Pruitt keeping it simple at Georgia

semerson@macon.comMarch 20, 2014 

ATHENS -- Before plays there would be the frantic waves, as players hurried in confusion to get in place. Afterwards, there would be the hands up in exasperation, players trying to figure out what went wrong.

Those were the images of Georgia’s defense in 2013.

That’s what Jeremy Pruitt is aiming to fix.

It’s just two practices into Pruitt’s tenure as defensive coordinator, but it’s already apparent that he’s doing his best to simply things. For one, Pruitt said he would last month, and with the onset of spring practice this week, his new players have picked up on it.

“It’s a lot more easy,” senior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson said.

“It gives everybody a chance to be a player,” sophomore safety Quincy Mauger said. “Do what we came here for as a D-1 athlete. Make plays. We don’t have to think a lot about ‘Where do we need to be?’ and ‘What is this guy doing?’ ”

Under former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Georgia ran a more complicated scheme, which helped with a proven veteran unit. But it can be the undoing of a young unit, leading to communication problems and players being out of position.

Grantham mostly resisted the idea his schemes were too complicated. He also maintained that last year’s young defense had less thrown at it than the veteran units of 2011 and 2012.

But whatever the case, it was obvious that defenders were confused last year.

“I think that was a problem last year, because we had a lot of younger guys playing who couldn’t pick up on the system as quick as others,” senior nose tackle Mike Thornton said. “So this is gonna help to our advantage a lot.”

Thornton is entering his fifth year in the program, so he’s in as good a position as anybody to assess how Pruitt’s playbook is different than Grantham’s. The two defensive coordinators come from similar backgrounds, each running a 3-4 base defense, so the plays and schemes are going to be similar.

But the terminology is a bit simpler so far under Pruitt, according to Thornton.

“It’s not a lot of trying to think on the fly, or read keys a little bit quicker than you have to,” Thornton said. “It’s basically he calls a play, we get to it, we make an adjustment, and we just go. We go balls (out).”

Was that what this defense needed?

“Yeah,” Thornton said.

Two practices is hard to gauge. But a couple defensive backs noticed that Pruitt didn’t move on from the implementation of one play until he felt everyone understood it.

“He’s not going to move on from something unless you get it,” senior safety Corey Moore said. “If you don’t get it, he’s not gonna install something new or move on to something. He wants all his players to get it and make sure everyone is on the same page. That’s what I respect him for, because he’s making sure everybody’s on board.”

Last season, the player who bore the brunt of the communication issues was Damian Swann. The cornerback was the only returning starter in the secondary, which ended up being dominated by freshmen.

Swann, then a junior, admitted it was hard last year balancing his own assignments with directing basically everyone else.

“Trying to direct and play other things and tell people what to play?” Swann said. “It’s kind of hard because it’s so much going on (out there) on the field.”

When Swann was a freshman, he had veterans (and future NFL draft picks) Brandon Boykin, Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams teaching him the plays and helping get him in the right spot before plays.

Last season, it was basically Swann and then-senior Connor Norman, and Norman didn’t play as much after the first couple weeks.

“Me being the lone guy trying to teach it to people, I think it was kind of hard for me, and for them,” Swann said.

And, of course, it’s no accident that the most inexperienced unit on the team was also the worst. Georgia’s pass defense ranked ninth in the SEC.

This year, players are hoping Pruitt can slow the game down so they can speed up.

“Instead of overthinking he just really truly wants you to show a lot of effort, and he’ll coach you up on everything else,” Thornton said.

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