ATHENS - Jeremy Pruitt said Wednesday that he's had players over to his house the past three nights. Over hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, the players and their new defensive coordinator have talked excitedly about the start of practice.
"I can see it in their eyes, they're eager to get started, and that's exciting to me," Pruitt said.
It qualifies as news that Pruitt, seemingly so grumpy about what he inherited this year, is hanging out with his players off the field and developing relationships. But it also shouldn't be surprising: As the season gets closer, so does the realization that Georgia has to field a defense.
But Pruitt remains very cautious about things as preseason is set to begin on Friday. He inherited a unit that struggled last year, and lost four potential starters to dismissal or transfer in the offseason.
Not that Pruitt was sobbing about the departures of Josh Harvey-Clemons, Tray Matthews, Jonathan Taylor and Shaq Wiggins. In fact Pruitt disagreed with the premise of a question about the impact of the losses this offseason.
"To me it's not losses," Pruitt said. "We got the guys we've got and that's what we're gonna go with."
Pressed further, Pruitt made clear he wasn't interested in talking about it: "I'd like to focus on the players who are at Georgia, not the ones who are not here. So that probably answers your question."
Pruitt is largely retaining the 3-4 scheme that Georgia used the past four seasons under Todd Grantham. But ideally Pruitt would like to substitute more and use an array of packages.
He was asked Wednesday how comfortable he is that by the Clemson game on Aug. 31 he will be able to do all that.
"Right now I'm not very comfortable at all," he said. "We've got a lot of guys who don't have playing experience, some of them it'll be their first practices at Georgia this week. So we've gotta figure it out what we can do. We would like to be able to match up some things as far as personnel, but we're only going to try to get the guys on the field who have proven that we can trust them to play.
"And if that's 11, it's 11. If it's 30, it's 30. Over the next few weeks time will tell."
Perhaps the biggest challenge over the next month will be settling on a secondary. That's the position group that Pruitt will coach, and he didn't come out of the spring seeming very happy with his options.
Now Wiggins and Matthews are gone, but five new players have joined: Junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng and freshmen Dominick Sanders, Malkom Parrish, Shaquille Jones and Rico Johnson. Those five, along with holdover veterans and walk-ons, will be in the mix for every starting spot.
"When it comes to that is going to be guys who play the ball good in the deep part of the field," Pruitt said. "That's the most important thing when it comes to a defensive back: Who can play the ball good in the deep part of the field. Because obviously that's where the big plays are created. We'll see who plays with toughness, who can play man-to-man, who tackles well, who can sustain and do it over a period of time. Because to me I think all the guys can do it. We'll see who can do it over and over and over. That'll be the difference."
A big emphasis for the new defensive staff has been body types. In what Pruitt has termed a "philosophical" difference from Grantham, now Georgia wants lighter, faster players at most spots. Pruitt pointed out that most of the defensive linemen had lost at least 10 pounds. Junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who was about 270 pounds when Pruitt arrived, has dropped about 20 pounds. Senior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera has dropped about 15 pounds.
But other players have added weight while lowering percentage of body fat.
"I just know what I think a guy is supposed to look like, and that's what we've worked hard (at), is to get them to that level," Pruitt said.
Another issue last season, according to seniors on last year's defense, was leadership. Pruitt, asked whether he's seen improvement in that area, expressed some cautious optimism: He's seen "a lot of guys who have the ability to be leaders." The emphasis being on "ability."
But Pruitt did see some strides in that area from those potential leaders over the summer. He didn't name anybody, but said it was both seniors and younger players.
"We're kind of moving in a positive direction there," Pruitt said, adding a moment later: "A little bit of ownership."
Freshman switches to defense
Rico Johnson, a freshman who signed as a receiver, will begin his career at cornerback. It may not be permanent, as offensive coordinator Mike Bobo indicated that Johnson could move back to offense if the experiment goes well.
But depth at each position was a big factor in the move: The secondary continues to look for help, while Bobo said there are 14 scholarship receivers even after Johnson's move.
Pruitt wants consistency from linebackers
Georgia's linebackers - Leonard Floyd and Jenkins on the outside and Herrera and Ramik Wilson on the inside - have been rated as perhaps the best group of linebackers in the country.
Pruitt was asked if he agreed with that perception.
"I think that's where the most experience is on our defense," he said. "We've got some guys who have played a lot of football for Georgia there, and if you watch the tape, some of them have played really well at times, and they probably have not played as well as they'd like to at times. So the big thing with those guys who have experience, probably the thing they need to improve on the most is to be more consistent over the course of a game."
About those hamburgers ...
For all the emphasis on losing weight, why is Pruitt feeding players red meat? He indicated the players he had over were members of his secondary, who could put on weight.
The purpose of the get-togethers has largely been for Pruitt to get to know his players, including the ones who signed in February after a speed-dating recruiting cycle.
"They've gotta enjoy themselves too," Pruitt said. "So they get to sit down, and for us our guys come over a lot. You've gotta create an atmosphere where they feel like it's home away from home."
A nose is a nose
The definition of interior linemen on the defensive line is a bit fluid right now. Junior Chris Mayes and senior Mike Thornton are listed as nose tackles. But James DeLoach is listed as a defensive tackle. (He also will play defensive end.) The reason for that is partly schematic, as the Bulldogs seek to be flexible situationally. It's also partly personnel-based.
Pruitt's ideal would be to have a nose tackle who can play all three downs. He had that last year at Florida State, but Pruitt granted that "here's very few of those guys out there, realistically." Even when he was at Alabama, mammoth nose tackle Terrence Cody played mostly just first and second down.
"You want those guys who can create piles in the middle and demand double teams. But usually those guys aren't built to play on third down," Pruitt said. "So if you can find one who's that way, we need him."