We are now less than three weeks away from the playing of honest-to-goodness SEC football, as most schools will crank things up officially at the beginning of August. By now you've probably digested the preseason magazines which have been out since around Independence Day, and you're getting really tired of offseason shenanigans.
Like me, you're ready to see what Todd Grantham and his new-look defense can do. There's reason for optimism, of course. Grantham comes highly recommended. He's got enthusiasm, and he's brought along a bevy of assistants known for their intensity and attention to detail, the two traits most lacking in the 2009 Georgia defense. The talent is surely there, as you'll not find better athletes in the country than Boykin, Houston, Washington and their cohorts. I do not know a lot of Georgia Bulldog fans (besides blackertai) who truly in his or her heart of hearts believes that this defense will be worse than last season's. Even Kyle thinks that the 'Dawgs' defense has one of the necessary (though not sufficient) ingredients to do big things. Plus, of course, "no Willie Martinez!!! rabble, rabble two-thumbs down!!!, rabble, rabble." Really, so goes the prevailing wisdom, what could possibly go wrong here?
Some guys I take pretty seriously say that Todd Grantham is a guy you should take seriously. That's reason for optimism. But lest you forget, we here at Dawg Sports never need a reason for pessimism, because in college football your luck can change just that fast. Hence the following.
Plenty could go wrong, friends. As anyone who's ever taken a law school exam knows, if you don't see the problems it's only because you haven't looked hard enough. So I'm going to kick over a few rocks looking for what could go wrong with the Georgia defense in 2010. With the way things have been going, I'll probably break my toe, but that's a chance I'm willing to take in the name of tempered expectations. Among other things, I'm worried about:
Double teams on the nose. With only three down linemen the nose tackle will now face a lot of double teams from the guard and center where the two 4-3 defensive tackles used to get a guard or center one on one. Some of this will be "combo" blocking in which one of the offensive linemen gets a piece of the nose then moves on to a linebacker. But constant doubling takes a physical toll on the big guys, and the guys we have are either untested in this defense (Deangelo Tyson) or untested period (Kwame Geathers, Justin Anderson). Until we demonstrate some depth in the middle, it would not be unrealistic to expect some problems against the run. Thankfully, many of our early opponents (Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee) have depth/experience/historic mediocrity issues on the offensive line. Colorado still needs to find a servicable tailback. Hopefully some people will step up as the year goes along and this one will become less of an issue as the year goes on. Then again, Florida and Auburn have two of the most experienced offensive lines in the country for what that's worth, so if you want to believe that the pity party up front will last 'till Thanksgiving I can't really fault you for it.
Experience is never secondary, especially when your secondary is inexperienced. We've heard nothing but positives about Vance Cuff's development, Brandon Boykin seems like an emerging playmaker, and Bacarri Rambo could well be on the verge of going from fan favorite to All-SEC. But those are all observations about potential. And "potential" as the old maxim goes, "means you haven't done anything yet worth bragging about." If those guys come through, if Quentin Banks comes back from injury and plays up to potential, if Jakar Hamilton makes a seemless transition from GMC to the SEC, and Sanders Commings, Alec Ogletree and Nick Williams come along for the rise, then we should be in good shape in the defensive backfield. But there's still a lot that could go wrong back there. Especially early in the year against the likes of Ryan Mallett and Stephen Garcia, who despite their poor off-field choices in transportation and beverage consumption, respectively, can wing the football and are coached by guys who love to make opposing secondaries look foolish.
Justin Houston: still a bad man, still only one man. A lot of people would say that the lack of depth at outside linebacker is their major worry for this season's iteration of the Georgia Bulldog defense. I disagree, to a point. Justin Houston has been pretty durable during his Bulldog career (when he hasn't been suspended). And I believe true freshman Brandon Burrows will play from day one, and will surprise a lot of people. Cornelius Washington has the potential to put up amazing numbers, as David Hale notes from some idyllic locale in the Pacific. Assuming, of course, that he stays in one piece and that piece is on the field. Jeremy Longo has the potential to do great things in this defense, as it plays to the strength he's exhibited since he came out of high school: running to the quarterback. What worries me most is not our outside linebacking corps, it's our outside linebacking corps if something happens to Justin Houston. Because while other guys can play quality snaps, he's the only guy in that group who seems guaranteed to provide game-changing snaps.
The I-word. I almost hate to say it. After a 2008 that was Biblical in scope and variety, 2009 was a relatively injury-free season. And we're heading into 2010 without a lot of guys out of action from the get-go. Which means that things can only go downhill from here. This defense only has so much experience to begin with. Losing any of a few guys (Tyson, Houston, Dent, Gamble, Dobbs) takes the experience level down fast.
The other I-word. Inconsistency. One of the hallmarks of new offensive and defensive schemes is that they seem to work like a charm one week and then look like they should go the way of the dodo the next. The fact is that every opponent we play will be seeing our defensive personnel playing in this defense for the first time. They'll have studied a lot of film of Coach Grantham's defenses in Cleveland, and Coach Lakatos's units at UConn. But they really won't know exactly what's coming. This is an advantage, but it's not a guarantee. People who win the lottery don't know it's coming, but the checks still cash. At some point this season somebody (Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn) is going to come up with a plan that burns this shiny new defense. At that point it's only a question of how badly, and how we react.
Of course there's a lot more that could go in here, but you get the idea. I'm not saying the reconstruction of the Georgia defense won't go smoothly in year one. I'm just saying that smooth is a relative term. As always, your thoughts on what could go awry with the Georgia defense in 2010 are appreciated in the comments. Until later . . .