ATHENS — Learning an entirely new defensive scheme in only one offseason sounds like a tough task to accomplish.
After all, Georgia is moving from four down linemen to three, shifting to an increased attacking mindset and asking the secondary to increase its level of physical play.
Less than seven months ago, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was placed in charge of overseeing the transition the Bulldogs are currently going through.
His way of making sure the players on his side of ball are ready for the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette is not necessarily through simplification. Instead, he’s teaching his defense in a backwards manner by making sure his players understand the overall goals first.
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“I think it’s real important that you can break it down so that they can learn in concepts or packages so that if you have 75 calls it’s not 75 new things,” Grantham said. “It might be four new things. I think the players have done a good job of trying to understand our concepts of what we want.”
Grantham spent the past 10 years in the NFL, where he worked both as a defensive coordinator and line coach. He calls his version of the 3-4 scheme a balanced defense that can create confusion over which four players will be rushing the quarterback on any given down.
The hope is to have all the confusion stem from opposing offenses come fall, instead of Georgia’s defenders still trying to grasp the scheme when training camp opens Aug. 2.
“The more you know about a system, and the more you know about your role and concepts, the faster you can play,” Grantham said. “Because it still gets down to players playing fast. We want be aggressive. We want to attack. We want to be relentless in our pursuit to the ball. We want to do those things, and I think it’s important the better understanding you have about what you’re supposed to do, I think, the better chance you have for success in that area. Really that’s the big thing is just making sure that players understand what we want systematically and what we want to get accomplished, but at the same time we want to play fast.”
Hopes and wishes don’t win football games. The reality is Grantham had only 15 spring practices to begin imparting his knowledge. Since that time, players themselves have conducted summer workouts and drills through instructions given to them by Grantham. The first few weeks of fall camp will be critical, Grantham says, because there isn’t much more time allotted to teach.
“Used to be in the old days (players) came in and got in shape,” he said. “You’ve got to come in, in shape now and be ready to go because offenses have gotten multiple in what they do. With offenses being multiple, I think you have to really teach and have them understand, ‘Here’s what they’re trying to accomplish out of these formations. Here’s what they’re trying to accomplish with this guy in this position.’ And to do that it takes some teaching both in the classroom and on the field.”
The plan for fall camp is already set in Grantham’s mind. The objectives and goals are many, and there isn’t much time to get them done. Grantham has to determine who can be trusted from a physical standpoint on the field, make sure they know what they’re doing and get them prepared for what they might see from other teams. It’s safe to say Georgia defenders will be physically and mentally stretched thin in August.
“The first thing you want to do is you want to identify the players that can help you win in training camp,” he said. “You also want to define the role for your players on the team, because everybody is not going to be a starter. But what’s their role going to be on the team? I think you also want to develop your players, because we’re talking about young people here so you’ve got to work to develop those players and have them improve each day.
“Then I think you also want to make them systematically understand what you have from a package standpoint. In saying that, you still have to work on your opponents. We’re going to face different offenses throughout the season, so I think it’s better to have a basic understanding of the teams you’re going to play so that way when you first go into it it’s not cold turkey.
“So we’re going to spend time on the things that we’re going to see during the season and how we’re going to play them. By doing that, I think you get a little bit of foundation so when you start playing on Monday of game week it’s not totally new. That gives you a little bit of a background for what you’re trying to do against each opponent. So I think it’s important not only do you try to develop your players during training camp and try to define their roles and find who can help you win, but you also have to prepare for the season.”