ATHENS -- Todd Grantham was calm and measured, like he was the one about to open practice with an all-star lineup. Mike Bobo, on the other hand, preached about urgency, and at one point got a bit chippy with the media.
When it comes to the Georgia football team, there are contrasting expectations, and thus a different set of talking points.
The men who run the Bulldogs’ offense and defense spoke with the media to preview the start of practice, which is next Thursday.
Grantham’s defense has just a handful of returning starters, and one key player suspended for the highly anticipated opener, so his approach seems to be patience. Bobo’s offense returns almost every player after a record-setting year, so he is trying to stave off overconfidence.
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“I talk about it every day: ignore the noise,” Bobo said. “Two years ago, we weren’t worth a crap, last year the defense was gonna carry it. It don’t matter. We’ve gotta get ready to play the game the best we can.”
Typically, Bobo, entering his seventh full season as offensive coordinator, has set some statistical goals for his offense. After shattering expectations last year -- Georgia set school records for points and touchdowns -- Bobo on Wednesday set out some different goals.
“We want to lead the league in having the least amount of turnovers,” he said. “We don’t want to have a lot of penalties. We don’t want to have missed assignments.”
“If we do that, we’ll be successful on offense. And to do that, you’ve gotta be very detailed-oriented. We’ve gotta be disciplined. So that’s what we’ll talk about. There’ll be plenty enough time to get into Clemson and watch them and gameplan for them. Because at the end of the day it’ll be about our execution.”
The biggest question mark for the offense is the offensive line. It’s unknown who will be the left tackle protecting quarterback Aaron Murray’s blind side. Only a couple of starting spots are ensured.
Bobo appeared weary of the subject. When asked what needed to be decided about the line this preseason, he smiled and chirped back: “Y’all love that, don’t you? Who the best five are. That’s what we’ve gotta decide.”
At another point, Bobo acknowledged that it was his role to be curmudgeon in the offensive meeting room, while seeming to grant that the high expectations for his unit are justified.
“There is no doubt there is that confidence there that these guys have had success,” Bobo said. “So that is something that we will build on. And these kids don’t lack confidence. They believe that they’re gonna light up the scoreboard every time they touch the ball.
“So I’m kind of the guy that tries to bring them down to earth every once in awhile and say, ‘Hey, we gotta go to work and do this to get to where we want to go.’”
Grantham, meanwhile, can sympathize with the position Bobo was in at this time last year. It was the Georgia defense that entered the season with nearly every starter back from a unit that ranked in the top five nationally. But the defense struggled for most of the season, players later saying they bought too much into their own hype.
This year, the defense returns only four starters, and projects to play at least one true freshman, free safety Tray Matthews.
Grantham pointed out he has 17 new players, the majority of whom enrolled early and went through spring practice. But some potential immediate impact players are just arriving, including safety Shaq Fluker, cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
“The big thing is we need to evaluate the talent; that’s the first thing,” Grantham said. “Then you’ve gotta develop the talent. Then you’ve gotta define the roles for your players and what they can do and how they can help you win.”
Speaking for the first time since Josh Harvey-Clemons’ suspension for the Clemson game, Grantham said that Damian Swann, the No. 1 cornerback, could end up in the nickel-back role Harvey-Clemons was expected to play when the team was in a 4-2-5 lineup. In the base 3-4 defense, the replacement at strong safety could be senior Connor Norman, junior Corey Moore or junior college transfer Fluker.
“We’ll kind of mess with it the first third of training camp, to see how those guys progress,” Grantham said.
Freshman receiver Tramel Terry will be available on a limited basis on the first day of practice. Terry tore his ACL last December and sat out spring practice.
“We don’t want to rush him back,” Bobo said.
Wideout Michael Bennett is “close to 100 percent,” after ACL surgery last season. He still may wear a small sleeve or brace on his surgically-repaired knee, but Bobo said the goal is to get out of that.
Junior college transfer Toby Johnson will start out at end, rather than nose tackle, according to Grantham. John Taylor, who moved from end to nose during the spring, could move back to nose if the team likes the way Johnson and the other ends perform.