There was a lot on Toby Johnson‚Äôs plate during the junior college transfer‚Äôs first season at Georgia last year.
The defensive lineman was upset about a lack of playing time, dealt with knee and ankle injuries and adjusted to juggling football and school at a major university.
The arrival of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State‚Äôs national championship staff and a new defensive coaching staff offered Johnson and his teammates a chance to reboot.
‚ÄúAll through mat drills, I tried to at least make a statement to push harder,‚Äù Johnson said, ‚Äùmake a good first impression.‚Äù
Those offseason conditioning drills were a chance for the players to get to know the coaching staff.
After two practices, inside linebacker Ramik Wilson said Thursday night he‚Äôs come to this conclusion: ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre showing their true selves now and they‚Äôre not playing.‚Äù
That was apparent in the first practice when Pruitt got his point across that he wanted things done the right way with technique in a little different way than Todd Grantham, Georgia‚Äôs defensive coordinator the past four years who left for Louisville.
‚ÄúI think he might be a little more meaner than Coach Grantham,‚Äù Wilson said. ‚ÄúYou better learn it.‚Äù
With a new defense and new coaches, cornerback J.J. Green is about where the rest of the defensive players are even though he played tailback last season.
‚ÄúEverybody on the defense now is learning Pruitt‚Äôs system,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúStep by step, we‚Äôre just learning what to do right now. We didn‚Äôt move on in the playbook because he wants us to perfect our craft right now, that one single play call.‚Äù
Other than learning the play calls, the defense is being pushed to play at a fast pace and not to worry about a teammate messing up, Green said.
‚ÄúWith all of us running to the ball,‚Äù Johnson said, ‚Äúour defense was already fast and to have the front four running like that, I think we‚Äôre going to be the best front four in the country. I said that last year, too, but no buts about it last year. I thought we were the best front four, but we just had some mistakes.‚Äù
Communication breakdowns ‚Äî particularly in the secondary ‚Äî on a defense filled with young and inexperienced players last year contributed to those mistakes during a season in which Georgia gave up an average of 35.4 points in its five losses.
They ‚Äúwere a big issue last year,‚Äù senior safety Corey Moore said, but things have been simplified in the new defense.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the thing I like about the defense, there ain‚Äôt 50 million calls,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúEverything‚Äôs fast paced. You get your calls and we‚Äôve got our own signals, too, as a D-line. We‚Äôve got to know the signals just as much as the linebackers. That makes you play fast, too.‚Äù
Said fifth-year senior nose guard Mike Thornton: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs definitely slowed down a little for the defense because he‚Äôs simplifies it a little bit more than we have in the past. It helps guys out as far as flying around.‚Äù
Terminology is simplified, which means less thinking on the fly, Thornton said.
‚ÄúHe basically calls a play, we get to it, we make an adjustment and we just go, we go ball,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúThis is going to help to our advantage a lot.‚Äù
With things slowed down, sophomore safety Quincy Mauger said, ‚Äúit gives everybody a chance to be a player. Do what we came here for as a D1 athlete: make plays. We don‚Äôt have to think a lot about where I need to be and what is this guy doing. It‚Äôs reading your keys and making a play on the ball.‚Äù
Added Moore: ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs not going to move on to something unless you get it. If you don‚Äôt get it, he‚Äôs not going to install something new. He wants all his players to get it and make sure that everyone is on the same page.‚Äù
On the defensive line, Johnson said he‚Äôs getting less of an earful now with the transition from assistant Chris Wilson to Tracy Rocker.
‚ÄúCoach Wilson did a lot more yelling and stuff, but Coach Rocker is more laid back and he teaches,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just different. I like it, though. I come to talk to him about little small stuff. We have fun, but we get the work done at the same time.‚Äù
Since it is spring, there is no shortage of upbeat talk.
‚ÄúEverybody‚Äôs buying in,‚Äù Moore said. ‚ÄúWe want a change around here. We want to win. (SEC) Eastern Conference, that‚Äôs good, but we want to win the national championship. I feel like everybody‚Äôs getting tired of it, man, and we have a lot seniors that have put in that mindset.‚Äù
Said Thornton: ‚ÄúAll the coaches they just brought in are great coaches. They‚Äôre going to help us win a championship around here.‚Äù
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