ATHENS — Damian Swann recalled the unsettled feeling of those several days in January, not sure who his position coach would be, then not sure who his defensive coordinator would be. Then in one swoop the answer to both questions became Jeremy Pruitt.
“It brought a lot of guy’s spirits up,” Swann said Wednesday. “Because me personally I was sitting without a position coach, then a couple days later we lost a coordinator, and a lot of guys were wondering who was gonna coach us. And then (head coach Mark) Richt went and got the perfect guy to put in our system.”
Swann wasn’t alone in the sentiment. It has been two months since Todd Grantham left abruptly for Louisville, replaced two days later by Pruitt. Based on last year’s results it’s an upgrade for Georgia, which finished with the nation’s 45th-ranked defense last year, then hired the man who ran the No. 3 defense.
Swann and other Bulldogs defensive players stayed away Wednesday from criticizing the previous coaching staff. But in their first media availability since Pruitt was hired, the players agreed that a fresh start will be welcomed by a group that struggled immensely.
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“This is a moment when guys can reinvent themselves,” said defensive end Ray Drew, who will be a senior. “Throw away maybe some negative caricatures that they might have built up the first year or so. Reinvent themselves and become the player they want to be.”
“A lot of guys probably needed a fresh slate, to try to get in the rotation and earn playing time,” Swann said. “Because once a coach is in a system and players are established, it’s kind of hard for a guy to even find his way in the mix, unless you’re just a freakish athlete. I think with the new staff, we’ve got a lot of guys who are gonna get a fresh start. And I think a lot of guys are looking forward to it.”
Jordan Jenkins, an outside linebacker who will be a junior, was one of the few who was personally recruited by Grantham and was also coached by him. They had a close relationship. But Jenkins said he has embraced the new defensive staff.
“I feel like we’ve got all the awkward silences out of the way,” Jenkins said. “Not knowing when to laugh and when not to laugh. Now it’s sort of got to that family-type feel. ...
“We know (the new coaches) have great backgrounds. We know that’s what we need, now we know we’ve got great coaches all around. Now it’s up to us to listen, to learn and start producing.”
Pruitt has been watching film, but beyond what he has seen in mat drills, he is holding back on evaluating the players he inherits.
“It’s hard to tell, because you don’t play it on the mats,” Pruitt said. “I think when we get out there on the grass, and after we get 15 practices, I can probably give you a better answer than right now.”
One player Pruitt will not have at his disposal is Josh Harvey-Clemons. The sophomore safety was dismissed from the team last month, meaning the team loses its third-leading tackler.
Swann admitted it was a loss that would be felt, but he also knows his team has become used to such dismissals.
“We’re gonna miss that big body standing back there who can come downhill, who can blitz off the edge and make a tackle and who can stay back and play in coverage,” Swann said. “But the way you’ve gotta look at it is it’s not our first rodeo with guys being released.”