New defensive front taking shape for Bulldogs

ATHENS — Still in it’s infancy, the 3-4 scheme is starting to catch on at Georgia.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham knew implementing his NFL style of defense would take time and patience. He’s happy with the progress made so far, despite only seven spring practices.

“It’s been about what I expected,” he said. “Any time you give them new terminology and new language, there’s going to be some hesitation. But I think they picked up on some things quicker than I thought. Other things they didn’t pick up as well as I thought.”

Players have something new to digest every day, and some have admitted the process was a bit overwhelming at first.

“It’s really going fast,” safety Shawn Williams said. “We’re putting in a lot of plays, so we’re just learning as we go.”

Grantham and the rest of the defensive staff show players what they’ve done wrong by filming practice. After watching a film session, the players are able to see exactly what is tripping them up. 

“Yeah, we watch film, we talk about the plays we messed up on, and we’re doing a lot better,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We’re learning a lot right now in a short period of time. As practice goes on, we’re getting in the swing of things, day-by-day.”

Each practice provides more understanding, which is encouraging for Grantham, who hopes to have everything installed before fall camp begins.

The whole process has been different for players, many of whom spent multiple years under the guidance of Willie Martinez. The language and terminology are different, and the mentality has changed. Players have been forced to change their line of thinking. That’s a lot to adjust to in such a short period of time.

“This is a learning experience for everybody, seniors and all,” cornerback Vance Cuff said. “Usually going into your senior year, you pretty much have the defense down with what you’re playing.”

The learning experience has helped bring the unit together, Cuff says, because nobody on the defensive side of the ball still fully comprehends exactly what is going on. But they’re getting there.

“Everybody is asking everybody for help,” he said. “We’re bonding in all kind of ways.”

Grantham indicates he understands he’s asking a lot of his players. To prepare his players, he has taught them concepts and ideas first, a bigger picture type definition. He then goes to work on the exact specifications.

“We’re really trying to put in things to apply to concepts and how we want to play in a certain defense,” Grantham said. “What happens is they kind of learn, you know, the formations of an offense tell you a lot. Where people line up, where the receivers are, how close they are, how far apart they are, where the back is, the quarterbacks mannerisms. There’s a lot of things that you’re trying to teach them.”

And it is a lot, right down to the stance a running back is lined up in or the subtle way a quarterback moves his head before the snap. But Grantham has been quick to remind his player they are still just playing football. The object is to tackle the ballcarrier, as simple as it sounds. The players say they relate to the way he’s teaching them.

“It’s a little different,” Cuff said. “But you know, football is football. There aren’t too many things you can say that are going to be different, as long as you’re talking about football.”

Taking things slow, understanding the overall goal and big picture and correcting mistakes through film study have the process on track.

“It’s kind of like we’ll install it and then do it, and you kind of have to move on to the next concept,” Grantham said. “You teach them this, show them, and some of the things you’ll do again, but you’ve got to get to the next concept. So, we’ve been going at a pretty good pace.”