ATHENS — If Kirby Smart has been the bad cop when it came to commenting on Georgia’s defense, Mel Tucker stood at the podium Saturday and played good cop.
Since Smart was hired as head coach last year, he’s said a few things to underplay the defense, especially about the secondary, which returns most everyone from a unit that ranked first nationally last year. Smart said last year’s staff “protected” the secondary through its pass rushers. He told ESPN.com that he wasn’t sure if they had the same talent in the secondary as he had at Alabama. And as late as Saturday, Smart said that while he was happy with the interior defensive line, he was worried about the ends.
But Tucker, in his first media session as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, was Mr. Positive.
Starting with the secondary, which is Tucker’s position group.
“I really like the guys that we have,” Tucker said of the defensive backs. “It’s a fun group to coach. You have guys with tremendous experience. You’ve got Malkom (Parrish), you got Dom (Dominick Sanders), you’ve got Q (Quincy Mauger), Aaron Davis. Those guys, they are tremendous. And then we have some young guys that I think have a chance to be good players for us. So just overall, the group, they are very, very coachable. I think they work well together. There’s really good energy in the room, and I look forward to seeing those guys every day, quite frankly.”
Ditto for the defensive line.
“I like our group,” Tucker said. “We have a good mixture of size and athleticism. I think we have stoutness up front. We have pass rush ability on the edges. I think we have some young guys that are going to be able to contribute for us. We’re going to have to see how they go. We haven’t scrimmaged yet and we haven’t been in live situations yet but I feel great about the group.”
Tucker wasn’t asked about the outside or inside linebacker groups, but one can imagine his answers would have been pretty similar. (He was asked specifically about OLB Lorenzo Carter, and Tucker gushed about him.)
There was a question about the pass rush, which lost first-round pick Leonard Floyd and third-round pick Jordan Jenkins. And yet …
“I feel good about the guys we have,” Tucker said. “We talk every day about having a coordinated pass rush and having the rush in, that covers working together to affect the quarterback; and that’s one of the things we have to do is affect the quarterback with rush and coverage. I think we have guys that can push the pocket inside. I think we have guys that can give you some rush off the edge, and I think we have more than two or three. I think we have quite a few guys that can get that done. I feel good about it.”
So that’s on the field. As far as off of it, Tucker feels … well, still good.
“I’ve been impressed with the energy of this group,” he said. “When you walk into the meeting room with those guys, you know, they are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, paying attention. They have really good attitudes. They seem like the chemistry is getting better and better, and they are just very coachable, and you can tell, they want to be great. They want to do it the right way. They are pleasers.”