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Todd Grantham Starts Fresh

Todd Grantham, Georgia's new defensive coordinator, gives this defense a fresh start.

I spoke earlier about Aaron Murray, Georgia’s new quarterback. I said it’s far easier to replace Joe Cox than Matthew Stafford; it’s easier to replace the man who replaced the legend than the legend himself. It’s also easier to step in for a quarterback who scuffled in his lone season in the starting lineup. Cox wasn’t terrible, no. Yet he wasn’t Stafford. Willie Martinez wasn’t Stafford-like either; hence the change at defensive coordinator. It’s a fresh start for Georgia, and a fresh start for Todd Grantham, Martinez’s replacement.

Grantham has wiped the slate clean. If you played well in 2009, great. If you didn’t, don’t worry. Everyone is back at square one, even on the depth chart. Players had to prove themselves during the spring, during off-season workouts, and again during fall camp. As I wrote in the Georgia preview:

This might not be a bad combination: in a way, Grantham’s task could have been more difficult had the Bulldogs returned most of the pieces of last year’s defense. Instead, the former N.F.L. assistant will have a relatively blank slate upon which to build his attack.

Did I mention Georgia’s moving to the 3-4? Now that’s a change. The depth chart has also changed: seven starters out, four starters coming back. And none of those four starters were guaranteed a starting spot in 2010. Two players are too good to keep off the field, of course.

Justin Houston is an all-conference caliber pass rusher, though he’ll be doing so from outside linebacker, not end. It’s not a huge change for Houston, as I noted in an earlier post. Brandon Boykin still has a stranglehold on one starting cornerback spot. Both are firmly entrenched in the starting lineup.

Two more returning starters will find it more difficult to reclaim their starting spots. Both are linebackers: Darryl Gamble and Marcus Dowtin. Gamble started in the middle in 2009, but is being moved outside this fall. As of now, he’s riding behind Cornelius Gamble on the weak side. Dowtin is backing up Christian Robinson at one middle linebacker spot.

What’s the point I’m trying — and failing, it feels like — to make here? That Grantham isn’t using last season’s depth chart at gospel. Kudos to him, if true. It would have been easy for him to rely upon experience to form his new starting 11. Easy, but misguided. Grantham could have very well listed his starting linebacker corps as Houston and Gamble on the outside, Dowtin and Akeem Dent in the middle. Now, it turns out Houston and Dent are in the starting lineup anyhow — as of now, I might add. This is Georgia’s experienced quartet, four linebackers who have been through the fire in SEC play.

Yet that’s not what Grantham has done, by all accounts. Gamble has been pushed out of the starting lineup by Washington. To be fair, Washington flashed pass rushing ability a season ago, and is likely a better fit coming off the weak side than Gamble. He’s the better athlete.

Dowtin has been surpassed by Robinson, a redshirt sophomore who played a secondary role in 2009. Robinson is a former offensive player still learning the intricacies of  the defensive side of the ball; regardless, he’s impressed Grantham.

And that’s all that should matter. And that’s all that Grantham cares about. His rebuilding job won’t take a month. It might take a year — it might take more. However, it’s heartening to see that he’s picking the players best fit for this defense, even if it means sacrificing experience for potential. That’s a good thing, in my opinion — a great thing. And it bodes well for the Georgia defense under his watch.

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