October 20, 2011

Defensive 'passion' key



There's a fine line between playing relentless and out of control, but it's one Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he continues to stress every day.

Football's a brutal sport, a physical sport for tough men to play.

That said, Grantham also knows there's a danger of going too far and as a result have players suspended like Kwame Geathers and Shawn Williams will be for the first half of next week's game against Florida.

"What I told our guys is you want to play hard from the snap of the ball to the end of the play. When that happens, you get back in the huddle," Grantham said. "But during that time you play hard, you play fast and you play physical. We've done that. We've had very few penalties on defense. In fact, that personal foul on Kwame may have been the first one we've had all year from a defensive perspective."

It's that passion that Grantham concedes could have led to some of the "chirping" referred to after the game by head coach Mark Richt.

Grantham agrees there probably needs to be less talking, just as long as the passion he feels his defense is playing with doesn't become compromised.

"They understand that," Grantham said. "They are guys who are passionate about this team, our defense and when you have that passion and have invested a lot it's hard to relinquish it, it's hard to give it up, it's hard not to stick up for it and it's hard not to care about it."

It's also hard when you don't have all your defensive bullets to shoot.

Such will be the case in the first half against the Gators, due to the suspensions of Geathers and Williams.

"Anytime you lose quality players like them it affects you. I think when you look at it Kwame was our most-improved guy in the spring. I think he really hung onto the trademark that we started from a defensive perspective as far as effort, intensity, focus and doing those things," Grantham said. "It's carried into other guys and when you look at Shawn, I think you can argue that he's maybe our most improved guy since I've got here, relative to how he played back then. He's a very physical guy. He understands the defense and has become a very good communicator. When guys start communicating that tells me they kind of understand."

But as Grantham is quick to add, absence also creates opportunities.

With Geathers out, Jonathan Jenkins will get most of, if not all, the reps the first half, while Sanders Commings is expected to move over to safety from corner with Jordan Love and Damian Swann getting more action, until Williams returns the second half.

Either way, Grantham did not give the impression that he was overly concerned.

"You've just got to understand that, hey, we're a team, and the guys that we have available, the guys will step up and they have all year," he said. "We'll have a game plan, those guys will play hard and we'll be fine."

Actually, Georgia has yet to play a single game with its projected starting 11 on defense totally intact.

Starting safety Bacarri Rambo was suspended for the opener against Boise State, the same contest the team lost Alec Ogletree to a foot injury that cost him the next six games.

Ogletree is back practicing and will play against the Gators, returning to his post at inside linebacker which was without junior Christian Robinson for two games due to a foot injury of his own.

Georgia also returns starting Will linebacker Cornelius Washington following his two-game suspension for DUI.

"Not really, but I've always said you always rank your players and find out what's the best combination for that week. That's really what we've done every week. We really haven't played a game with the guys we started out with as our first 11, but that's OK too, because those guys have worked hard. I think we've got a lot of mental toughness on this ball club on this defense, guys find a way to finish, while others have stepped up and embraced the roles they have," Grantham said. "Some guys have taken advantage of the opportunity, so we'll continue to do the same. We'll plug guys in and keep on moving."

Defensively, the Bulldogs are finishing games better than they did a season ago.

Last season, Georgia (5-2, 4-1) allowed 95 points from the fourth quarter on, but in its seven games thus far, have surrendered just 30.

"When you watch our team, I think truthfully the fourth quarter is a great indicator of where we've come from a mental toughness standpoint defensively. In the fourth quarter (against Vanderbilt), there's a span in there where we could have played better, but the bottom line is we stopped them three times in the fourth quarter," Grantham said. "I'm not sure I can sit here and say that would have happened a year ago and that's a credit to their mental toughness, the work ethic they've put in and the preparation of understanding situations. I think all of that comes into play to winning."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.