As far as pieces go, there’s no shortage of them chomping at the bit to step up on Georgia’s defensive unit.
Players who played bit roles a year ago have the open door to play an even bigger part on the defensive side of the ball this year, notably with the loss of Davin Bellamy and Roquan Smith.
It’s a path that Georgia’s defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has been down before.
In 2011, while defensive coordinator of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, Tucker led a unit with a significant amount of turnover. That group ended up being among the best in the league, ranking sixth in yards allowed.
“In 2011 with Jacksonville, I think we had maybe eight or nine new starters and they were all free agents. Then they were coming off a lockout deal so we had spring training camp which was pretty tough, but every year there are different challenges,” Tucker told media on Saturday. “Every time you have a new player you have a new defense so we work really hard to develop all of our guys and get them ready to go. I’m excited about what we might be able to do.”
The unofficial identity of this year’s Georgia defense? Right now, it looks to be ‘next man up.’ Standouts like Tyler Clark, David Marshall and Monty Rice found themselves in emerging roles last season as the year went on. Pepper in those in the defensive backfield such as Deangelo Gibbs and Richard LeCounte, and the intense rigor of even the practice field in Athens should be ramped up even more.
“I’ve seen these guys mature, they have a better grasp of the defensive scheme. They work really hard in the weight room to develop and have developed good chemistry within that group and I think they’re hungry. They are all going to get opportunities,” Tucker said. “The depth chart is going to change from day to day and nothing is set in stone and we’re going to play our best guys. We want to create depth and we want as many guys what will help us as possible.”
Yes, faces may have changed on the defensive side of the ball for Georgia. One thing that has not, however, is the standard that is expected on the field.
“The standard of performance hasn’t been changed. We’re coaching our players and trying to develop them and teach them in a way that they can reach those standards. We always want to play great defense here regardless of who those players are,” Tucker said. “There are always going to be changes, there are always going to be new players step in and great players leave so that’s our job to get them ready. That’s why we’ve recruited well and we expect these guys to step in and play great defense for us.”
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Over time, Richard LeCounte has become more adept at Georgia’s defensive scheme, and the Bulldogs staff is eager to see how that translates to the field.
“Richard has a much better grasp of the defensive scheme. At this point, it’s about the details. Really, the devil is in the details in our defense. He’s been more disciplined at what we’ve asked him to do. He asks really good questions,” Tucker said. “He spent a lot of time in the offseason studying and I’ve seen his overall maturity level improve. We’ll see how far he goes in camp but I think the arrow is up with him.”
One of the immediate impacts from the offseason for Georgia may be the addition of Notre Dame transfer Jay Hayes, who’ll bolster the defensive line. To Tucker, Hayes brings both ability and some intangibles.
“He’s played a lot of football, he’s a mature guy, he’s a high-character guy, he’s a high-motor guy, he’s a leader, and he’s a team guy. He’s very unselfish,” Tucker said. “When you can add a guy like that to your roster, that’s like gold. We’ve been very happy with what he’s done so far. I think he’s fit in well with our group.”
Remember Sean Jones? Tucker sees a lot of him in Otis Reese
“I don’t see whether there’s any limitations on what position he can play in our secondary role as a safety and I feel good about that. I’m used to playing with big safeties,” Tucker said. “I remember a guy named Sean Jones with the Cleveland Browns; that joker was a nice sized guy and he hit you. (Otis) has done a nice job since he’s been here; he’s picking up things well. He practices really hard, gives tremendous effort.”