Corners are responsible for a great deal. They are the boundary protection. No runningback should ever get wider than a corner. It is the Corner’s job to either knock the ball carrier out of bounds, or turn him back to the teeth of the defense inside. Having strong run-support from your corners can be huge for your defense. Of course, we can’t forget what they are primarily responsible for – covering the most athletic passing-game playmakers on the opposing offense. The SEC is full of high-flying offenses, and if your Corners aren’t up to snuff, you’re going to suffer. So, just how productive HAVE the corners been?
So, as we look back over the years, we see that in 2002, UGA had six productive corners, with the bulk of the work being done by four. This is what I would expect, as UGA would have two starters and a nickel corner, then a few reserves. This is the kind of depth you want to see on a championship team. We see that in 2004, when UGA didn’t even win the East, there were only two corners who were labeled as “productive.” So, it seems that the more productive corners our team has, the better we play as a defense, right? The number went up to three in 2005, and UGA won the SEC. Strangely, the three in 2005 is lower than 2003’s total of five. Even more odd, for the past four years since UGA’s last SEC title, the Dawgs have consistently had five productive corners. Yet, the team’s performance has not been up to the level of the earlier years of Richt’s tenure. So, let’s look at how the CB performance is reflected against that of the entire defense.
For me, these numbers are a bit inconclusive. At first glance, we could easily say that the corners are making a much higher percentage of tackles in the past four years than in the championship era of Richt’s years. But, I have to wonder where that comes from. Look at the number of CB tackles in 2003. Compare that to the number of tackles in 2006-2008. They’re fairly similar. However, in 2006, the entire team made 60% of the tackles it did in 2003. I’ve already mentioned that the coaches changed the way tackles are tracked. So, you would think that the number would drop proportionately. However, if the number HAD dropped proportionately, the Corners would have made only 97 tackles in 2006. So, how do we compare? Well, the percentage of total team tackles is a pretty good indicator. In the early “glory” years, UGA CBs were making an average of 14.75% of the tackles. Over 2006-2009, that number jumps to an average of 20.2% per season. WOW. But wait…I notice that in 2004, the %age is at its lowest, and the number of productive CBs was also at its lowest. So, could it be that the sheer number of players making tackles is responsible for the higher percentage? Doubtful. Don’t forget that in 2002, UGA had six productive corners, its highest total out of the 8 tracked seasons.
So, why the uptick in tackling production out of corners? Well, some would point to the shift in the SEC towards more spread offenses, with more passing. Perhaps that’s a possibility. More passes being caught would definitely lead to more tackle opportunities for the corners. So then, I have to look at passes defended. Unfortunately, there are no statistics for how many times someone actually threw at Brandon Boykin or Asher Allen, but I can look into the pass breakup and INT numbers.
Well, there it is again…the anomaly. In 2003 and 2005, UGA has high pass-defense production from its Corners, and wins the East in 2003 and the SEC in 2005. But, then there’s 2002, when the Corners made the least impact on opponents’ passes, and the Dawgs won the SEC and finished with a 13-1 record. We do see, though, that since 2004, there has been a decline in passes broken up by corners. Interception numbers have been erratic, with no consistent trend whatsoever.
So, what do we know? Corners have been making more tackles over the past 4 seasons; however, they’ve pulled in less interceptions and knocked down fewer passes. I know I’m not the only Georgia fan who has constantly marveled at the open receivers in our defensive backfield. Is this because of lack of talent at Corner? It’s quite possible, although we have to remember that Paul Oliver, Tim Jennings and Asher Allen are all NFL Cornerbacks. In fact, they are all NFL cornerbacks on playoff teams. Prince Miller may very well join them in those ranks next month. So, I can’t say that it’s necessarily TALENT that is the issue.
At any rate, I can’t say that there’s strong statistical evidence to show the Cornerback is the Thing.
But my mind drifts back to those tackling percentage numbers. Why are the Corners making such a higher percentage of tackles over the last 4 years? That means some other group has to have decreased in that period. Could it be that the linebackers aren’t making the stops they need to? Gone are Kendrel Bell, Boss Bailey, Odell Thurman…did they leave a void in their wake? Could it be that the Linebacker is the thing?