Dawgs' Defense: Speed Kills

ATHENS – At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Akeem Hebron figured he would be a safety.

He was a Parade All-American linebacker at Good Counsel High School in Gaithersburg, Md., but Georgia, his college of choice, didn't have a linebacker in its rotation who weighed less than 220 pounds. A handful of other schools were recruiting Hebron as a safety, and he just assumed the Bulldogs were too.

"They told me there was no way I was going to safety, that I would stay a linebacker because they liked my speed," said Hebron, who has a chance to play this year for No. 15 Georgia, which begins the season Saturday against Western Kentucky.

Ah, speed. It can't be coached, say the men who are in charge of all the coaching.

"You're constantly looking for athleticism and speed at every position on defense, and we're going to continue to do that," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "If we've got to sacrifice size, we're going to pick speed and athleticism."

In the last two recruiting classes, particularly this most recent one, the Bulldogs have made a noticeable jump in their team speed on the defensive side of the ball.

"Oh yeah, there's no doubt about that," Martinez said. "We feel real good about our freshman class, from the defensive linemen all the way to the secondary. I think we've really improved ourselves speed wise.

"We hit the nail on the head pretty good" this year, Coach Mark Richt said.

The boosters applied to this year's recruits have nothing to do with the blistering Georgia took at the hands, or feet, of West Virginia in January's Sugar Bowl, Richt and Martinez said. The Mountaineers rushed for 382 yards, mostly by making Georgia's defenders look like they were on a slow-motion reel. The Bulldogs surrendered 143.8 yards per game on the ground last year, the most of the Richt era by far.

"We really try to recruit speed every year," Richt said. "Sometimes you recruit the heck out of fast guys and they don't come."

Peach County's Darius Dewberry came this year and is likely to play right away in part due to his remarkable speed. Georgia's defensive coaches stress playing fast "every day, every play," Dewberry said.

"Even if you fall, you have to get up running," he said.

Quarterback Joe Tereshinski, who has to adjust to the improved speed in practice, has noticed a difference this fall.

"All of them to come in hearing that the college game is faster. That's just because they make it faster," he said. "It's unbelievable to see the talent we recruit."

By the Numbers
(Georgia's defense in the Richt era)
Rushing Passing Pts
2005 143.8 169.6 16.4
2004 106.9 182.0 16.5
2003 102.4 174.5 14.5
2002 114.0 189.5 15.1
2001 108.8 252.6 18.9

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