AUGUSTA – The best defense Mark Richt remembers seeing was also the most simple.
“Basically one front and one coverage, probably 80 percent of every game they played,” Richt said of the Miami Hurricanes of the mid-1980s. “They played a 4-3 and a cover-2.”
Then Richt, a Hurricane quarterback in those days, mimicked the simple play calls he heard on the sideline:
“You sit there every down: ‘Thirty-stack cover-2. Thirty-stack cover-2. Thirty-ONE stack cover-2. Thirty-TWO cover stack-2.’
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“Over and over. And they kicked everybody’s butt.”
That history lesson from Georgia’s head football coach is evidence of how much his defense has changed in just a few months.
For four years, the complicated NFL-inspired schemes of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were lauded. They prepared players for the next level, and helped Georgia have a top-five defense in 2012.
But the transition to new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has basically flipped the emphasis from complicated to simple – and much of it out of necessity, as Richt acknowledged.
First, go back to the end of last season. Georgia’s defense struggled, but Richt emphasized the importance of stability. Nobody was being fired, and 10 starters were due to return on defense.
Then Grantham left for Louisville. Two days later Pruitt replaced him. Eventually there was complete turnover among full-time defensive assistants, and then the player attrition began.
Three defensive backs who started at least four games either left the program (Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins) or the defense (Brendan Langley moved to receiver.) And of those remaining, there’s been little talk of being a returning starter. The emphasis has been on every job being open.
Pruitt said this spring he didn’t intend to make a call that he didn’t think his defense could execute. Richt heard that comment and called it “music to my ears.” Speaking before a UGA Day event in Augusta on Monday, Richt elaborated.
“I think Jeremy’s wise enough to go at a pace where our guys are going to really know what we’re doing. When you have stability and carryover you have more ability to do more things because guys know what they’re doing. But if you’re starting from scratch and you’ve gotta play a little more basic fundamental football, there’s nothing wrong with that either.”
The attrition in the secondary this offseason might seem alarming. That was the biggest area of concern heading into next season, and now it has lost three players with starting experience, including the team leader in interceptions (Wiggins) and the third-leading tackler (Harvey-Clemons.)
But Richt countered that “we got plenty of guys.” That includes J.J. Green, who moved from tailback this spring and Richt said will now “more than likely” end up the starter at the star position. And the head coach made clear that the incoming recruits, such as Malkom Parrish, have a high likelihood of playing right away.
“We’ll be fine,” Richt said of the secondary. “I mean shoot, Jeremy said three of his players that played (in the secondary) at Florida State last year were true freshmen. And it may be we have some freshmen that play. But whoever’s in there will be disciplined and know what they’re doing and play it well. So we think we’ll be fine.”