CELEBRATION, Fla. — Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham doesn't lack for mentors. At various stops in college football and the NFL, he's worked under Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel, Dom Capers and Wade Phillips.
As the Bulldogs progressed through 2012, Grantham probably needed to draw upon every creative lesson he learned from them — and draw up a few of his own. He had NFL-caliber talent and misfortune in equal portions.
The talent: Game-changing dynamos like SEC player of the year Jarvis Jones, defensive tackle John Jenkins, nose tackle Kwame Geathers, linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo.
The list of misfortune is longer.
Ľ Injuries to guys like Jones, who missed two games.
Ľ Four-game suspensions for Rambo and Ogletree, who failed preseason drug tests. And a one-game suspension for Jenkins because of academic issues.
Ľ Grantham's own starting safety — Shawn Williams — calling the defense “soft” one week before the Florida game.
Ľ Depth issues. As in 28 guys on scholarship — for the entire defense.
“This year the challenge has been finding ways to win games with the players available,” Grantham said Friday.
Georgia's met the challenge, overcoming those obstacles to win 11 games and finish with the nation's No. 27 total defense and No. 17 scoring defense. And thanks to Jones — who forced seven fumbles on his own — the Bulldogs are tied for No. 21 in takeaways and No. 20 in turnover margin.
That's why Grantham bristled Friday when asked to address his squad's inconsistency despite having four defensive players in the top 102 eligible prospects for the 2013 NFL draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com. That include Jones — a 6-foot-3, 241-pound All American.
“It's a little bit inaccurate to say that talent's been available for all 13 games,” Grantham said. “We've had to move guys around.”
That led to a number of different lineups, Jones said, that had varying effectiveness.
“We had a lot of different lineups this year — a lot of situations — that gave a lot of opportunities for young players to play,” Jones said. “When you do that, you're going to have inconsistency.”
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It was hard in the first four games, as Rambo and Ogletree sat out with their suspensions. Grantham said the Bulldogs went to Missouri — their second game of the season — with two tested cornerbacks to face a team that routinely used five wide receivers. Georgia pulled away for a 41-20 win.
But the defense looked ugliest in the three games after Rambo and Ogletree returned. The Bulldogs gave up 44 points to Tennessee — the top offense they faced all year — 28 points to South Carolina and 24 to Kentucky, which finished the year as the No. 116 scoring offense.
It was after that game — and just before the battle with Florida — that Williams called his defense soft.
“That goes for the D-line, linebackers, corners, safeties, everybody,” Williams told reporters that October night. “We're just not playing with the same attitude we were last year. I don't know what it is.”
He wasn't misquoted. Not when he added some personnel suggestions to his rant. Like keeping Ogletree on the field at all times.
Williams quickly apologized, but his point had been made. And Georgia responded by forcing six Gator turnovers and holding them to 266 total yards in a 17-9 win in Jacksonville.
Georgia coach Mark Richt's quip after the win against Florida?
“I'd say we were not soft,” he said.
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