September 2, 2010

Breaking down the defense/special teams

With two days to go, the pieces are basically in place. Now, it's time to see how Todd Grantham's defense and the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme execute its plan under actual game conditions.

Louisiana-Lafayette is first up on the docket in the Sept. 4 season-opener before the Bulldogs travel to South Carolina to kick off the SEC portion of the 2010 slate.

The entire Bulldog Nation is anxious to see what transpires on the field and today UGASports breaks down the defense and special teams, position by position, as Georgia prepares for the opener against the Rajun' Cajuns.

Outside Linebacker

Justin Houston will be one of the two starters at outside linebacker. That much we know. Who starts opposite him at Sam?

[db]Cornelius Washington was thought to be the favorite heading into preseason camp but senior Darryl Gamble has gotten off to the kind of start which makes him difficult to ignore.

Gamble was moved to outside linebacker back in the spring, and has picked up six combined sacks in Georgia's first two scrimmages.

Either way, both will play and play a lot as Grantham plans on rotating his players on a pretty regular basis.

Behind them, redshirt freshman Reuben Faloughi should see his first action but is basically untested, as is Chase Vasser, who also redshirted as a freshman last season. After that, we'll see. Both Grantham and head coach Mark Richt have suggested that freshman T.J. Stipling, with fellow frosh Brandon Burrows possibly getting a shot later on.

The Bulldogs also have freshman Dexter Morant in the fold, but the S.C. native is nursing a shoulder injury and it's not certain when he might return. Even a healthy Morant appears to be in line for a redshirt year.

Concern: It's depth. The Bulldogs have a solid trio in Houston, Gamble and Washington, but after that there are plenty of questions as none of the remaining backups have ever played in a game.

Inside Linebacker

Georgia was dealt a preseason blow when starter Akeem Dent injured his foot in a non-football related accident. Dent was expected to miss all of preseason, but now will be back and is expected to start Saturday.

But even if he doesn't, inside linebacker appears to be a position of relative strength for the Bulldogs as Marcus Dowtin appears to have turned a corner and is regarded by most as one of the two or three top hitters on the team. Dowtin loves contact and he's got a definite home at inside linebacker to put that talent to good use.

The other inside spot belongs to Christian Robinson. Robinson is bright, articulate and along with Dent will be responsible for making Georgia's defensive calls.

Position coach Warren Belin also has high hopes for sophomore Michael Gilliard, who despite missing much of the preseason with a hamstring injury is expected to contribute in a backup role. Ditto for senior Akeem Hebron, who took advantage of some extra reps to re-establish himself as player and is actually listed as a second-teamer behind Dent for Saturday.

Converted running back Richard Samuel is trying to bounce back from a leg injury, but is still considered raw and will miss the opener with a leg injury while freshman Demetre Baker is talented but could be headed toward a redshirt year.

Concern: The Bulldogs might have been in questionable shape had Dent not been able to return to provide the leadership he has since the beginning of spring. Dent is the rudder at the position, a player his teammates respect and one who leads by example. It will also be interesting to see how Robinson handles being in the defensive spotlight.

Defensive end/nose

The nose position has been a much-talked about spot for the Bulldogs since Grantham announced he was bringing the 3-4 with him from the Dallas Cowboys.

DeAngelo Tyson has seen much of the time there, but with the improvement of converted offensive guard Justin Anderson and Kwame Geathers, eventually the two could see the bulk of the reps at nose, with Tyson sliding over to defensive end.

Tyson will still see his share of snaps at nose, but his ability to play at end certainly helps the depth situation for the Bulldogs who are expected to start senior Demarcus Dobbs at one of the two spots at end. Dobbs is battling a sprained ankle but will play and is expected to start the opener. Alongside with be senior Brandon Wood who held of sophomore Abry Jones for the second starting role. Senior Kiante Tripp, redshirt freshman Derrick Lott and possibly freshmen Mike Thornton and Garrison Smith will into the mix in a backup role. The Bulldogs also hope to have the oft-injured Jeremy Longo contribute at some point.

Concern: The biggest concern for Grantham will be the play of Anderson and Geathers, who will need to show that they can handle the constant double-teaming so the rest of the defense can effectively do its job.

Cornerback

There are some question marks regarding the cornerbacks but Brandon Boykin isn't one.

Boykin joked earlier this summer that he's set a goal of 10 interceptions for the fall. Although it's doubtful he gets quite that many, there's little doubt the former Fayette County standout has the potential to be one of the better corners in the SEC as he'll hold down the short side of the field and rotate over to nickel back with Branden Smith and possibly Jordan Love.

Senior Vance Cuff has followed up a strong spring with a strong preseason and will likely start at the wide corner spot, with freshman Derek Owens, redshirt sophomore Sanders Commings, Love and Smith getting reps in a backup role.

Concern: New secondary coach Scott Lakatos has promised his corners will employ a more aggressive approach when it comes to covering opposing receivers. Corners are now being taught to go for the ball instead of watching the receiver's eyes. While it sounds good, it's going to be interesting to see if the Bulldogs can carry out this plan.

Safeties

Despite the loss of Reshad Jones and Bryan Evans, most inside the Butts-Mehre Building think Georgia's group of safeties is deeper than it's been in several seasons, and that's even with Quintin Banks decision to retire.

Bacarri Rambo is as tough as they come and will hold down the starting job at strong safety, with Jakar Hamilton set to start Saturday at free. Nick Williams will also play a ton after a strong preseason camp. Meanwhile, Richt calls sophomore Shawn Williams the most improved player since the end of spring camp till now, while true freshman Alec Olgetree has been rotating in with the second unit and will see extensive time on special teams. Fellow freshman Marc Deas appears headed toward a redshirt season.

Concern: There's no question that Nick Williams and Hamilton are two of the hardest hitters on the team, but how are they in coverage? Are they fundamentally sound tacklers? That remains to be seen, although with Lakatos' attention to detail, one would not think that to be an issue.

Special Teams

In regards to kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler, the Bulldogs couldn't be in more capable hands, make that feet.

Walsh was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award while Drew captured the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter.

Georgia's biggest question will remain kickoff coverage as the Bulldogs struggled mightily and it's been charged to Belin to clean up the mess.

Boykin will again be the top kick returner after bringing back three kicks for touchdowns last year, with Smith getting first crack at handling the punt return duties following the graduation of Prince Miller.



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