New set of coaches has Bulldog defense fired up

Defensive end Ray Drew sat on a bench in a corridor in the Butts-Mehre building on Wednesday and spoke of the “fresh start” Georgia players are feeling under an entirely new defensive staff.

That may as well be the buzzword for the Bulldogs as spring practice approaches on March 18.

Seven weeks after his introductory news conference as defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt is starting to implement his system and its terminology to not only the players but to the coaches who will run it after Pruitt ran the national championship defense at Florida State.

“He’s going to be a great coach,” senior cornerback Damian Swann said. “He’s very fundamentally oriented and he expects a lot out of us already and we haven’t even put on pads yet.”

Pruitt has moved out of close friend and offensive line coach Will Friend’s basement and into a condominium. His focus has switched from recruiting to getting the team ready.

“The coaches — especially the defensive coaches — are just learning the player’s names and trying to figure out who’s going to line up where even just to get started day one,” coach Mark Richt said.

Everybody knows star tailback Todd Gurley’s name but his name might not be called too much this spring to allow him to mend after an injury-filled sophomore season.

Meanwhile, tailback J.J. Green, the team’s second leading rusher last season with 384 yards, is moving to cornerback, after coaches considered him at slot receiver.

“I think J.J.’s fired up about it,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of Green, who played primarily played cornerback at Camden County High.

“We really needed him at the tailback position last year, and now after coach Pruitt looked over the situation and remembered J.J. from the recruiting process, he wanted to see what he could do,” Richt said.

Junior John Theus will be given the first chance to win the left offensive tackle job after starting 21 games in his career at right tackle. Kolton Houston will line up at right tackle and returning starter David Andrews remains at center. Mark Beard will get a look at left guard and Watts Dantzler is among those competing at right guard.

Coaches view Theus “as more natural” on the left side with how he sets.

“He maybe looks a little more comfortable kicking to the left as opposed to the right,” Bobo said. “He’s had a great offseason. He’s been one of our leaders.”

Fullback Quayvon Hicks will play primarily at tight end this spring while Jay Rome works his way back from foot surgery. Hicks is being groomed for an H-back role, Bobo said.

Richt said Green, listed at 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, has trimmed down some to help his quickness and explosiveness.

“The big thing is just a lack of numbers,” Pruitt said. “You can never have too many corners. …It’s pretty crowded back there at the running back spot.”

Pruitt said he’s giving guys on his unit a chance to play where they want because he figures if they’re happy where they’re lining up they will give better effort and attitude.

He said James DeLoach and Josh Dawson, who have played outside linebacker in the past, will move inside to defensive end.

Pruitt is looking for Georgia’s big defensive linemen to slim down also. Georgia lists linemen John Taylor, John Atkins and Chris Mayes at 336, 322 and 321 pounds, respectively.

“We’re trying to get some of our bigger guys down,” Pruitt said. “Personally, we feel like everybody’s heavy. We’d like to be a little faster. That’s just, I guess, out preference. Trying to slim up just a little, including the coaching staff.”

Defensive end Ray Drew said he’s gone from a high of 287 last season to 282 and hopes to get down to 275 by the fall.

Bobo said Gurley, listed at 232 pounds, has dropped about 10 pounds himself

After battling ankle and hip injuries last season, Gurley has been “less than full speed” during offseason conditioning drills, Richt said.

“I really don’t know what to expect from Todd in the spring,” Richt said.

Gurley said what’s bothering him more are his legs.

“It’s going to take a little time,” Gurley said.

Said Richt: “My guess is that unless he’s completely healed by March 18, there will be some modification to what he’s doing.”

Bobo wasn’t so sure.

“I expect him to go because I think that’s the only way to get better,” Bobo said. “We’re going to treat him like anybody else. I expect him to get better at the little things and give maximum effort.

Those offseason mat drills have given a glimpse of what Pruitt has to work with—to a certain extent.

“You find out who likes to compete,” Pruitt said. “That’s what we’re trying to find out, who are the ones that want to compete every play, every day. …There’s guys that practice well in shorts and there’s guys who practice well in pads. The big thing is we’re trying to find out who practices well in pads.”

Notes: Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (ACL) may be able to run routes this spring, but isn‚Äôt expected to take part in contact, Richt said. Tailback Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (both coming off ACL surgery) are both still out this spring. ‚ĶClemson may have announced four players are suspended for the Georgia opener, but Richt isn‚Äôt ready to announce anything. He wouldn‚Äôt say that Scott-Wesley, coming off a torn ACL, is out for Clemson game after his marijuana arrest last season….Defensive tackle DeAndre Johnson is being medically disqualified after dealing with back issues, Richt confirmed. The Northgate High product was redshirted last year. ‚ĶThe G-Day spring game is scheduled for April 12 with the final of 15 springs practices slated for April 17.

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