Thursday, January 22, 2009

Post Season State of the Dawgs - Defense

Well, Stafford and Moreno are gone...and with them goes Asher Allen. Reshad Jones has decided to remain in school, and Eason will no longer be an active coach, with Bryan Mclendon joining the ranks.

That's pretty much the news we've been privy to about the team as it stood at the end of the season. An ugly season, not one that we enjoyed, to be sure, but it's over now...and it's time to put it behind us. I'll be breaking down things as I see them over the next few weeks, leading up to Spring football, and I thought why not start with the thing that everyone sees as Georgia's most glaring weakness, its defense?

So, here's what I have to say about the defense coming out of the season:

Stop calling for a firing of Willie Martinez.

"But DUKES! You said yourself that he should go."

Well, I admit that I mentioned him as a possible target of layoff, yes...though I said that Fabris was the more necessary release. (I will ammend that in the Special Teams edition of this blog).

I did some research on ol' Willie Martinez, in comparison to Brian Van Gorder...as many fans have tried to say we should lure BVG back from the Falcons (soooo incredibly improbable). The way I see it, comparing the two is quite justified at this point, since BVG and WM both have 4 years of DC experience at UGA under their belts.

Here's what I learned: Over their 4 years, the statistics are fairly even. Willie's defenses have given up an average of 4 more rushing yards per game, at 121 to BVG's 117. Martinez's defenses have given up an average of 16 LESS passing yards, at 181 to BVG's 197. That brings the defense's total ypg to 302 under WM and 314 for BVG. Both coaches' defenses averaged 25 takeaways per season.

Fans this season were up in arms about the points given up, and rightfully so, as the 2008 PPG of 24.5 is far-and-away the highest since Richt came to UGA. Of greater alarm is the fact that Georgia's defense has given up more points than the previous year in each of Martinez's seasons as DC (with the exception of 2005, which was one-tenth of a point lower (16.4) than in BVG's 2004 (16.5).

But, I would be remiss if I didn't add that one thing this defense really lacked this season, was the ability to overcome adversity. Out of 46 attempts in the redzone, opposing offenses scored 29 touchdowns. That's 63%. They also had an overall redzone scoring percentage of 80%. That means that 8 times out of ten, if you could get to UGA's 20, you were getting points, and six of those times, it was paydirt. That ain't good. If you compare it to UGA's best defense of Richt's tenure, 2003, you wouldn't think you were talking about the same school.

2003 - Redzone scores 18/31 That's 58%. Only 9 were touchdowns. That's 29%. Opponent's points per game? 14.5. That team also had 29 takeaways, compared to 2008's Richt-low of 16. (beating the previous low of 17 by BVG's last defense in 2004). In 2003, UGA had 47 sacks. In 2008, 24. Also, many people have blamed this season's problems on D as a function of the offense putting them in bad situations. Well, as far as turnovers, there were 19 this season. There were 18 in 2003. The difference? That defense could turn around and get the other offense off the field.

This brings me to my next point......there are two differences between the 2003 and 2008 UGA defensive teams. First up is the defensive coordinator. But, statistically, BVG and WM aren't far enough apart for this to be a major causality of the awful season this year. The second difference is the personnel on the defensive side of the ball. That 2003 squad boasted some serious names - Sean Jones and Thomas Davis were controlling the deep center, Bruce Thornton and Tim Jennings were locking down receivers, Odell Thurman and Tony Taylor were adept at both blitzing and coverage from their linebacker spots....and David Pollack, Robert Geathers and Quentin Moses were terrorizing quarterbacks. Ken Veal and Gerald Anderson were solid in the middle, combining for 96 tackles while on rotation. Notice anything about those names? Most of them are currently in, or were in the NFL...and as standouts, not slouches.

Look at 2008's defense. The star power just isn't there. Rennie Curran is up there. Asher Allen was pretty good, though he had a fat goose-egg in the interception column this season. Reshad Jones actually led the team in picks, being the fortunate recipient of a number of "hail mary" tosses at the ends of halves and games. He had 5 total. The pairing of Atkins and Irvin brought only 68 tackles, a far cry from the primary duo in 2003 (losing Owens in preseason really hurt here).

So, this begs the question: what has happened to the players?

Well, last year the answer lay mostly in injuries. Losing Owens early really hurt, as he was a strong leader and has both the size and quickness that opposing teams have trouble with. The DE position was also hit hard with injuries. Because of that, UGA lacked an outside pass rush, and opposing teams could double the tackles more often. Lack of a pass-rush exposed an already less-than stellar defensive backfield. Hate on me all you want for saying it, but it was halfway through the season before Bryan Evans, a sub-par corner, was yanked from that spot. His replacement, Prince Miller, ended up being #5 in tackles for the season, and was constantly looking for turnover opportunities (though he came up dry).

This brings me to the outlook of next season.

The Defense is losing:

Asher Allen
Corvey Irvin
Remarcus Brown
CJ Byrd
Dannell Ellerbee
Jeremy Lomax
Jarius Wynn

The biggest losses there, in my humble opinion, are Asher Allen, CJ Byrd and Dannell Ellerbee. Losing half of the defensive backfield could be painful. CJ and Asher combined for 102 tackles, but zero interceptions. Dannell Ellerbee is a leader, and was definitely missed when he was injured. But, fortunately for the Dawgs, Marcus Washington will be returning from his injury, and will bolster leadership on that side of the ball. Lomax never really came on this season, as lingering injury problems prevented further development of the defensive end. Jarius Wynn was 11th on the team in tackles, but is probably better remembered as the guy with the personal foul penalty nullifying a turnover against Alabama. And Florida. And Kentucky.

Now, the positives:

Justin Houston. This kid was really coming on as a speed-rusher. He had 3 sacks on the year, for a total of 30 yards lost. That's ten yards per sack. That's what you want. Oh yeah, and he was a Freshman. We get Jeff Owens back, and that, coupled with added ability at defensive end as Houston comes along, Dobbs continues to develop, and Rod Battle gets healthy will free up Atkins a little bit more as well. Up front, look for UGA to be GREATLY IMPROVED in 2009.

Curran has at least one more season with the Bulldogs, and since he led the team both in tackles and sacks, we can be quite thankful for that. Not too bad for an "undersized" linebacker. Darius Dewberry and Marcus Washington will both be returning from injuries. Add Juniors #3 tackler Daryl Gamble (also decent in coverage) and #7 Akeem Dent, and you have a solid, veteran linebacking corps which should be among the better groups in the SEC.

The defensive backfield is once again where UGA looks to be a little soft at the moment. For the second straight season, our best defensive back is jumping ship early for the NFL. It worked out decently for Paul Oliver, who ended the season starting at Corner for the playoff-bound Chargers. Now we bid farewell to Asher Allen. Prince Miller was just 3 tackles shy of Allen, but also had zero picks (his only one being wiped out by penalty). There's only one "returning" strong corner next season, Chad Gloer, who played in all 13 games and recorded 10 tackles, though I'm unsure if that was on defense or special teams. Vance Cuff showed some promise in coverage last season, and he may be able to work himself into a starting role. Also, UGA has picked up some CB commits, and is looking for another, so these positions may not settle until Fall Camp is over. Reshad Jones elected to stay in school - a surprise for this blogger, not that he would stay, but rather that there would be a decision to make. I haven't found Jones to be the safety we were hoping he'd be. He WAS second on the team in tackles this year...but I never want to see a safety that high in the ranks in tackles -unless he plays alot on the line - like Thomas Davis. In any other situation, that means the other team is getting too deep into the defense. At any rate, Jones did lead the team in picks, so he was doing his job to some extent. Still, as a freshman he appeared to be on his way to Thomas Davis and Greg Blue type stardom - vicious hitter, decent in coverage. That has yet to materialize...perhaps he'll get it done as a junior. Also, if there's anyone who's pulling harder thank I am for Bacarri Rambo to come along, I want to meet him. I mean....RAMBO. I can already think of the black-shirt merchandise that'll hit the shelves if that kid is the baller he's said to be.

All in all, the personnel next year look to be better than they've been in a few seasons. 2007's defense was good, but it certainly wasn't littered with amazing names.

Martinez and staff must focus greatly next season on turnovers and redzone defense. Also, do you know what the one GOOD thing about a string of injuries is? It allowed more players to get more experience. That, in the long run, is a positive. Look for the defensive unit to really rebound this season. The majority of the players next year will be 4th and 5th year players. Some will be redshirt juniors, others medical-redshirt-seniors. Martinez's last veteran-dominated defense was back in 2005, arguably his best. What was the bane of 2008 could very well be the bullwark of 2009.

Fear not, Dawgfans...the Junkyard Dawgs are gettin' their BITE back.

Go Dawgs!
Dukes

1 comment:

Pete said...

I read on another blog that the secondary really hasn't been the same since Martinez was promoted to DC. I had never really thought about it until now, but it's true. I know we had Davis, Jones, & Blue back then, but those guys werne't 5-star recruits. Hell, I think we were the only BCS school to offer Thomas Davis a scholarship. Is Martinez still coaching the secondary? If so, maybe we need to hire another assistant to coach them. We've been getting some great talent the past few years without a lot of results... Reshad Jones for one, but hello CJ Byrd. I was looking at recruiting rankings fro 2004 and it blew me away to see he was a top 75 player in the nation... could've fooled me.

Anyway, I'm on board with keeping Martinez. Really, what are our other options? It's Martinez or Garner. Plus, Martinez is pretty good at pulling a few recruits out of Florida each year.