Although some may look nervously - and rightfully so - at the fact Georgia will be replacing so many defensive starters for the 2013 campaign, head coach Mark Richt said he and his staff are taking a different approach.
"I think we all are. If we walked out there and didn't see the talent base to compete, I think we'd be concerned," Richt said during the SEC's post-spring teleconference Wednesday. "But I think we're excited because there's just a lot of guys who are really anxious to prove that they can do it and I think there's enough talent here to be successful. There's a lot of work to do, obviously, but the guys are hungry, willing and I think there's enough to work with."
Unlike last year, when there was barely any competition for starting jobs, that certainly won't be the case once preseason drills kick off in August.
Although the Bulldogs count eight different players who started on defense at one point or the other last fall, only linebacker Jordan Jenkins, defensive end Garrison Smith and cornerback Damian Swann actually qualify as fulltime starters back from a season ago.
"We've got an awful lot of competition right now for jobs, especially on defense. I think that's healthy for us. I think we've got the right ingredients, but we'll have to wait and see until we start playing somebody besides ourselves," Richt said. "But again, we've got enough of a talent base to get it done. We've just got to get everybody going in the right direction, playing hard and hopefully staying healthy."
It will be defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's job to get the group in working order.
Entering his fourth season at Georgia, Grantham's first season in Athens was spent getting the Bulldog defense in order running the 3-4. The next year, Georgia finished fifth national in total defense only to scuffle last fall as early-season suspensions preceded to some less-than-stellar performances, especially against the run where the Bulldogs gave up an average of 182 yards per game.
Richt said he's confident his defensive coordinator will have the answers.
"There's so much more diversity with offenses in college compared to the NFL that until you go back and live through it a little bit, you learn some things as you go," Richt said. "When you play these people the second time around you learn a little better of how to defend and everybody has a working knowledge of the system so it's easier to adjust."
Getting ready for Clowney
Finalizing defensive plans over the next few months isn't the only item on Georgia's agenda the next few months.
Although most of the focus is currently on recruiting where coaches are traveling to take advantage of the spring evaluation period, eventually thoughts will turn to Clemson and South Carolina who loom as the first two opponents up on the 2013 football schedule.
Coming up with a way to scheme Gamecock All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will take up much of that time.
"We ought to spend some time this summer on that. We always spend a lot of time on our first two opponents so that will be a natural this year. It was about Game 6 last year and we probably didn't sit around thinking about it as much as we will this summer," Richt said. "You've just got to figure out a way to get the ball off, run the ball successfully and neutralize him in some way shape or form and know that he's a great player and is probably going to make some plays. When he does you've got to overcome it. You've just got to try to be able to overcome it but you can't let him totally ruin you day so you've got to try find a way to neutralize him."
Gurley, Marshall receive praise
Bulldog fans know what Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall can do on the field.
But it's what they do off it - or don't do - that brings an added smile to their head coach's face.
In other words, after suffering through off-field situations with backs like Isaiah Crowell and Washaun Ealey, Marshall and Gurley have handled their on-field success with aplomb.
"They both came from wonderful families," Richt said. "They've got tremendous values coming in and as much success as they've had and as much opportunities they have a lot of fun - fun in good ways and some in bad ways - I think they're smart enough to know and they've got enough inside of them from how they were raised to feel like they understand the celebrity they've got."
Richt couldn't be more proud of that.
"I see them training in that way, I see them handling academics that way and I've not heard a peep about anything off the field," Richt said. "I think they represent themselves very well. I do get positive comments from teachers and instructors for two years or people. Sometimes I get emails from people who might have met them at a restaurant or something, run into them at the grocery store or whatever, and told they stopped to take pictures, sign autographs, that kind of thing. They really represent Georgia well. I'm not shocked by it, but I am thankful for it."
This and that
Richt also had had positive words for Jenkins, his sophomore outside linebacker. "Jordan is another guy who came in with a lot of expectations, played right away and played very well. He's another disciplined guy, on the field, off the field and very serious about school and another kid who is representing us extremely well and I'm proud of him, too," Richt said. "Before, he was under the wing of Jarvis Jones, and he wanted to be. He embraced the role of Jarvis trying to help him and learn how to play the position. Now it's his chance to play and lead and be productive. I think he's taken it real seriously."
Richt said quarterback Aaron Murray is determined to have a successful final season with the Bulldogs. "He's still driven to get better and to compete and do the things you have to do to be special in this league," Richt said. "I think he had a great spring and I'm very confident that this summer is going to be in good hands with his leadership, especially on the offensive side of the ball and he'll help the defense get organized as well."