewed life.
But Pruitt will reinforce that with the way he runs drills. He said every drill will be “two-spotted,” which he said means an equal amount of reps for every player.
“So everybody gets the same opportunity. I think that might be a little different than it was done in the past,” Pruitt said.
5. Practice structure
This was done in conjunction with head coach Mark Richt and the other assistant coaches.
The walk-through procedure before practice is being tweaked to allow for the offense and defense to work against each other, rather than breaking into scout team work.
Then during the rest of practice will be structured a bit different, with more flexibility to have some drills be longer, and others shorter.
“Jeremy has been at a couple of places where the practices are structured just a little bit different, as far as just the time frame of certain drills,” Richt said. “After him and Mike (Bobo) talked it over and brought it to me and I looked it over, I thought it was all good. If they buy in and are excited about it, I am too.”
6. Position terminology
This is a more minor, inside football change: Under Grantham, the defense referred to its four linebacker spots as the Will and Sam (outside) and Mike and Money (inside). When the team went to a 4-2-5, the Sam came off the field and was replaced by the star.
That’s changing under Pruitt. In the regular base 3-4 defense, it’s a Sam and Jack (outside linebackers), Will and Mike (inside linebackers). In the nickel 4-2-5 defense, they’ll bring in a star and have a Money and a Mack (inside linebacker). The Jack would likely remain on the field as sort of a combo defensive end/outside linebacker.
Pruitt brings that verbiage from Alabama, where he was the secondary coach for three years before going to Florida State last year, where he also used those names.
Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins admitted he had already mixed up some of the assignments already. Luckily it’s just meetings. He was asked what the difference between a Will and a Jack was.
“I have no idea right now,” Jenkins said, laughing.
The answer is there isn’t too much difference, other than word choice.
This isn’t so much what Pruitt and his assistants have done so far: Again, the contact between players and coaches has been limited.
But the change itself has obviously been refreshing for a lot of players, whether they’re starters or not. Defensive players available to the media this week did not rip the former staff. But they didn’t shy away from saying the fresh start is good.
“I think the competition level is gonna be high this spring, just because guys are trying to prove themselves to the new staff,” cornerback Damian Swann said.
As for Pruitt himself, the early returns are that he’s direct with his players, though not overly harsh or critical.
“If you don’t do what you’re supposed to he’s gonna get on you,” Jenkins said. “But then he’ll come up to you later and tell you why. He does everything for a reason. I really like his philosophies and what he’s said in meetings so far.”