Pruitt’s Pass Rushers
By BJ Bennett
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Even in this upcoming year of transition, expect Georgia to excel at attacking the line of scrimmage.
For all of the inconsistencies the Georgia defense suffered through during the Todd Grantham era, rushing the passer was not one of them. The Bulldogs ranked second in the SEC in sacks last fall, 5th in 2012 and 2nd in 2011. Georgia is the only team in the league to have at least 32 sacks each of the past three seasons. Last year, five different Bulldogs recorded at least four sacks and four defenders reached double digits in quarterback hurries.
Some schematic changes are in the works as former Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has replaced Grantham on staff. Pruitt's Seminoles led all of college football in scoring defense, ranked third in total defense and led the nation in interceptions a season ago. He is a Nick Saban disciple who came to Tallahassee after three years at Alabama. Florida State finished third in the ACC in sacks in Pruitt's one run with the defense and did so without a player in the top 15 individually; 17 defenders had at least one sack.
Pruitt will run a base formation similar to Grantham's, but will flex into different alignments depending on the circumstance. That ability is based on personnel versatility, having talent on the field that isn't limited to one specific position or role. Given the situation, players are used a variety of different ways. A high skill level is needed to make such a system work. In terms of getting after the quarterback, especially, Georgia has just that.
"We are and will be a 3-4 defense," Pruitt explained at his introductory presser."One week you might play a team that has two tight ends and one back, and next week it might be one back and four receivers. So teams that are 3-4, you'll see them line up in 4-3 defenses and teams that are 4-3, you'll see them line-up in odd defenses. You've got to be able to do both. We'll figure out who our best guys are and we'll get our best guys on the field."
The Bulldogs now boast three former five-star recruits who fit the prototype of the modern-day pass rusher. Upperclassmen Ray Drew and Jordan Jenkins combined for eleven sacks last season. Drew played the best football of his career from late September through mid October. Through two years, Jenkins has 20 total tackles for loss. Both veterans have NFL-level talent.
Georgia's defense got a big boost on National Signing Day when Lorenzo Carter, the fastest defensive end in the country, signed with the Bulldogs. At 6'5'', 234 pounds, Carter has been electronically timed at 4.6 in the forty yard dash. He chose UGA over Florida, Florida State and LSU. Expect the Norcross-native to play right away in Athens.
"Carter is an elite athlete that happens to have the size to play rush end or outside linebacker. He can really move and he is great in pursuit. He covers a lot of ground with his long strides and he can contain his edge as well," explained Chad Simmons of Scout.com "He has great length, it helps him keep offensive linemen off his body, and he is only going to get better playing the run. He can play in space as well."
One of the most dynamic athletes in the SEC, Georgia's top pass rusher is 6'4'', 220-pound sophomore Leonard Floyd. Ranked as the number four prep-school prospect in the nation in 2012, Floyd burst onto the scene with 55 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. He is explosive off the line, rangy and has a similar physical skill set to Carter in some respects.
Every defender from the two-deep depth chart, save end Garrison Smith, returns for the Bulldogs. That includes senior linebacker Ramik Wilson, who led the SEC with 133 tackles and added eleven tackles for loss, and senior Amarlo Herrera and his 219 career stops. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is a fascinating piece for Pruitt at 6'5'', but will miss the team's first three games due to suspension.
Even in this upcoming year of transition, expect Georgia to excel at attacking the line of scrimmage. Both on the field and on the sidelines, the pieces are firmly in place.