ATHENS -- Chris Mayes is 330 pounds, and if he played for a lot of other college football programs, they would encourage him to put on a few more pounds. The bigger the nose tackle, the better, especially in a 3-4 defense.
But at Georgia, players like Mayes are actually being encouraged to drop weight. The plan is for the senior to play his senior season at around 320 pounds.
“It’s better to be slimmer, a lighter weight, for all the schemes and blitzes we run,” Mayes said. “So 330 doesn’t too much fit in the scheme unless you’re in a goal-line situation.”
Todd Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2010-13, preferred bigger, physical nose guards. But his replacement, Jeremy Pruitt, and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker came to Georgia last year asking most of their players to drop weight.
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And despite a couple games when they could have used that massive nose tackle, the slimmer, faster and stronger philosophy has not changed.
“We don’t want fat guys,” head coach Mark Richt said this week. “We want their body fat to be right. But we do want them to have a certain amount of size.”
In the offseason training program, Georgia did more running than any other year in Richt’s tenure, the head coach said this week. So more guys dropped weight, but some of them were asked to then put it back on in muscle mass.
“We’ve gotta get stout enough to stand up to teams we’ll play defensively and be able to move people offensively,” Richt said. “But I think we’ve identified the guys we want to gain the weight. We’ve still got one or two guys that might need to trim up a bit. But everybody who’s a little heavy is not far from their target.”
Several Georgia defensive players said their weight has either dropped or they will try to get it down this summer. And Trent Thompson, the five-star recruit who could end up starting at nose tackle, is listed at 308 pounds.
That’s a lot, but a far cry from the 340 pounders that Grantham had at nose tackle: John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.
For the most part, Pruitt and Rocker’s philosophy worked last year. While Georgia yielded 166.9 rushing yards, an increase of 18 yards from the previous season, it was two games that spiked the average.
Florida racked up 418 yards on the ground and got the yards so easily it ran the ball 60 times and only tried six passes.
Georgia Tech and its triple-option had 399 rushing yards, trying 70 rushes and only 16 passes. While the Yellow Jackets put up big rushing yards on most everybody, it was the most they’ve had against Georgia since 2010.
“Just across the board, we made some slip-ups, and I felt like we got out-leveraged at times,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We’ve just gotta be mentally stronger for this upcoming season.”
In some other big games, the run defense put up great numbers. Clemson only had 88 rushing yards (or 126 without sacks), Missouri only had 50 (or 75 without sack yardage), and Louisville only had 62 yards (or 98 without sacks).
And the most impressive jobs might have been against Auburn and Arkansas, a pair of power-running teams. Auburn only had 150 rushing yards, and Arkansas was held to 126.
The stats in those games were helped by the score, as those opponents were forced to go to the air to try and catch up. Still, it did validate that a 3-4 defense doesn’t always have to have a 340-pounder too clog up the middle.
In those two bad games, the edges were as much the problem as up the gut. Georgia’s front was physically beaten too much, but the back was late to the ball and didn’t make plays.
“Two things can happen, really,” Richt said. “One is physically we get thrown around. And the other one is to maybe not make your run fits exactly as they should be, and then a big run spits out of there. There was probably a little bit of both in those games, with the amount of rushing yards that happened. The bottom line is, we’ve gotta be physical enough and play with good pad level and good fundamentals enough to keep from getting moved.”