ATHENS, Ga. — It was just two seasons ago that Georgia’s defense was anchored by a pair of 350-pound nose tackles. The big, physical players offered a point of pride for the a defense and helped Georgia get to consecutive SEC championship games.
But Tracy Rocker, the team’s new defensive line coach, studied tape of that second championship game, the loss to Alabama, and saw a problem.
“They go to the championship, and you turn on that tape, and the first thing everybody saw (was), they couldn’t get off the blocks,” Rocker said. “That answers a lot of questions.”
And that’s why the days of big nose tackles are gone at Georgia, at least as long as Rocker and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt are around.
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In order to adapt to a game that has become more up-tempo, the Bulldogs are emphasizing getting lighter at all defensive positions. Pruitt thinks his defense as a whole is “too big” and needs to cut down. That’s a departure from the previous defensive staff, which liked big nose tackles — and even bigger defensive backs — in order to play a physical brand of defense.
Pruitt’s philosophy is for a leaner, faster style.
“I think it’s a little different philosophy,” Pruitt said. “I think the old staff maybe wanted them a little bigger, kind of how they wanted to play. We want to be a little leaner, so we can sustain for four quarters.”
But while all Georgia defensive players have to drop pounds, the most work has to be done with Rocker’s linemen. Being in better shape means getting off the blocks better but also getting off the field quicker for a substitute.
“It’s hard to get a 350-pound man off the field,” Rocker said. “That’s not going to be very smart.”
And no, it’s not as easy as simply subbing a lot, according to Rocker. In a game situation, when the offense is hurrying to run the next play, there simply isn’t enough time.
“As the game progresses, you may get off that field; you may not,” Rocker said. “Yeah, the ref is standing over the ball, but it’s still a fast process, and you’ve got to be ready to go. You can’t be looking around. You might just say stay (on the field).
“I feel good about it. Pruitt’s got a good plan for it. We’ve just gotta get in better shape.”
John Taylor is listed at 336 pounds. Ideally, he would get down to at least 315, per Rocker. Some players around 320 (such as Chris Mayes and John Atkins) might need to get down to 300 and some at 300 down to 295.
Rocker didn’t call out any single player, but he just emphasized that everybody has to trim down.
“That’s going to happen. I mean, that’s going to be the No. 1 thing, is we’re gonna have to trim them all down and get them under weight,” Rocker said. “Because this league, it’s a lot of no-huddle, and we can’t be 330 pounds out there. We’ll get that done. But it’ll be up to them to do it, too. We’ve got time. But it’s going fast.”
“The way these offenses go now, and they go so fast, you don’t get to sub a lot,” Pruitt said. “If a guy is stuck in there, he’s gotta be able to play. To me, if you’re in shape, then you don’t make mental errors, because fatigue makes a coward out of everybody. So we need to get in shape as a football team. We’re nowhere where we need to be.”
Strength coach Joe Tereshinski will make sure of that in the offseason, Pruitt added.
Coincidentally, Pruitt and Rocker were discussing this a few hours after the NCAA took steps to allow schools to provide unlimited meals and snacks to players. While some might joke about it making players fatter, it actually should help, as teams can more closely monitor what their players are eating.
Rocker said that’s how it was when he was a player at Auburn in the late 1980s.
“We knew what we were eating; we knew what we were getting,” Rocker said. “We were limited. ‘Nope, you’re on the fat plan, (or) you’re not on the fat plan.’ That’s the way it was when we came along.”