" Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy … the FEAR to attack."
** I apologize in advance for the length of the post. I’m still a grad student at heart and brevity just isn’t my style. **
Throughout last season and in the interim prior to this season, I and many others have expressed serious concerns about the limited pass rush (and therefore sacks and tackles for loss) of the Georgia defensive line. While one "Liberian Dream" has certainly been a source of optimism on the linebacker front, there are those who continue to fret over the pass rush generated by the defensive line in general, and the defensive ends in particular. Issues for concern among the Bulldog faithful have ranged from not tackling to the ground in practice, to a lack of intensity, to Slick Willie doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.
Those who know me or who have read my comments on UGA football, basketball, and baseball on this and other blogs know that I am an eternal optimist. I humbly submit this scenario as a frame of reference:
Last September 27th I awoke at the hour of 4:00 a.m. to make my way to the Myers Quad. Armed only with a homemade sign and a 20oz Dasani bottle filled with Red Bull and Vodka, I braved the surprisingly chilly conditions and took my place in line to gain entry to the College Gameday set. At approximately 8:15, I was admitted and took my place among fans and seekers of the illustrious 15 minutes of fame. Beginning at 10:00 I was a jumping, raving lunatic screaming my brains out and taunting Desmond Howard. Fellow students and fans quizzically looked upon my sign which didn’t fit in with such brilliant prose as "Tebow is Gay." I proudly hoisted my sign proclaiming "Who’s Afraid of the Armani Bear?" into the crisp Georgia air. In retrospect, I guess I should have been afraid…very afraid.
By 8:30 that night, what little shred of optimism I had left went deep, deep into hibernation. I didn’t sleep very well that night and I didn’t eat anything on Sunday. But by Monday, optimism, that pesky grizzly bear, awoke and found me online questioning the naysayers and telling everyone that we were gonna kill LSU, Florida, and Tech. (1 out of 3 isn’t that bad….and I never said I had a firm grasp on reality).
So, I believe that this story suffices to inform you that I am in fact a raging optimist of the first degree (regardless of how out of touch with sane thought my ramblings may sometimes be) .
So here we are, a little over a month and a half away from, honest to God, college football, and on the surface there is comparatively little reason for optimism in terms of the Georgia pass rush. However, if you look deeper….much deeper, you will find the delicious, chewy nougat center of hope at the base of the Georgia D-line. I’m here to bring you the news fellow Dawg fans….and the news is tasty.
1) The Ballad of Slick Willie and Jon "Crazy Legs" Fabris
I know its fashionable to crap on Willie and Jon, and in terms of special teams, Lord knows they deserve it. However, those who are quick to blame our Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Ends coach for our pass rush woes need to remember one thing:
"They’re after our precious bodily fluids"
These men have been there before. Entering several of their seasons with questions about who will be the dominant pass rusher, Martinez and Fabris have coached up guys who had no history of being dominant pass rushers. Look at Marcus Howard. In 2006 Howard had 0 sacks and 0 tackles for loss despite playing in all 13 games. In 2007, the "Colt-Killing Machine" had 10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. How about Charles Johnson? In 2005 he had 4 sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss. In 2006, 9.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Quentin Moses you say? 6.5 sacks and 7.5 TFL’s in 2004 (under the nostalgically remembered Van Gorder) to 11.5 and 20.5 respectively in 2005 (under Slick Willie). And David Pollack didn’t go from 3-star recruit to 1st round draft pick magically. Point is, Fabris and, to a lesser extent, Martinez have made a habit out of taking mid level performing D-Linemen and turning them into beasts over the course of their college careers with an average yearly improvement of 7 sacks and 11.8 TFL in the one year spans mentioned above. A look at other less notable players yields similar results as well. What a coincidence, we have several mid-level performing D-linemen returning. So lets look at this years likely candidates and what their numbers might do this year (in a purely hypothetical sense based on the past performance of the three players listed above).
Dobbs - 08: 2.0 sacks 2.0 TFL Potential 09 Numbers: 9.0 Sacks 13.8 TFL
Houston- 08: 2.5 Sacks 4.5 TFL Potential 09 Numbers/2 for Asshattery: 4.75 sacks 8.15 TFL
Battle - 08: 0.5 Sacks 3.5 TFL Potential 09 Numbers: 7.5 sacks 15.3 TFL
Feeling better about the pass rush? I know I am. Also note that this does not include new players, Kiante Tripp who played on the offensive side last year, or the return of a healthy Geno Atkins/Jeff Owens combo at the tackle position (which is in all likelihood the sole reason for the slowed improvement evident last year) . Now obviously all of these guys won’t pan out but now you know that the potential is there.
Feel free to continue questioning both men about special teams play and that God forsaken directional kicking, but cut them some slack on the pass rush. I assure you, they’ve got it handled.
For those of you who continue to doubt….wait, there’s more.
2) Breaking Down This Year’s Opponents
As a defensive line coach (although sadly at the middle school level) I am acutely aware that when dealing with developing pass rushers, sometimes the most valuable asset is a less experienced opponent. So to see how this year’s squad might fair comparatively, I’ve done a little analysis of each team (based on the most recent depth chart) on this year’s slate (in some cases compared to last year) to see how the offensive firepower will stack up against our pass rush.
Game One: Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State returns 4 offensive linemen with multiple years of experience and 1 with just a year under his belt. Now keep in mind that the years of experience are against Big 12 defenses so make of that what you will. Nonetheless…
Verdict: Significantly HARDER than the only semi-comparable team on last years schedule (C. Mich.)
If the boys get a bunch of sacks and TFL’s against this group they’ll probably have a great year.
Game Two: South Carolina
South Carolina returns 4 experienced linemen (although 2 with only 1 year of play) and will be breaking in a red shirt at one of the guard spots. Compared with last year’s line…
Verdict: Slightly HARDER
Game Three: Arkansas
Arkansas is one of the most inexperienced starting groups we will play all year (1 player with 3 years experience, 3 with 1 year experience, and a first year starter at guard). Compared to an Alabama team that shifted off the schedule and brought an experienced line with two linemen drafted in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft (Including OT Andre Smith at #6 overall), this one is…
Verdict: Significantly EASIER
Game Four: Arizona State
This group returns 2 multiyear starters and 2 single year starter while breaking in a new center. So they have some experience…but this same group was pretty terrible throughout last season. So compared to last season…
Game Five: LSU
Aside from the elusiveness of their quarterback, LSU is in serious rebuilding mode on the line (bet they wish they had Searles). Three returning starters and two true freshmen at guard and center.
Verdict: Slightly EASIER (Who knows if we’ll beat ‘em after that shellacking they laid on Tech, but we should get more of a pass rush).
Game Six: Tennessee
On paper, Tennessee should be improved on the O-Line based purely on experience. On the other hand I don’t know how useful the experience gained during last season could be and since these guys are back, I look for whoever takes the snaps for the Vols to be on their butt a lot this year. Plus, you know Lane’s gonna throw out some crazy package that’s gonna get his quarterback half killed. I’m going with my gut on this one.
Game Seven: Vanderbilt
Vandy has multiple year starters returning at every position. O-Line is one area they should be fairly decent.
Game Eight: Florida
Florida returns 4 very experienced players from last years MNC team but is breaking in a red shirt at guard. They lose Trautwein and Watkins. There is very little experienced depth behind these 5 so if anyone should get injured it could get dicey. Since it can’t get any worse than last year and two experienced players are gone…
** For the purposes of this analysis, Tennessee Tech has been omitted because I had a hard time finding their depth chart and, frankly, if we can’t get into the backfield in this game the whole exercise is sort of moot.
Game Ten: Auburn
Auburn returns mostly the same lineup as last year (although like with Tennessee, what kind of experience are we talking about?). On the plus side they do have solid depth along the O-Line.
Game Eleven: Kentucky
Kentucky returns experienced starters all across the line…but such was the case last year.
Game Twelve: Georgia Tech
Tech returns roughly the same group from last year, although they must replace Andrew Gardner who was taken in the 6th round of the NFL Draft.
Verdict: Slightly EASIER
Overall: 5 EASIER, 3 HARDER, and 3 PUSHES. Additionally, it should be noted that the easier teams are those with whom we usually have difficulty and that has to be worth something.
3) It Can’t Get Any Worse
The old stand by of the eternal optimist. But you know what, it’s science! Barring some sort of apocalyptic event or an ill-timed outbreak of swine flu, I refuse to believe that the 2009 D-Line can’t outpace the 1.0 sacks per game and 3.07 tackles for loss per game posted by the 2008 squad. In 2008, the group was out pass rushed by the linebackers and the secondary which is flat out unacceptable. In 2009, I firmly believe that healthy depth, however inexperienced, will make up for this egregious occurrence.
There are no guarantees in college football and if I’ve learned anything from being an eternal optimist, its that predicting a season record or an outcome against a particular opponent is a disaster waiting to happen. I can’t tell you how Joe Cox will do, if we’ll find a solution at RB, or if one of the incoming WR’s will pan out like AJ Green did. But what I can tell you is that in 2009, based on the history of the program under Martinez/Fabris, the returning defensive starters at UGA and the returning offensive starters for our opponents, and God help us the law of averages, the D-line will be substantially improved in terms of the pass rush and should grace us with more frequent sacks and tackles for loss (at least from the perspective of the optimist). How many more will depend on how sold out Battle, Dobbs, Ball, Houston, Tripp, Washington, Longo, Atkins, Owens, Weston, Tyson, Crawford, Wheeling, and Wood are to completely destroying the enemy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this delicious wall of text as much as I've enjoyed writing it (Thanks Kyle!) and please share your thoughts, hopes, and positives/negatives about the 2009 pass rush as you see it …