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UGA Defense adjusts to new schemes..


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With the advent of the spread offense, defensive coordinators have been scheming up ways to effectively combat the three- and four-receiver sets that now appear to be all the rage.

For teams like Georgia, which operate out of base 4-3 scheme, this has resulted in a switch to a more preventative Nickel package. In other words, inserting an extra defensive back while not compromising the four-man rush most coaches agree is required to get ample pressure on the opposing quarterback.

That philosophy has necessitated a change for Sam linebackers like Bulldog sophomore Akkem Dent. Head coach Mark Richt explains.

"What happens when they (opposing teams) go to three- and four-receiver sets; we go to a lot of Nickel," Richt said. "When we do that we're only playing two linebackers, but not the Sam who comes out most of the time.

"We've got to make sure whoever is playing Sam; that he knows how to play inside, too. That's what's we're doing with (Dent)."

He won't be the only one.

As Georgia enters its third day of spring drills, all of the team's Sam linebackers are learning to play either Sam or Will, with the current exception of Darius Dewberry who is being held out of practice while nursing a sore groin.

"It never hurts to learn another position, because we all want to be versatile, anyway," Dent. "We all need to know what to do in certain situations."

Will linebacker Rennie Curran said the Bulldogs actually didn't use the Sam linebacker much at all the second half the year.

"Really, starting with the Florida game, which was when I got to play, we didn't see the Sam as much because that's when we started seeing different offenses," Curran said. "With Florida having as much talent as they've got and spreading guys out, I think that was one of the reasons I even got to play.

"We pretty much just started bringing that extra cornerback every game after that because we started seeing (spread offenses) more and more as the season went along."

Against Hawaii, it got even worse.

Curran guessed the Bulldogs might not have used the Sam linebacker but for 10 or so plays against the Warriors.

"I think it's a long-term trend," Richt said. "In our league, more and more people are spreading the ball out and I think it's happening pretty much around the nation."

The Bulldogs will certainly encounter their share of teams next fall who run varying degrees of the spread. Along with non-conference foe Arizona State, SEC opponents LSU, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and Auburn will all use different variations of the spread; with Tommy Tuberville's Tigers undergoing the most drastic chance after hiring former Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

Curran said Sam linebackers learning to play Mike or Will shouldn't have that much of a problem adjusting to their respective new positions.

"I think it's a lot easier to move from Sam to Will. It would be kind of confusing if it was the total opposite," Curran said. "Sometimes at Will, we might have man coverage and you have to take on a running back. At Sam, you don't have to do much of that. You usually just play contain and keep everything inside and not let the play go outside. Will is a lot more man-to-man with more vertical plays. It can be a little confusing, but it's not impossible."

Mike linebacker Dannell Ellerbe agrees with Curran and thinks Sam linebackers like Dent will be just fine.

"Our Sam linebackers are athletic. We'll be doing more Nickel seeing that teams we'll be playing are passing teams, but we'll be working our Sams to play with Mike and Will," Ellerbe said. "We've tried a little special defensive package to get Sam in the game, but as far as our regular defense with Mike, Will and Sam, we won't be doing that as much."

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