ORLANDO, Fla.–Losing three projected NFL first-round draft picks and many of his top players doesn’t mean that Todd Grantham’s not looking forward to the months ahead.
The Georgia defensive coordinator said the challenge of breaking in so many new faces on defense will be “fun” in the spring.
“We’ll be young, but I think when you’re young, you’re going to be competitive in practice and I think if you’re competitive in practice and learn to win a position, then you’re going to help us win ballgames,” Grantham said after Georgia won its 12th game of the season, a 45-31 win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. “That’s kind of the approach we’re going to take moving forward and really that’s kind of the approach we had with the seniors leaving today.”
Six of Georgia’s top seven tacklers from the bowl will be gone assuming that outside linebacker Jarvis Jones–who could be a top-five pick–turns pro.
Grantham looked at the players coming back and saw upside.
Nickel back Damian Swann finished the season with a team-high four interceptions, including two in the bowl game.
Mike Thornton and Ray Drew got more work on the defensive line since nose guard John Jenkins already had left the team after being academically ineligible.
Freshman Jordan Jenkins is the heir apparent to Jones as the team’s top pass rusher.
Outside linebacker Josh Dawson and Josh Harvey-Clemons—who could end up at safety or linebacker—will also move into larger roles after their freshmen seasons.
Grantham hopes they can develop the mindset he saw from a defense that helped Georgia get to its second straight SEC title game.
The defense’s total yardage surrendered ballooned during a season in which it endured suspensions early in the season—from 277.2 yards allowed last year to 357.8 in 2012—and were called out by senior Shawn Williams, but Grantham liked how they found ways to win games at the end more often than not.
“That’s the enjoyment for me watching the young players that are leaving our program develop that kind of attitude,” Grantham said. “What’s got to happen is the young players coming back, it’s going to be a process for them and it a process. I do know you can develop it and we’re going to develop it and it’s going to be fun in the spring.”
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