September 21, 2011

Linebacker under pressure?

No doubt if you've perused the season stats for Georgia's defense, one item easily jumps off the page - one sack through three games, a number that ranks the Bulldogs last in the SEC.

For those wanting answers, outside linebacker Cornelius Washington has been a popular subject of blame.

After all, it was Washington who was moved from Sam linebacker to Will, the position played so well by former teammate Justin Houston, whose 10 sacks ranked among the leaders in the league.

So what's up?

Is Washington - as some have suggested - not cutting it at his new position since making the switch back in the spring?

That question was posed to both head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, both of whom scoffed at the notion that somehow the Burke County native is not doing his job.

"Cornelius has played as well as he's had since I've been here," Grantham said. "The guy has played very physical, very fast. He's in the right spot, he's doing what we ask him to do. He understands his role and I've been pleased with his progress."

Richt echoed Grantham's sentiments.

"Here's one thing about Cornelius - I think he's playing harder than I've ever seen him play. I'm really proud of his effort, and the more he plays with that kind of intensity, the more hurries and sacks and tackles for loss and all that kind of stuff is going to happen," Richt said. "He's practiced hard, he's played hard, and he will reap the benefit as will Georgia."

Another quick look at the statistics indicates that Richt may actually be correct.

Washington's five hurries lead the Bulldogs squad.

"It's close. It's a game of inches and I'm almost there, every game. I can smell it, I'm almost there," Washington said. "I've got a little more work to do, technique things to work out to see if I can find some competitive advantage, but I'm almost there."

Opposing offenses haven't made it any easier.

According to Washington, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore made it difficult to get pressure due to his quick release and ability get the ball to his receivers in soft coverage.

Even Coastal Carolina came in with that specific idea in mind.

"They (Coastal Carolina) they threw everything on quicks. Nobody is going to sit back and let us tattoo their quarterback all day long," Washington said. "We had a couple more chances against South Carolina but things just didn't work out. We got a few pressures. Everything will come in due time, but as a defense I think we're doing real well."

Grantham says he's not overly concerned, adding he believes the sacks will eventually come.

"With sacks, everybody wants them, I like them too but there are other things that are more important. We've improved third down, we're third (second) in the SEC in third down conversion (26.2 percent) and if you watch the game the guy is getting rid of the ball pretty quick before he gets hit," Grantham said. "In the last game, there were quite a few hots (routes). There were a few plays we could have made, too, I'm not saying that, but the ball is getting out pretty quick, so if that's the case it's tackle the catch and get off the field."

Although the sacks haven't been there, Washington said the Bulldogs are affecting quarterbacks in other ways.

All four of Georgia's interceptions, he says, have been a direct result of pressure by the defense.

"All of the picks that we've gotten so far have come off of pressure and quarterback hits," Washington said. "We're affecting the quarterback and essentially that's what you always try to do."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]