ATHENS, Ga. — With nine starters back from a Georgia defense that recorded 21 sacks and 11 interceptions in the final four games of last season, the 2008 opener against Georgia Southern can’t get here soon enough for some players.
“It’s like we’ve come together and already bonded,” safety Reshad Jones said. “I feel like everybody is on the same level. We might have a couple of guys who haven’t started, but they’re considered starters, so we feel pretty comfortable out there running around with each other.”
Georgia’s defense has owned the first five spring practices (the sixth was delayed from Wednesday till today because of inclement weather). Quarterback Matthew Stafford can’t be hit in practice and tailback Knowshon Moreno is getting only limited work after a 1,334-yard season, but that hasn’t kept coach Mark Richt from bragging on his defenders.
It’s anything but a “we’ve got a long way to go” routine.
“There is a lot of great competition, and that’s the great thing right now,” Richt said. “There are at least five defensive ends that are ready to play and have already played. There are four interior defensive linemen that are ready to play, so we are at least two deep in those spots and maybe three deep.
“To have that many guys who you have confidence can play gives you a chance to withstand injuries and gives you a chance to play harder, because you’re not asking one guy to be the hero down after down after down.”
Richt believes he has four proven cornerbacks (Bryan Evans, Asher Allen, Prince Miller and Ramarcus Brown) and a fifth (Vance Cuff) who’s close. He didn’t even delve into the linebacker positions, which may be the deepest of all, even after the revelation earlier this week of Marcus Washington’s likely season-ending shoulder surgery.
With 18 defenders who played in the Sugar Bowl racing around this spring, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has the right to be just as giddy but pledges it’s business as usual.
“We’re going to do what we do, and we’ve always stressed fundamentals and technique and just trying to get better,” Martinez said. “That hasn’t changed. We do have some guys who have more experience coming back this year than we had last year, and hopefully that helps us with leadership.”
Martinez said younger players such as Cuff, John Knox and Quintin Banks in the secondary and Michael Lemon, Demarcus Dobbs, Neland Ball and Justin Houston up front are receiving a lot of teaching. He hopes they can push older counterparts, which could help provide a repeat of last season’s stretch run in which more people played.
Middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is Georgia’s lone returning defensive starter who redshirted in 2004, when the Bulldogs were similarly stacked on defense. That defense had more All-SEC talent returning with David Pollack, Odell Thurman and Thomas Davis, but this year’s team returns more starters.
“This has probably been the most guys who have come back and know what they’re doing since ’04, I would say,” Ellerbe said. “There has definitely been more intensity out there, because guys are not playing timid. Guys are knowing what to do, so of course they are going to play faster. So far, it’s been a great spring.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...