ATHENS - There is an Alabama flavor to Georgia's coaching staff this year: Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer have joined Will Friend, reuniting a trio from the 1995 Crimson Tide.
That year there was also a graduate assistant named Dabo Swinney, himself a former Alabama player.
Swinney is now entering his sixth full year as Clemson's head coach. As he prepares to match wits with Pruitt and company on Saturday, Swinney was asked his impressions of Georgia's new defensive coordinator.
"I've known Jeremy a long time. He's a great football coach, you definitely spend time looking at Florida State because that's where he came from, but you know their staff came from all over the place," Swinney said, pointing out that Sherrer was at South Alabama and Tracy Rocker was in the NFL. "So it's not just Jeremy, everybody has their thoughts and ideas, and you come together as a staff and put your scheme together, and when you haven't seen them play there's always that unknown early in the year, especially in the opener.
"But they're still a 3-4 personnel type of scheme, which is what they were prior to (Pruitt arriving), and we've tried to prepare as hard as we can for everything we can think of. But at the end of the day it's really about us and what we do, and being confident in our execution."
Swinney played at Alabama from 1990-92, then was a graduate assistant there from 1993-95, then a receiers and tight ends coach from 1996-2000. Pruitt played there from 1995-96 and was a graduate assistant in 1997. Friend played offensive line at Alabama from 1993-96.
Sherrer, who was a tight end at Alabama from 1993-95, said Swinney helped coach him as a senior. While the Nick Saban influence is what most gets talked about - Pruitt and Sherrer worked for him in recent years - Sherrer mentioned Gene Stallings, who coached them all in Tuscaloosa.
"He was a player and I was a player under coach Stallings, so you probably see a lot of similarities form the time he was there, and things he learned under him," Sherrer said. "I don't know that it gives a lot of insight because we're so far removed. His last season was 2000, and the game has changed so much since then."
Georgia and Clemson traded depth charts last Friday, according to Swinney, who indicated it threw him for a bit of a loop.
"We study them as much as they can, put some of these guys we don't have a lot of film on," Swinney said. "You've got a junior college guy in there (cornerback Shattle Fenteng), you've got a freshmen projected as a starter at safety (Aaron Davis)."
Then Swinney listed all the veterans back, practically listing every player on the front seven two-deep, as well as senior cornerback Damian Swann.
"I mean they've got a bunch of veterans back that we've seen play. We've got a good feel for the type of players that they are. But there are some unknowns as far as how are they gonna use them with a new staff, in positioning them. And then some of the new guys we haven't seen as much, we don't know a lot about them."
Swinney was also asked about his team's run defense against Todd Gurley.
"I like our guys defensively," Swinney said. "We're gonna have to be good against the run if we have a chance to win the game. Because they've got the best of the best back there."
Gurley played against Clemson last year, as did Keith Marshall and the top two receivers Georgia will put out there Saturday, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley.
But the big difference is quarterback Hutson Mason, who never saw the field last year at Clemson, but started the final two games. Swinney started out by calling Mason "seasoned" and cited the way he led Georgia's comeback at Georgia Tech.
Then Swinney made an interesting observation about Mason, who has minus-8 career rushing yards, a figure distorted a bit by sacks being included.
"The biggest thing about him is he runs pretty good," Swinney said. "They've mixed in a little bit of zone-read stuff into what they do, and I think he's a very good player. I know they've got a lot of confidence in him and the experience that he got as The Guy last year is going to pay big dividends for him this season."
Fisher not 'ticked' at Pruitt
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was on the ACC teleconference right after Swinney. The first question he got was about Pruitt, and Fisher didn't appear too eager to answer it.
"I believe you're on the wrong press conference," Fisher said, interrupting the question. "This is coach Fisher."
But when asked if Pruitt's departure ticked him off, Fisher played along and had nice things to say.
"No. We've moved on," Fisher said. "Jeremy did a great job for us, he'll do a great job for Georgia. We're very happy for him. It was a great opportunity, and Jeremy is a heck of a coach, and it didn't tick me off a bit. If that's what he thinks is best for him I'm happy for him. And we have a great coordinator in Charles Kelly, and we'll move on."