New Scheme Rejuvenates the 'Dawgs

HOOVER, Ala. -- The energy around the Georgia football facility isn't familiar. It's refreshing and almost surprising for head coach Mark Richt. Just one change can work wonders to the health of a football program.

The change came on the defensive side of the ball. Willie Martinez was released from his position as Georgia's defensive coordinator, and the national search began. Despite rumors that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart would make the trek to Athens, the eventual hire was Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham.

However, it wasn't only a change in defensive coordinator. It was a change in defensive scheme.

Grantham brought with him the 3-4 defense the Cowboys used during his time in Dallas. None of the defensive coaches on the Georgia staff are familiar with working in the 3-4.

"Let's face it, Coach Grantham is really the only one that truly understands what he's trying to accomplish," Richt said. "I'm still learning it. Scott Lakatos (secondary coach) is still learning it; Warren Belin (inside linebackers coach) is still learning it; Rodney Garner (defensive line coach) is still learning it. There's an energy in knowing that you got to prepare and be out of your comfort zone a little bit."

The energy also translates to the Georgia players. With as well as the Bulldogs have recruited over the past three years, there was no excuse for them to be the tenth in the conference in scoring defense as they were in 2010. The only logical solution was for a change.

Richt mentioned his philosophy that teams can play solid defense out of any formation, but it all comes down to execution. The excitement around the 3-4 defense comes from something new. When Grantham was hired, multiple Georgia players were unsure of what position they would play.

Darryl Gamble moved from inside linebacker to outside linebacker. Richard Samuel moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. These moves have become customary as the Bulldogs learn the 3-4 defense on the fly.

"(The players) were uncertain where they were going to fit into the scheme," Richt said. "Quite frankly, when Coach Grantham came if in, he wasn't sure where everybody would fit. He had our graduate assistants break down film and try to get 30 clips of all of our players so he could study them and place them in the right spot."

There is also a sense of excitement on the offensive side of the ball. The Bulldogs return their entire offensive line, top two running backs and arguably the best wide receiver in the country in A.J. Green. But it's the quarterback position that is creating optimism.

Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray will be the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs. There is anxiety anytime a team breaks in a new quarterback, but this is the best possible scenario with many veteran pieces around him.

"You can get him in the meeting room, get him on the board, ask him anything," Richt said. "He'll tell you the answer, get it right. And that could be exciting as a coach. But we got to be careful, (quarterbacks) Coach (Mike) Bobo and myself, not to get enamored with that and expect him to be able to answer the question quite so well as he's on the field getting chased by a bunch of 300-pound defensive linemen. He's got to live the experience of being that quarterback."

Murray's preparation is the reason his teammates have rallied around him. The extra time he has spent on the practice field and in the film room has caught the attention of his teammates.

"From day one, I saw it in Aaron," Green said. "He was preparing like he was the starter. Whenever that time was approaching, he was going to have the best opportunity to compete. Over the summer, he texts me to come out and throw to get that chemistry down and work on some routes. As young as he is, I really look up to him the way he carries himself on and off the field."

There will be plenty of new players and coaches on the Georgia sideline this year, but after struggling last season, that isn't such a bad thing for the Bulldogs.
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